Bringing a specialists team working under one roof led to fewer children arrests and drug use. Matty, 15 is unlike many children in care in North Yorkshire, having a part-time job, goes to college with plans to study A-levels. But he was kicked out of his family home weeks back after his arrest for knife possession. The teenager, never in trouble with the police, was taken into care and placed temporarily with a family friend till permanent residence arrangements are made. Care workers desire to steer him away from some troublesome friends.
Expert children’s worker opine that the next few months are crucial for him as in five or six years he could be happy with a house and a job or Matty could be another abandoned child, homeless or involved in serious crimes. Matty is one of 66 children in care in North Yorkshire, part of a pioneering scheme aiming to stop systemic criminalisation of looked-after children. Howard League for Penal Reform estimates that children in care are 15 times more likely to be criminalised than other children and looked-after children are prosecuted for minor incidents not warranting police action if they were in family homes.
‘No Wrong Door’ Initiative
Called ‘No Wrong Door’, the North Yorkshire initiative has a dedicated specialists team comprising a clinical psychologist, a police officer, and a language and speech therapist, based at both council-managed children’s homes in Harrogate and Scarborough. There are no suits, no uniforms, and no formal appointments and the professionals are mentors for the children with informal chats over breakfast, in the car, or at the gym. The scheme shows impressive results as a Loughborough University study found 38% drop in arrests, 68% reduction in missing children, 33% fall in drug use, and 92% drop in hospital admissions during the first 18 months from 2015 to 2017. The programme was extended to six other children’s services and more than 100 councils across Britain, Australia, USA and the Caribbean have shown interest. The key to success is the specialist team under one roof. Each child gets a dedicated support worker, their point of contact throughout, and the psychologist, speech therapist, council, and police work closely in the children’s interests.
Though a police officer is based daily at the children’s home, there are no handcuffs, uniforms or helmets. If uniforms turn up, normally for arresting parents, the children are in panic and go into ‘flight or fight’ mode. Then they are arrested for assault and caught in a vicious cycle.
A language and speech therapist estimated that around 51% of looked-after children from North Yorkshire and 67% of them in residential care, had early undiagnosed speech and language communication needs (SLCN), such as stammering, lack of eye contact, and problems with understanding language. People witness aberrant behaviour but fail to connect these with communication difficulties and hence the need for professionals to be embedded in children’s homes. If the children can understand what they are not supposed to do, they are able to respond and comply.