The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its report into sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions on the 28 February 2019.
The report follows on from a hearing on 9 – 20 July 2018 and can be found here.
It examines evidence of “appalling abuse and institutional failures to protect children in the youth secure estate in England and Wales”. The investigation looked at Youth Offenders Institutions (YOI), Secure Training Centres (STC) and Secure Children’s Homes (SCH).
The investigation focused on the period from 2009 to 2017, although evidence was also taken from several victims / survivors from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Children detained in custodial or secure settings are among the most vulnerable in society, many of whom have also become involved in regular offending, some of it of a violent or sexual nature.
The Inquiry has commented that the accounts from adult survivors of child sexual abuse who were detained in custodial institutions in the earlier years, were among the worst the Inquiry has heard.
It is of note that the number of children detained in these institutions has reduced considerably over time and the current population is around 900. However, the combination of challenging behaviour and vulnerability often presents difficulties in safely managing and caring for these children and young people, some of whom may be violent to staff and other children.
The Inquiry concluded that children in YOIs and STCs are not safe from harm, either physical or sexual and recent reports from OFSTED and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons raised serious concerns about children’s safety in several units.
It was also found that the number of reported incidents of sexual abuse is much higher than was previously understood: 1,070 reported incidents of alleged sexual abuse in the period 2009 – 2017, despite the significant drop in numbers of detained children. The numbers show no sign of reducing with allegations in the years 2016 – 2017 running at similar levels, just over 200 in each year.
The perception and reality of perpetual violent atmosphere in YOIs and STCs has been made worse by the approach of institutions to restraint, strip searching and pain compliance techniques.
The report comments on the difference between YOI/STC and SCH becoming increasingly clear over the course of the Inquiry and the latter being more child centred with better staff ratios and training. It is perhaps of note that SCH’s come under the Department of Education (DfE) and YOI/STC come under the Ministry for Justice. However there is uneven geographical spread of SCH’s across England and Wales and concern that some also accept children detained for criminal justice reasons.
The report makes seven recommendations:
- Only place children in custody as a last resort – there was evidence of custody being used because of a lack of community provision. Research was recommended into why the child remand population is as high as it is.
- That the DfE and Youth Custody Service carry out a full review of the practice of placing children for justice and welfare reasons together in SCH’s to establish whether it increases the risk of sexual abuse to children. If so alternative models should be considered.
- That the Youth Custody Service ensures that its training provides staff with an appropriate understanding of safeguarding.
- That the MOJ introduces arrangements for the professional registration of staff in roles responsible for the care of children in YOI’s and STC’s. The IICSA Interim report recommendation already applies this to SCH staff.
- The use of pain compliance techniques should be seen as a form of child abuse and likely to contribute to a culture of violence increasing the risk of child sexual abuse. They should not therefore be used
- MOJ revises and publishes guidance on how custodial institutions must respond to allegations of child sexual abuse and to include referral to an independent child protection professional.
- MOJ and DfE share policy responsibility for managing and safeguarding to ensure that standards applied to children in custody are jointly focused on discipline and securing child welfare.
Authored by Garry Dover, partner.