Analysis: Police stations are not appropriate places of safety for children in crisis

Emma Jardine, policy and public affairs adviser at Howard League ScotlandEmma Jardine, policy and public affairs adviser at Howard League Scotland
Emma Jardine, policy and public affairs adviser at Howard League Scotland
The figures on children being detained overnight in policy custody demonstrate that the wellbeing of children is not currently being safeguarded and promoted as we might expect, despite our stated commitments as a country.

This is the clearest example of the need for an enforceable framework of children’s rights, according to internationally recognised standards, such as the legislation recently passed by the Scottish Parliament to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law.

Scotland takes some pride in its response to children's behaviour, based on the underlying principle that their needs, as well as their deeds have to be considered. However, that certainly does not look to be the case here, where we find that even children under the age of criminal responsibility are being held overnight in police custody.

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Hundreds of children are being held for periods of over 24 hours, when the UNCRC categorically states that a child should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

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Surely no one is suggesting that a police station is an appropriate place of safety for a child in crisis? If a child can't be returned home and is a danger to themselves or others, the police and local authorities need to work together to ensure that the child is taken to a place of safety as quickly as possible - however difficult that may be.

We know that complex referral processes and a lack of local secure care places are often cited as the reasons why this does not happen. Of course, explanations don't safeguard vulnerable children's welfare, actions do. Nonetheless, we need to identify the blockages and obstacles that prevent the problems these young people confront being addressed in other ways.

We need to enable the police and other agencies take the sorts of actions that help prevent children being drawn into the slipstream of the criminal justice system, where it can be very difficult for them to swim against the tide.

Emma Jardine is the policy and public affairs adviser at Howard League Scotland

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