Article 39’s submission to Lord Laming’s independent review into looked after children in the criminal justice system stresses the importance of protecting children from the known harms of the criminal justice system, including being labelled and publicly identified as a criminal, increased contact with more experienced offenders, detention in abusive penal institutions and restrictions on future employment. We argue that meeting children’s needs, and upholding their rights, together with ensuring their long-term care and prospects are secure, are key factors in reducing children in care’s involvement with the criminal justice system.
The Prison Reform Trust launched the independent review in June 2015, “to consider why looked after children are more likely than other children in England and Wales to get involved with the criminal justice system, and what can be done to help more children in care stay out of trouble”.
Last week the media reported the case of a 15 year-old vulnerable boy who was prosecuted for burglary after entering a locked room through an open window in his children’s home, and taking a box of ASDA choc ices from the staff fridge. The boy apparently ate one of the ice creams. Magistrates dismissed the case after the boy’s lawyer, Jason La Corbiniere, successfully argued that this was the child’s home. Corbiniere later told a journalist: “Can you imagine the state prosecuting your child for not asking can he have an ice cream from the freezer?”.
Crown Prosecution Service guidance in relation to children in care states, “The police are more likely to be called to a children’s home than a domestic setting to deal with an incident of offending behaviour by an adolescent. Specialists should bear this in mind when dealing with incidents that take place in a children’s home”.
A report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons says Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire “is rightly a place of national concern”.
Most of those detained are single women, though children are held there sometimes. Inspectors report that, across the past year, 23 individuals have been detained at Yarl’s Wood who said they were children. Of these, 13 (57%) had been assessed to be children. Although child detainees “were appropriately cared for in the centre”, there was no regular safeguarding training for custody officers. Some had not been trained “for several years”.
Yarl’s Wood is run by Serco under contract with the UK Government. The inspection took place in April and May this year.
The National Health Service (NHS) Constitution has been amended to take in the new duty to notify patients (or their families) when there has been a “safety incident” resulting in death or harm.
This duty applies equally to child and adult patients.
The revised Constitution, dated 27 July 2015, states:
“You must be told about any safety incident relating to your care which, in the opinion of a healthcare professional, has caused, or could still cause, significant harm or death. You must be given the facts, an apology, and any reasonable support you need.”
The accompanying Handbook to the NHS Constitution defines significant harm as:
“a permanent lessening of bodily, sensory, motor, physiologic or intellectual functions, including removal of the wrong limb or organ or brain damage, that is related directly to the incident and not related to the natural course of the service user’s illness or underlying condition.”
Although the Handbook’s definition uses the word “permanent”, the regulations governing the new duty of candour require incidents leading to moderate harm, prolonged pain or prolonged psychological harm to be reported to the patient, or his or her family. Article 39 has written to health minister, Ben Gummer MP, for clarification as to the different thresholds. We have also asked whether children’s distinct developmental needs were considered during the drafting of the statutory definitions of prolonged pain and prolonged pyschological harm, which both have time periods of 28 days for children and adults alike.