The study on criminalisation of young people in homes found officers were responding to matters including a child pulling down a curtain, and another squirting water in a staff member’s face.
Other officers said they felt like a ‘taxi service’ to get children back home, while others described feeling as though they had to ‘tuck in’ teenagers.
The Howard League, which advocates for reform in the criminal justice system, worked with more than half of the police forces in England and Wales to understand how they are policing children’s homes.
In some instances, the frequency of call-outs was so high, it would have been cheaper for the force to keep someone at the home full-time.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Working together with the police, we have ensured that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future and not be dragged into a downward spiral of crime and custody.
“Our research has found that children in residential care are being criminalised unnecessarily. Police, local authorities and children’s homes must work together to rise to this challenge.
“The best scenario for a child living in a children’s home is not to have any contact with the police at all, just like any child living at a parental home.
“Ensuring that there is the least possible contact between police and children living in residential care would free up police time to deal with more important matters and prevent children having their life chances blighted by an unnecessary criminal record.”
Government guidelines indicate the police should not be called out for issues which would usually fit “under the umbrella of parenting”.
But the report also praises several forces for leading multi-agency reform at a local level, including Dorset, where a 49% reduction in calls was achieved in the first eight months of 2017, compared to 2016.
In Lancashire, police are using a new system which will be able to spot and flag issues with a particular person, for example, if there is frequent contact with a children’s home.
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Children and Families Minister Robert Goodwill said: “We know many children’s homes work with the local police force and the local authority to reduce unnecessary call-outs, whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the young people in their care.
“The guidance is clear that no child living in a children’s home should be criminalised for behaviour that would not concern the police if it happened in a family home.”