Social workers should be given a statutory duty to accompany looked-after children in court proceedings, a report has recommended.
Lord Laming’s report, ‘In Care, out of trouble’ – the result of a year-long inquiry into the link between care and custody – recommended that when a child in care appears in court, “it should be a requirement for the child’s social worker to attend court with the child”.
This is already set out as good practice in Children Act 1989 guidance, however the inquiry recommended it be made statutory. If a social worker does not know the child well, another adult who does know the child must attend, such as a carer or family member, the report recommended.
Local authorities must make “every effort” to facilitate family support for a child in care during the criminal justice process if it’s in their best interests, and they agree to it, the report added. There should also be “short time limits” for information about a looked-after child to be shared.
Half of children in custody have been in care
Established by the Prison Reform Trust, the inquiry found only 6% of children in care do get into trouble with the law, however around half of the children currently in custody in England and Wales have been in care at some point.
It said that the care system must do more to help children come to terms with being separated from their birth family.
“They often feel isolated and unsupported at critical moments, not least if they have to appear in court or spend time in custody,” the report said.
The report recommended a suite of measures that could protect children in care from unnecessary criminalisation, such as a cabinet sub-committee on protecting looked-after children from this issue being established by government. The Home Office should advocate for the implementation of regional police protocols which reduce the prosecution of children and young people in care.
It said the Home Office should review rules and develop a new “outcome” for referrals, which would allow the police to “record low-level, crime-related behaviour by children and young people in a way that ensures referral to a welfare agency to address the behaviour, does not a create a criminal record and cannot be disclosed by an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check”.