Every police force in England and Wales has been asked to reveal how many children have been strip-searched by officers since 2018.
The request, made by Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, comes in the wake of the Child Q scandal where a 15-year-old black schoolgirl was strip-searched whilst on her period. Teachers at her school in London called the police after wrongly suspecting the girl of carrying cannabis.
After the scandal emerged, Dame Rachel requested figures on child strip-searches from the Metropolitan Police. She discovered that 650 children between the ages of 10 and 17 were strip-searched over a two year period, with the data also revealing that in almost a quarter of cases, the “traumatising” and “intrusive” searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirmed to have been present. According to the figures, black boys were disproportionately searched.
The Commissioner is now seeking further information and data from all forces across England and Wales to “reassure [herself] that these issues are not more widespread.”
She said: “I firmly believe that a police power that is as intrusive and traumatic for children as a strip-search must be treated with the utmost care and responsibility. It must also be accompanied by a robust and transparent system of scrutiny to protect and safeguard vulnerable children.”
What happened to Child Q?
The Child Q case sparked widespread outrage when the incident first came to light in March 2022. A 15-year-old girl was strip-searched by female Met Police officers - in the knowledge that she was on her period - without another adult present.
In a safeguarding report, the traumatising details of the search were uncovered: the teenager, who was not permitted to use the bathroom, was removed from a mock exam, made to remove her sanitary pad, and bend over. City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP), who conducted the review, also heard from the girl’s family who revealed she “can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up” and was “self-harming, traumatised and requires therapy”.
CHSP concluded the strip-search was unjustified, never should have happened, and that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”. In connection with the incident, four Met Police officers are now being investigated for gross misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Scotland Yard apologised for the incident, while a spokesperson for the Met Police said: “Ensuring the safeguarding of every child who is subject to a search is an absolute priority. We got it wrong with Child Q and we are making significant efforts to ensure our approach puts the child at the heart of decision making.”
The spokesperson also said they have made changes relating to the policing needed for this type of search, in light of the “considerable impact it can have on young people”, and are “happy to cooperate fully” with the Children’s Commissioner and share details on the progress they are making. Dame Rachel has reportedly met with Sir Mark Rowley, the new Met Police Commissioner, and is said to be “working constructively” with him.