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UN Rights of the Child contravened in Child Q case, warns psychologists

The actions towards Child Q, a Black female child of secondary school age who was strip searched by female police officers from the Metropolitan Police Service, directly contravened the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child sections 3.1 and 3.2, psychologists have warned.

Child Q’s intimate body parts were exposed when she was strip searched in the medical room on school premises, without an Appropriate Adult present and with the knowledge that Child Q was menstruating. Child Q’s mother was not contacted in advance.

The actions took place after teachers believed Child Q was smelling strongly of cannabis and suspected that she might be carrying drugs. On questioning Child Q, she denied using or having any drugs in her possession. A search of her bag, blazer, scarf, and shoes revealed nothing of significance.

The British Psychological Society’s working group was established following the publication of the Child Q safeguarding report in February 2022 to explore the evidence presented from a psychological perspective, and to understand how such an event could occur and the implications for psychological practice.

The working group’s conclusions, published in September, were that “the actions of the police and school staff were disproportionate and failed to consider the likely trauma a strip search can have on children and young people. This was compounded by the lack of any communication with her parent/s and Child Q being sent back to class without the offer of any emotional support”.

The working group went on to slam the evidence as “appalling and disturbing”, adding that the case directly contravened the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child sections 3.1 and 3.2.

Article 3 1. states that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Article 3 2. states that parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

The BPS working group stated: “The independent safeguarding report has indicated that racial profiling likely sat at the heart of the choices made that day, further damaging the levels of trust between the Police, education and Black and Ethnic communities.

“As a professional body, the BPS is deeply concerned by the events surrounding the traumatising of Child Q and the racial profiling and discrimination highlighted by the case.

“In the weeks and months since the publication of the safeguarding report further information on the strip searching of young people has come to light, and the publication of this information has exacerbated our concerns.”

The BPS added that while they are mindful of the challenges faced in policing and education, and the difficult decisions all officers and teachers must make, any strip search of a child or young person must be accompanied by clear safeguarding rules that involve parents, guardians or carers.

“We also believe that transparent data and reasoning for all strip searches must be open to public scrutiny,” the BPS statement added.

WillisPalmer’s Head of Practice Lucy Hopkins said: “The BPS rightly recognises how challenging it can be for both the police and schools to make difficult decisions, and they need to have an understanding of the level of distress and trauma that something like strip searching  can evoke, particularly in respect of a child or young person.”

“It is imperative that all organisations working with children and young people are aware of the impact of such measures and are trained in the latest safeguarding measures and familiar with the latest guidance and legislation. This will then hopefully lead to better decisions being made for children and better outcomes for them as a result, minimising distress and trauma. ”

The Local Child Safeguarding Review of Child Q published earlier this year highlighted key findings:

Finding 1: 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 involved staff and an alertness to potential indicators of risk.

Finding 2: The decision to strip search Child Q was insufficiently attuned to her best interests or right to privacy.

Finding 3: 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.

Finding 4: School staff had an insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs of Child Q when responding to concerns about suspected drug use.

Finding 5: The application of the law and policy governing the strip searching of children can be variable and open to interpretation.

Finding 6: The absence of any specific requirement to seek parental consent when strip searching children undermines the principles of parental responsibility and partnership working with parents to safeguard children.

Finding 7: The Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time appeared to have frustrated effective communication between school staff and the Safer Schools Officer.

Finding 8: 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 (whether deliberate or not) was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search. 

The review concluded that it was “a relatively straightforward process for the review to conclude that Child Q should never have been strip searched”.

It recommended that The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel should engage the IOPC with a view to developing national guidance on the Independent Officer for Police Conduct’s interface with the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review process. As a minimum, this should set out the arrangements for securing cooperation, accessing key staff for interview and the requirements for the timely sharing of information.

The Metropolitan Police Service 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 (including the ability to differentiate between the different types of strip searches undertaken).

The British Psychological Society’s working group has pledged to produce a psychologically informed toolkit for those working with children and young people which will aim to empower those working in the field with data, information and resources aimed at challenging racism, racialised profiling and addressing the power dynamics that may lead individuals to become bystanders in situations they feel are wrong, abusive, damaging or ethically questionable.

Social Work England says: “Our profession, with its values and principles of anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice, is uniquely placed to lead the way in ensuring equality in all aspects of society. As the specialist regulator for social workers, we understand that we too have a key role to play in leading the charge on this, and leading by example. We commit once again to standing against racism and discrimination in all its forms.”

“Equality, diversity and inclusion are central to social work practice, and when working with families professionals need to be aware and mindful of diversity, in relation to race, sexuality, age, and background. Adults and children need to be treated with respect and dignity, their differences celebrated, and feel valued and accepted.”

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