Skip to main content
03 August 2015

Keeping children in care out of trouble

Lord Laming chairs independent review into links between care and custody.

An independent review of children in care, chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Laming and established by the Prison Reform Trust, is launched today to consider the reasons behind, and how best to tackle, the over representation of looked after children in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Children and young people with experience of care are significantly over represented in the criminal justice system. In a survey of 15-18 year olds in young offender institutions, a third of boys and 61% of girls said they had spent time in local authority care. This is despite fewer than 1% of all children in England being in care.

Looked after children aged between 10 and 17 years are more than five times as likely to be convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand than other children.

For nearly two-thirds of looked after children, the main reason they are in care is that they have suffered abuse or neglect. Only two per cent are taken into care primarily because of their own socially unacceptable behaviour.

One girl with a criminal conviction said:

“I was moving round children’s homes, I was…pretty unsettled, I was starting school, then coming out of school, then home schooled, then finishing home school because I couldn’t stay in that placement.”

Another young person said:

“What I’ve heard from different police officers when I’ve been arrested, it’s like, ‘you’re a kid in care, you’re never [going to] get out of this way of life. You’re in care, kids in care are always on drugs, kids in care always make themselves unsafe, kids in care always self-harm’. So they sort of put a title on kids in care like they’re something bad.”

The review team is formed from a broad cross-section of senior policymakers and practitioners, including social workers, police, magistrates, academics and other experts. It will be informed by a consultation group of children and young people who have been in care and been in trouble with the law.

The consultation group will hold its first meeting, chaired by Lord Laming, this Thursday (25 June) at the House of Lords. Young people from the group will attend the first full review team meeting later the same day and will give evidence about their own experience of care and the criminal justice system to the review team.

The review team is calling for evidence from all those who have experience of the care system and the criminal justice system, including children and young people who have been in care and have been in trouble, their families and carers, social workers, youth offending team managers, police and local authority leads and others who work with children in care and children in trouble with the law.

Submissions may be sent by email to: or by post to: Care Review, C/o Prison Reform Trust, 15 Northburgh Street, London EC1V 0JR.  Telephone enquiries may be made to Katy Swaine Williams, Care Review Co-ordinator, on 020 7251 5070. The closing date for written evidence is Tuesday 25 August 2015.

The review team will also invite oral submissions at its meetings, to be held six-weekly in central London, and will visit at least one young offender institution and other projects around England and Wales as part of the evidence gathering process. The review is expected to report early in 2016.

Commenting on the launch of the review, Lord Laming said:

“It is a huge step for the state to assume the parenting of a child or young person. With that comes the responsibility to provide stability, security and hope for the future. Fewer than 1% of children and young people are committed to the care of local authorities, yet a third of boys and 61% of girls in custody are, or have been in care. We cannot stand by and allow wasted opportunities to result in wasted later lives. We are determined to ensure this review makes practical recommendations to enable key services to work together to help children in care transform their life chances and stay out of trouble.”

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“There is a depressing route from care to custody which can, and must, be stopped. We need to listen to children in care about how they got drawn into trouble and hear their views on ways to get out of it.”