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Reducing Criminalisation of Children and Young Adults in Residential Care: Evaluation of a Test of Change


Police Scotland would like to evaluate the implementation and impact of a test of change which has been in place across Greater Glasgow since 2020. The test of change aims to reduce the criminalisation of children and young people (CYP) in residential care by reducing police contact and processing of low threshold criminal behaviour and reporting of ‘missing’ episodes involving CYP in residential care. The key aims of the evaluation will be to establish if robust evidence exists to justify further roll-out of the changes and to identify recommendations for further change or improvements to the current approach, if required.  

Evaluation Plan

The research will involve the following four key stages:

Phase 1 of the research has now been completed.  This involved:

  • a desktop review of project documentation (e.g., protocols/policies relating to the test of change), and 
  • a narrative literature review of former research to clarify the evidence-base for the approach taken by Police Scotland (including a standalone Executive Summary).  

The desktop review concluded that previous evaluations were inconclusive for reasons including the lack of clarity around the roles and responsibilities of care staff and police officers, and limitations of the approach in dealing with the needs of repeat missing persons and/or children displaying criminal behaviour. Inconsistent data collection was also a persistent problem.  Findings from the literature review were similarly mixed highlighting the importance of the context within which such policies are enacted (e.g. the wider ethos and culture of the homes).  Overall, the review identified a dearth of research on the ‘inner life’ of children’s care homes and a need to improve knowledge about the communications, interactions and dynamics between all parties (staff, residents and police) in the run up to police being called, and the factors influencing decision-making thereafter.   

Phase 2 of the research will involve development of a Theory of Change specific to the Police Scotland approach and derived from programme documentation and the extant literature.  Theories of Change are an evaluation method which involves developing explicit statements about short-, medium- and long-term goals of an intervention and assumptions about how and why the programme is expected to lead to those goals. The Theory of Change will provide a theoretical framework to inform the subsequent research design, including refinement of research questions and the collection and analysis of qualitative data.  Theories of Change are also intended to incorporate the voices of those with lived experience into the design and implementation of interventions.  To capture the voices of key stakeholders, and particularly the voices of CYP, the Theory of Change will be updated as the research progresses.  

Phase 3 of the research will involve quantitative data analysis of patterns of incidents, crime and missing person episodes involving CYP in scope for the Police Scotland approach, to determine tangible impacts and outcomes for CYP in residential care and for the people and organisations who support them.  Existing data provided by Police Scotland on incidents, crimes and missing persons involving CYP in residential care across the test area will be assessed for an agreed period prior to and following the implementation of the test of change (e.g. since Jan 2019).  Where possible, this will be supplemented with data from residential care homes over the same period.  

Phase 4 will primarily involve qualitative research guided by the Theory of Change and preliminary findings from the quantitative data analysis.  Qualitative data will be collected via focus groups and interviews.  There are three key groups of research participants in scope a) police liaison officers assigned to the residential houses, b) residential care staff involved in the roll-out and implementation of the test of change, and c) CYP who have been in residential care in the target area during the test of change period.  It is anticipated that around 30 police officers/house staff may be reached via focus groups and 15-20 CYP reached via interview. 

Draft Research Questions

The following draft research questions will be further informed by the Theory of Change:-

Desktop evidence-review:

  1. What prior research evidence exists for the approach that has been implemented by Police Scotland, including any good practice/evaluation evidence from elsewhere?

Quantitative research:

  1. Does the volume/nature of reports to police of missing episodes by Residential Care Houses change following the introduction of the ‘Missing Protocol’?
  2. Does the volume/nature of reports to police of criminal incidents by Residential Care Houses change following the introduction of the ‘Criminalisation Protocol’?
  3. What has been the impact of the introduction of the ‘Missing Protocol’ upon the pattern/nature of reports of missing/absent episodes by care providers?
  4. What has been the impact of the introduction of the ‘Criminalisation Protocol’, upon the pattern/nature of reports of ‘criminal’ incidents by care providers? 

Qualitative research:

  1. What are the benefits/dis-benefits arising from the change in process to residential care staff and the CYP in the target area, including but not limited to:
    1. change in attitudes and practices within the homes, 
    2. change in nature of relationships between police and staff/residents, and
    3. change in outcomes for care experienced young people (e.g. criminalisation, risk of exploitation, feelings of stigmatisation)? 
  2. What are the benefits to Police Scotland of the changed response to low threshold criminal behaviour and missing episodes associated with CYP in residential care, including but not limited to: 
    1. impact on staff (e.g. of enhanced training on ACES, trauma-informed approaches),    
    2. impact upon demand for police services?
  3. Are there changes to the approach that should be considered to realise further benefits, improve outcomes for CYP, reduce any adverse consequences of the policy, or to improve home/police processes and training in the light of the findings?  

The research will be carried out by Dr Shona Morrison from Policing Organisation and Practice within the Faculty of Business and Law within the Open University.  The research will be undertaken in collaboration with Police Scotland and Residential Care Home providers in the target area.

Funding body

Police Scotland