The Howard League for Penal Reform has recently released a report Criminal Care – Children’s Homes and Criminalising Children on their research of how children living in children’s homes in England are being criminalised at excessively high rates compared to all other groups of children, including those in other types of care such as foster homes. According to national statistics, the number of children going into care has been increasing steadily over the past seven years and it has now reached a peak higher than at any point since 1985. In 2014/15, 99,230 children were looked after by the State at some point. In Ireland, Tusla reported that there were 6,420 children in care at the end of April 2015 http://goo.gl/AJa1BG
The Howard League report goes on to detail that in 2014, 5,220 children were living in children’s homes. One in four of these children were living in a children’s home deemed only ‘adequate’ by Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), 59% were living in a home deemed ‘good’ and only 16% judged by Ofsted to be ‘outstanding’. One hundred and forty-six local authorities (97%) had placed children in one of the homes labelled only adequate or worse.
Not only are the conditions in which the children are residing below par, their educational needs are not being met. In 2014, just 12% of looked after children achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including mathematics and English, compared with 52 per cent of children not in care.
Unlike our international counterparts, there is limited information on how children in care in Ireland are faring in the education system. HIQA released a Children Inspection report on children’s residential care homes in 2012; the findings showed 12% of the educational standards were not met and 33% of the educational standards were met in part. There were four centres where the educational standards were not met, as children were not attending school and had not been doing so for a significant amount of time. The Children Inspections report can be read in full here: file:///C:/Users/IPRT%20Admin/Downloads/Analysis-2012-Childrens-Inspections.pdf
Children in children’s homes are much more likely to have been exposed to the criminal justice system than looked after children in other kinds of care. Criminal Care – Children’s Homes and Criminalising Children reveals that a 2012/13 survey of 15-18 years old in young offender institutions found that a third of boys and 61% of girls surveyed reported being in local authority care at some point. In 2013/14, 6% of looked after children aged 10-17 years old had been convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand, compared to around 1% of non-looked after children. In 2015, 37% the children in young offender institutions were children looked after by the State. A survey conducted by the Howard League Penal Reform showed that 4.2% of children from 10-12 years old in children’s homes have been criminalised as opposed to 0.3% of looked after children in other placements. The figures then rise dramatically in the 13-15 years old age group: 19.2% of children in children’s homes were criminalised at this age. This means that children in children’s homes are almost six times as likely to be criminalised as looked after children in other forms of care and nearly 20 times more likely to be criminalised than a child not looked after the State. When children reach the age of 16 and 17, the rate of criminalisation is at its highest at an alarming 19.7% which shows that children in homes are more than twice as likely to be criminalised as children in other forms of care and nearly 20 times more likely to be criminalised than children not looked after by the State.
In Ireland, 25% of the children placed in special care units received criminal charges during their time in care as reported in the Irish Examiner http://goo.gl/0VmKLL
After much research, we are disappointed to report that there is minimal information available on the numbers of children in care being criminalised in Ireland. We will continue to review this troubling area and provide further information once it is available to us.