Children living in local children’s homes are being “criminalised” for as little as breaking a cup, it has been claimed.
Police have been called out to homes in Bedfordshire more than 200 times over the past three years.
And some of the incidents have been so trivial that they would never have warranted a police officer’s attention had they happened in a normal family home, says the Howard League for Penal Reform.
The charity is now calling for more support for young people so they are not pushed into the criminal justice system by homes designed to help them.
Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said: “These children have been taken into care because they are in dire need and their parents who cannot, or will not, look after them. They are wonderful young people who have had a really bad start in life.
“Private companies, charities and local authorities that are paid a fortune by the taxpayer should give these children what they need and deserve.”
Ms Crook said children aged 13 to 15 living in children’s homes are almost 20 times more likely to be criminalised than a non-looked after child.
“There appears to be a ‘tipping point’ around the age of 13, at which time these children lose society’s sympathy and, rather than being helped, they are pushed into the criminal justice system.”
Many of the offences could be classed as “minor”, said Ms Crook, who cited one example of officers being summoned to investigate the breaking of a cup.
She said police officers had told her charity that children’s homes had even used police cells as “respite”to cover staff shortages or because staff were not competent enough to deal with a child’s behaviour.
With the number of children going into care at its highest point in 30 years, three quarters of the country’s children’s homes are run by private companies.
The Howard League fears this could lead to a lack of transparency that could disguise any bad practice and cause the children to suffer.