It sounds like something out of a Charles Dickens novel — young children, orphaned, abandoned and who end up in care, are leading a life of crime and turn into some type of "artful dodger" character. The new findings made public through an investigation, led by Lord Laming for the charity Prison Reform Trust, suggest that half the children serving time in youth custody come from foster or residential care.
This has prompted NGOs and charities to request that the Government launch a review of the system in order to improve the lives of young people in the UK.
The report looked at data received after a year-long enquiry. The results found that around half of the 1,000 children in custody in England and Wales have also been in the care system.
The cost of keeping a child in care is over US$290,000 (£200,000) a year, versus a place in a young offenders institute which comes to about US$87,000 (£60,000). These results come shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to help children in care. He said there would be zero tolerance of state failure towards those in care.
Too many children in care end up in prison according to Lord Laming 's independent review https://t.co/yKysLy3SFk— CJA (@cjalliance) May 23, 2016
Lord Laming said that challenging behavior by children is mostly dealt with by their parents, but in the case of someone in care these difficult situations can lead to the carer calling the police. He documented occasions when police had to be called because the young person had destroyed their room or stole food from the kitchen.
"Once the police are called, it becomes theft or criminal damage, which goes on the child's record," Lord Laming said.
It is these types of reports that are leading to young people being sent to young offenders' institutions and inevitably to them ending up in prison.
Lord Laming and other charities have called on the government to start listening to young people and addressing their needs before calling the authorities.
Charities have also called on the criminal justice system and social care to work together to address the needs of young people in care. Doing this will help provide a better life for the young person and a much more fruitful future.
Lord Laming's suggestions were echoed by the Prison Reform Trust which.
"By listening to children in care about how they have got drawn into trouble, this review provides practical and workable solutions to help break the depressing route from chaos to care to custody," said Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.