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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Can children in care avoid prison?
David Akinsanya was raised by the state and in a special BBC Two documentary he asks why so many kids leaving the care system end up in prison.
Government statistics show that 49 per cent of children in care go straight to prison. With 56,000 children in the British care system today, that means 28,000 are set to receive custodial sentences.
David Akinsanya believes the problem lies with the care system itself.
He says the care system is inflexible and does not offer appropriate care to young people.
Why are so many children in state care going to prison? What can be done to stop children in care turning to crime?
Raised by the state was shown on BBC Two on Sunday 12 May.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I think a big part of the problem is that the children don't feel like they belong anywhere when they're growing up. They're not part of a family unit that teaches them right from wrong and punishes them lovingly when they do something wrong. It's time to stop giving biological parents third, fourth, fifth chances with their children. The kids have to come first and if this affects the "rights" of the biological parents then that's tough, they should have thought of this before their kids ended up in care. Let children be adopted. Let their carers become their real parents so that these kids finally get some stability in their lives.
Dwayne , UK
I know David and have just told him about the number of emails here. He's absolutely over the moon. Keep them coming in...
These children are all different and have been placed in care for different reasons. I feel that they end up in prison because they lack the opportunity of receiving the individual attention, help etc that children from solid families receive. Sometimes there's not enough carers in these places which can make the child start to feel like an outcast, no one to turn too etc because the carers are too busy helping other children so maybe employing more carers might be an idea.
Hang on, if parents are going to be put in prison for failing to ensure their kids are in school, won't this mean even more children in care?
A truly inspiring programme. I've always wanted to become a social worker and am now more determined to do so. I would love to meet David and pick his brain further so I can make a difference, and I will make a difference.
One of the reasons so many children who have been in care end up in prison is due to the system sending them out on their own at a young age. In a 'normal' family situation when children leave home they have the support of the family behind them. These children are often cast out onto the streets to fend for themselves without any support system.
I believe that until children are placed in smaller family units and supported when it comes time for them to go out into the world, then unfortunately most will end up in prison.
I have worked in care and know that carers cannot touch, correct or take any preventative measures with these kids without being accused of abuse. Some of these kids are not the poor innocent victims but blackmailers and vindictive criminals- let us not forget that.
Excellent programme, had us captivated, but maybe some more emphasis should have been placed on how David broke the cycle. We feel as though there should have been a part 2. Many thanks.
I agree with Louise Laffette that it would be better to house these children up in small family units. However, this means finding people who can give a long term commitment to living with and taking care of the children who are not their own. How practical is this? I would be interested in hearing the views of people involved with children in care. I also wonder how other countries deal with this issue. Are there more successful models we could learn from?
About 15 years ago I remember being amazed that a 16 year old girl who had been badly beaten by her stepfather had been moved into care, together with the problem kids and troublemakers. Why isn't it possible to categorize children so that kids with similar backgrounds and similar needs can be put together?
The first part of the problem lies with the belief that children are always better off with their mothers or families regardless of whether they are fit to look after them or not. The second part of the problem is the idea of fostering children on a short term basis with the intention of returning them to their family at a later date. This gives no stability to children - they are innocent victims who are pretty well guaranteed to become damaged adults. As unpalatable as it may be the only solution is to remove children from their families as soon as problems come to light. Then they should be either placed into care homes - small units - or adopted out. Either way they are 'lost' to the natural parents until they reach an age to decide where they want to go themselves.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand
The majority of children who are in state care are there because they have a social problem usually stemming from their home life situation. The situation can be anything from drug addicted parents to violent parents or even no parents. The main thing to realise is that it is usually associated with their parents. Social services these days spend more time preaching the theories of child psychology rather than getting down to the grass roots of the problem and trying to solve the issues that caused the problems in the first place. All the sociology degrees in the world will not give these kids a loving caring environment to live in. They have been hurt at a very young age, one way or another, and probably do not trust anyone, especially adults or authority. The only way they can be helped is by a one on one relationship with someone who really cares and someone who has the time and resources to follow these kid's lives through to adulthood. Unfortunately our social services in the UK are not equipped to be able to do this.
It makes more sense to spend money preventing children having to go into care in the first place. If 'care' is needed then it is better to spend more money on it. Prison is expensive. A life involved in crime is a wasted life. Workers in this area are low paid and have low status. Like with drugs it is impossible to have an open debate. Politicians have to sound 'tough' when talking about crime.
A person in care is unquestionably a person in prison - you cannot have one without the other. Independence is the only valid objective.
The problem is that children don't get enough attention and they feel different. The system must be change. Of course it won't be easy or cheap but it is necessary, to change the statistics for better. I agree with Louise Laffette about the way to solve the problem. It's the same way as we do it in Poland.
It's obvious! That level of offending is prima facie evidence that the majority of professional carers have inadequate parenting skills and should not be doing the job. Of course, it is hard to attract dedicated and skilful professionals. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Before we go charging off in all directions, we should recall that children in care are already a special group. If they are in care because they had already suffered psychological damage from neglectful or abusive parents or relatives, then that is part of the cause of their later problems. The emails on this that I have read so far gaily talk about "the fault" lying either with the care system or with society. Perhaps a lot of the damage was already inflicted before these children were taken into care in the first place, and we are, as usual, trying to avoid holding parents accountable for how they treat their children, preferring to talk of abstractions like "society" instead.
Having been a foster carer for six years I have seen first hand the damage done to children - a child I fostered was sentenced to three years in prison at the age of 16. The root of the problem is not the care system - while imperfect and often abusive itself - but it is the damage done to children before they enter the care system. The feelings of hurt, rejection, humiliation, anger etc because of the breakdown of the relationship with their parent or main carer.
The only way, in my opinion, that this situation can ever be alleviated is to work with children and parents together. Reform of the care system alone will not in itself transform the outlook for children that find themselves referred into it - it is the interior emotions of the children that must be helped first.
A big thank you to David Akinsanya and the production team for making such an important and touching documentary. I wish society would be more willing to take a closer look into the person's background before labelling them bad and mad. The traumas people experience in their life - including abuse, poverty, racism and oppression - need to be acknowledged and accordingly responded to.
I endured 14 years in an orphanage in England from 1937. At the time of my release I had become an accomplished liar and thief. It was the system that made us that way. Fortunately I was able to break the habit. Many others did not.
Louise Laffette, UK
Something is obviously very wrong here if such a high proportion of children in care are already condemned to prison sentences. Does the fault lie with the care system or with society? I think I would like to see a complete and independent investigation underway to determine precisely what is wrong, how society and the care system is failing these people, and what can be done to put the matter right. The statistics at the moment are quite disgraceful.
12 May 02 | UK
From care to custody
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