Detailed analysis of its child arrests data, driven by a focus on implementing the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s child-centred policing strategy, identified residential care as an area of concern in Dyfed-Powys. Research and analysis were conducted to help the force better understand what was driving calls from homes. Relationships were fostered with local partners to develop a unified approach to tackling the problem and to ensure that the right services were available as and when children needed them.
A 10-point plan was drawn up with the Crown Prosecution Service. The plan directs officers and supervisors to look at options other than arrest for children living in residential care. If a child is arrested, that arrest will be reviewed in detail the following day. The police look at the disciplinary record of that home and review the policies that are in place to handle incidents. They seek the views of social workers, counsellors, mental health experts and the Youth Offending Teams, as appropriate for both the child who has been accused of the offence and the alleged victim.
Named officers have been assigned to each home. They visit homes twice a month, getting to know how the home is run and building relationships with staff. They work collaboratively with homes to address issues, such as under-staffing and problems with protocols and behaviour management. They will also identify any children who may be at risk. Dyfed-Powys has a lot of children living in out-of-area placements and there have been concerns with children trying to get back to their home areas and finding themselves in unsafe situations.
Missing incidents were identified as one of the main reasons for homes to call the police. The police inspected homes’ logs for calls to the police related to missing incidents and found significant discrepancies with their own, for example one home had called the police 22 times but had only recorded four of those calls in their own log. The force now provides a monthly spreadsheet to Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) detailing all the calls they have received from homes that month and any other relevant information. It was agreed with CIW that three calls in a month from any home would trigger a joint inspection by the police and CIW.
Relationships with local partners are excellent. It is rare now that there is no-one to call from partnership agencies when a child is identified as being in trouble. This is hugely important in reducing police contact with children.
Performance of officers is closely managed, and good practice is cascaded down to the front line. Learning from reviews of the circumstances surrounding all child arrests is shared anonymously. Officers are given training in problem-solving and encouraged to consider options other than arrest. There are regular debriefing sessions between officers, Sergeants, and Inspectors to explore problem-solving processes and think about what could have been done differently.
The work has significantly reduced the level of police contact with children from homes; one home saw a reduction of 75 per cent in the numbers of calls it made in approximately three months.
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Re-produced with kind permission from the Howard League for Penal Reform.