The Children's Commissioner for England speaks to National Police Chief's Council

Anne Longfield's speech to the National Policing of Children and Young People conference in January of this year raised important issues about the rights and policing of children.

She describes effective policing of children as being a form of crime prevention that can "in the longer run - free up resources to deal with what may be more intractable problems." She went on to speak about the rights of children, ansd the needs of those who are most vulnerable such as those who are "marked by their socio-economic backgrounds and previous experiences as some of the most disadvantaged in our society."

These are the rights she emphasised in her speech:

  • Rights are universal rather than conditional. Every child is entitled to them and they do not lose their right because they have broken the law or come to police attention
  • So all decisions taken by public bodies – including the police- should take into account the child’s best interest
  • The UNCRC requires that the treatment of children accused of offending should uphold their sense of dignity and worth, be appropriate to their age and promote their wellbeing and integration
  • Children should only be detained as a last resort, when other options have been exhausted. If they are detained, it must be for the shortest possible time.

She also described how there is clear evidence indicating that how children experience police contact can have a significant impact on their future development and how "early criminalisation of children is counterproductive: increases the likelihood that the child will get in trouble again, thereby increasing victimisation."

She went on to describe progress made in the way children are treated by the police now and how this represents a clear response to the APPGC’s finding that many children lack trust in the police and that encounters between the two groups were often characterised by poor communication and a lack of mutual respect

The ACP supports developments in this area and emphasises the need for childhood to be respected and protected.

An ACP spokesperson, who has worked with young people with mental health problems held in police custody, says: "In order for children to be able to listen and respond positively to adults in authority, they need to feel understood and have their needs addressed. This doesn't mean that they should be allowed to avoid taking any responsibility for their actions, but a child who has been hurt or deprived, expects other adults to do the same. Recovery can only happen through repeated modelling of care and respect for others, but also access to relationship focused interventions which can challange behaviours through looking at root causes, such as psychoanalytic psychotherapy. This works with underlying issues and disturbance but is also consistent."