Who'd foster a teenage delinquent?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
TEENAGE crime has become the moral panic of the moment: a man blinded after two youths tried to vandalise his car, an outcry when a 'juvenile delinquent' is sent on safari. 'Back to basics]' cry the nation's moral guardians; shut them away behind bars.

Yet, according to penal reformers, children who are locked up are virtually certain to reoffend. 'Home Office's research shows 92 per cent reoffend after a prison sentence,' says Frances Cook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. 'Locking them up ensures they will carry on committing crime.'

There is another way, however: remand foster care, where offenders are kept away from other young criminals in a family environment, such as in the Stepping Stones scheme in Durham. Ena Fry, author of the National Foster Care Association's report On Remand; foster care and the youth service, believes that: 'Experienced foster carers can play a key role in limiting the damage done to many young people when they come into contact with the criminal justice system, and divert them from the path of trouble.'

Remand fostering is not suitable for persistent offenders or for those who threaten public safety. And no one claims that every story has a happy ending: a proportion of delinquents just sit out their time; some leave the scheme feeling positive only to get stuck in bed and breakfast accommodation with cockroaches crawling up the wall, no job, no benefits and mates badgering them to join in bank raids. Others do steal from their hosts. But most foster carers find the experience enriching and most young people do benefit.

Joy Ogden talks to two couples and a teenager who have been involved in the Stepping Stones scheme and finds out how foster care has changed their lives.

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