Child Q: Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review

In 2020, Child Q, a Black secondary school-age female child, was strip-searched by female police officers. The search, which involved the exposure of Child Q’s intimate body parts, took place on school premises, without an appropriate adult present and with the knowledge that Child Q was menstruating. This blog examines the findings of the safeguarding practice review for Child Q and recommendations made by the reviewers.

The review was written by Jim Gamble QPM, Independent Child Safeguarding Commissioner and Rory McCallum, Senior Professional Advisor and was released in March 2022. Read the full review HERE. 

*Please note this blog will discuss the strip search of a child under the age of 18. Discretion is advised  

The Day of The Search 

On the day of the search, teachers believe Child Q smelt strongly of cannabis and they suspected she might be carrying drugs. Once questioned Child Q denied having used or having any drugs in her possession. Her bag, blazer, scarf and shoes were searched and nothing significant was found. 

The teachers sought advice from the Safer Schools Police Officer and were advised to call 101 and ask for a female officer to come to the school. Four officers arrived at the school, two of whom were women, and after discussions between the police and teachers, Child Q was escorted to the medical room and strip-searched. 

There was no appropriate adult present during the search and Child Q’s parents or guardians were not contacted in advance of the search. No drugs were found during the search, after which Child Q was later allowed to return home. 

After the Search 

Once home Child Q disclosed the events of the strip search to her mother. She described how she had been strip-searched while menstruating and was extremely distressed. Her mother took her to the family GP, due to the levels of her distress, the GP in turn made a referral for psychological support. This led to contact with Hackney Children and Families Services which initiated a Rapid Review and this local safeguarding practice review.  

Three questions were addressed by the review which included: 

  1. Was the rationale and practice to strip search Child Q sufficiently attuned to the rights of children as set out in the relevant articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? 
  2. Was practice involving Child Q sufficiently focused on her potential safeguarding needs? 
  3. Is the law and policy, which informs local practice, properly defined in the context of identifying potential risk and furthermore, does law and policy create the conditions whereby practice itself can criminalise and cause significant harm to children?  

The findings of the review  

It was the opinion of the review that Child Q had suffered harm from exposure of this traumatic event. The impact of the event on Child Q’s emotional health was ongoing and the incident also illustrated issues of the potential impact of disproportionality and racism and how these factors might have influenced the actions of organisations and individual professionals.  

The review made eight findings:  

  • The school was fully compliant with expected practice standards when responding to its concerns about Child Q smelling of cannabis and its subsequent search of Child Q’s coat, bag, scarf and shoes. This demonstrated good curiosity by the involved staff and alertness to potential indicators of risk 
  • The decision to strip search Child Q was insufficiently attuned to her best interests or right to privacy 
  • School staff deferred to the authority of the police on their arrival at school. They should have been more challenging to the police, seeking clarity about the actions they intended to take. All practitioners need to be mindful of their duties to uphold the best interests of children 
  • School staff had an insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs of Child Q when responding to concerns about suspected drug use 
  • The application of the law and policy governing the strip-searching of children can be variable and open to interpretation 
  • The absence of any specific requirement to seek parental consent when strip-searching children undermines the principles of parental responsibility and partnership in working with parents to safeguard children 
  • The Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time appeared to have frustrated effective communication between school staff and the Safer Schools Officer 
  • Having considered the context of the incident, the views of those engaged in the review and the impact felt by Child Q and her family, racism was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search 

Local Facts and Figures 

During 2020/2021 25 children in Hackney, under the age of 18 were the subject of searches by local police officers from the Central East Basic Command Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service. 

 East BCU of the MPS. 22 (88%) of the searches were negative for drugs or illegal substances with an outcome of no further action recorded in 20 (80%) of the cases. In terms of ethnicity, (as per the codes used by the police), 15 (60%) of the children searched were Black, 2 (8%) were White, 6 (24%) Asian and 2 (8%) Arab or North African. 

Child Q’s and her family’s experiences 

During the review Child Q was spoken to and shared accounts of her experiences. Here are statements made by Child Q her experience.  

Child Q: “Someone walked into the school, where I was supposed to feel safe, took me away from the people who were supposed to protect me and stripped me naked, while on my period.” 

“All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. I was held responsible for a smell.” 

“…… I need to know that the people who have done this to me can't do it to anyone else ever again. In fact, so NO ONE else can do this to any other child in their care.” 

Child Q’s mother and maternal aunt were engaged in the review and expressed their shock at what Child Q experienced and the ongoing impact the incident has had upon the whole family. There was a perception within the family that not only had Child Q been criminalised and let down by professionals who should have had her best interests at heart, but above all that Child Q was treated differently because she is Black.  

Child Q’s Mother: “…the incident that happened (was) treated not as a safeguarding issue. (It was) treated as a criminal matter.”  

“Child Q was searched by the police and was asked to go back into the exam without any teacher asking her about how she felt knowing what she had just gone through. Their position in the school is being part of the safeguarding team, but they were not acting as if they were a part of that team. This makes me sick - the fact that my child had to take her sanitary towel off and put the same dirty towel back on because they would not allow her to use the restroom to clean herself. I was also wondering if the officer's body cameras were on while my child was stripped of her clothes, are they re-watching it?” 

Child Q’s Aunt: “The family do not believe that the officers would have treated a Caucasian girl child who was on her monthly periods in the same way.”  

“Child Q was racially profiled due to her being black and her extremely large head of locks.”  

“She was made to bend over spread her legs, and use her hands to spread her buttocks cheek whilst coughing.” 

“She is now self-harming and requires therapy. She is traumatised and is now a shell of the bubbly child she was before this incident.” 

Recommendations 

The review made fourteen recommendations for improving practice: 

  1. The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (CSPRP) should engage the Independent Office for Police Conduct with a view to developing national guidance on the IOPC’s interface with the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review process 
  2. The MPS should review and revise its recording system for stop and search to ensure it clearly identifies and allows for retrieval of the full range of activity under stop and search powers  
  3. The Department for Education should review and revise its guidance on Searching, Screening and Confiscation (2018) to include more explicit reference to safeguarding and to amend its use of inappropriate language 
  4. The Metro Police Service should update its guidance note and local policy to better emphasise the requirements for engaging an Appropriate Adult  
  5. The City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership should review and revise its awareness-raising and training content to ensure the Child Q case is referenced 
  6. Relevant police guidance governing the policy on strip searching children should clearly define a need to focus on the safeguarding needs of children and follow up actions that need to be considered by way of helping and protecting children at potential risk 
  7. The Central East BCU should engage the local stop and search monitoring group, ACCOUNT, and other representative bodies to consider the lessons from this review and how the effectiveness of safeguarding can be overseen through their respective activities 
  8. Where any suspicion of harm arises by way of concerns for potential or actual substance misuse, a safeguarding response is paramount 
  9. The MPS should engage The College of Policing to explore potential improvements to the guidance concerning reasonable grounds involving stop and search activity with children 
  10. Alongside Recommendation 3, the Department for Education should review and revise its guidance on Searching, Screening and Confiscation (2018) to include much stronger reference to the importance of keeping records and engaging parents as part of best safeguarding practice 
  11. The Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council should seek to strengthen the Revised Code C, PACE 1984 to better define the engagement of parents/carers/guardians when strip searches that involve the exposure of intimate parts of the body are undertaken on children 
  12. The CHSCP should engage ACCOUNT, Safer Schools Police Officers and other community organisations to develop an awareness-raising programme across schools and colleges about stop and search activity by the police 
  13. The CHSCP should continue with its rolling programme of multi-agency adultification training 
  14. The CHSCP should expedite its work on developing an anti-racist charter and practical guides that support the eradicating of racism, discrimination, and injustice across its local safeguarding arrangements 

 

Read the full review HERE. 

Author
Georgia Latief
Marketing Content Manager

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