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Over 6,000 abuse allegations in children’s institutional settings

More than 6,000 allegations have been made against adults working in children’s institutional settings between 2018 and 2021, according to research by Article 39.

The children’s rights charity carried out a Freedom of Information request to local authorities in England which found that there had been 6,106 allegations against adults working in children’s institutional settings including boarding and residential schools, children’s homes, immigration detention, mental health inpatient units and prisons between 2018 and 2021.

Child prisons had the greatest number of allegations against staff in proportion to the number of children – with 1,305 allegations made over three years (355 in 2020/21) in just five young offender institutions and secure training centres.

Kamena Dorling, Article 39’s Head of Policy and Advocacy, said: “Children in closed institutions often have limited or no contact with family members, and it is vital that there is sufficient oversight of how they are treated. Yet, Article 39’s research has found that there is still no uniform process for local authorities recording and reporting data on institutional abuse and neglect allegations and outcomes. Without this, it is impossible to gather the vital local intelligence needed about individual establishments to ensure the safety of children living there.”

Article 39 highlights that Awareness of child abuse within institutional settings has steadily grown since the 1980s but warns that institutional child abuse should not be perceived as historical, and a problem of the past.

Just two months ago, after visiting Oakhill secure training centre, a child prison run by G4S, Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission issued an urgent notification stating that children had been subject to unlawful use of force and that conditions in this child prison “barely met minimum standards of human decency” during the summer.

Child protection concerns were not being referred to the local authority, in breach of statutory safeguarding guidance.

The research found:

  • One local authority received 184 allegations against staff in one secure training centre last year even though it has capacity to hold fewer than 90 children.
  • The greatest number of total allegations from institutional settings related to adults working in children’s homes (2,900 allegations over three years).
  • There were 334 allegations against adults working in semi-independent/independent accommodation.
  • Several local authorities stated that they do not collect data on allegations of abuse in mental health inpatient care. 
  • Of the local authorities which provided the relevant information, only 11% of abuse allegations led to child protection enquiries under the Children Act 1989, legislation which is intended to protect all children.

Article 39 urges the Department for Education to routinely collect and publish data on abuse allegations and outcomes relating to all children’s institutional settings and for cross-departmental statutory guidance on keeping children safe in all institutional settings to be drafted as a matter of urgency.

Abuse in children’s institutional settings: How much is known? December 2021

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