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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

E.2: Different types of institution

Young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes

10. The Inquiry’s REA directed us to evidence from a range of sources that children are generally safer in secure children’s homes (SCHs) as compared to young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs).[1] The witnesses we heard from agreed, and generally suggested that children were also safer from sexual abuse in SCHs. For example:

  • Dr Janes told us that the Howard League’s position has long been that SCHs are a safer environment for children.[2] For the very small number of children who genuinely cannot be managed safely in the community, they should only be detained in small local SCHs.[3]
  • Pam Hibbert, a social worker and former Chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, thought SCHs were better at safeguarding than YOIs and STCs because their ethos was rooted in a social care tradition rather than criminal justice, and staff in SCHs were more aware that children may be both victims and abusers.[4]
  • Carolyne Willow, a social worker and founder of Article 39, considered that children in SCHs are much better protected from sexual abuse than those in YOIs and STCs, because the law, policy, staffing ratio, professional expertise, size, physical environment, education, health, culture and respect generally afforded to children in those homes is far superior. She said that when detention of children is required, this should be in a SCH.[5]

11. Matthew Brazier, an Ofsted special adviser on looked-after children, referred to Ofsted’s most recent annual report, dated 13 December 2017, which noted a “marked contrast” between the inspection outcomes for SCHs and STCs. While 86 percent of SCHs were judged good or outstanding, the three STCs were judged less than good.

  • Inspectors of SCHs noted strengths in matters such as the ability of the staff to develop positive and effective relationships with young people who are disaffected.[6][7]
  • In contrast, inspectors of STCs had “serious concerns” about “poor behaviour management … the safety of children and staff … rising levels of violence between children and young people and assaults on staff rules and sanctions being inconsistently applied … difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff”. Overall, Ofsted considered that although there were some “pockets of better practice”, the STCs’ staff “often did not have the skills and experience to respond to children’s needs with the necessary sensitivity and care”.[8]

12. Mr Brazier said the reasons for these problems within the STCs were instability of leadership, at certain points very high staff turnover and high levels of violence. The report had concluded that outcomes for children and young people in YOIs and STCs were much less good and sometimes extremely poor. The report said: “lessons need to be learned urgently about how best to educate and take care of children in the secure estate”.[9]

13. Alison Sykes, Head of Secure and Emergency Services for South Gloucestershire Council and the registered manager for Vinney Green SCH, gave us a practical insight into the different establishments. She told us that at Vinney Green there are 150 staff for 24 children. She knew all of the children personally, but it would be impossible for her to do this when looking after 70, 100 or more young people. By comparison with YOIs and STCs, children in SCHs have much greater private contact with their families. Unlike the other contexts, there are clear, published child safety standards governing SCHs, which make child welfare a primary aim. A person working in a care role in a SCH must have minimum childcare qualifications and there is regular supervision of staff.[10][11][12]

14. On behalf of the Youth Custody Service, Sara Robinson accepted the evidence from the inspectorates that the SCHs generally provide a safer environment.[13]

15. However, SCH places form a relatively small part of the child custody estate. By March 2017, the number of children in SCHs had dropped to 210, of which 49 percent (or around 102) were on justice placements.[14]

16. Some children who should be in SCHs are in fact in YOIs or STCs. Matthew Brazier told us of children in “very, very difficult and upsetting situations” in STCs who should be in “a nurturing environment” in a SCH.[15]

Smaller establishments

17. The Inquiry’s REA cited evidence that children are generally safer in smaller establishments[16] because they are more likely to facilitate positive staff/child relationships.

18. Many witnesses considered that children were better protected from sexual abuse in smaller institutions:

  • Pam Hibbert agreed with Dr Tim Bateman, an expert in this area, who suggested the size of the establishment and the staff-to-child ratios in combination with a care-based ethos were fundamental.[17][18]
  • Professor Hardwick, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that detained children were at risk from the closed nature of the establishments, whether they were big or small, but that smaller establishments, closer to a child’s home, would get many better outcomes.[19]
  • Carolyne Willow considered children feel safer in smaller establishments.[20]
  • Angus Mulready-Jones, the lead inspector for children in detention for HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), agreed with the recommendations from Martin Lomas (the Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons) that custodial units holding children should be smaller to facilitate positive relationships between staff and children.[21]

19. However, Sara Robinson said that one has to be careful not to think simplistically that small is best. It is not necessarily about the size of the operation, it is more about the culture of the leadership, the interventions and the processes that are in place to safeguard children.[22]

Privately run establishments

20. Prior to the hearings we were aware of the allegations of serious abuse of children by staff at Medway STC, when it was run by G4S, as featured in a Panorama programme broadcast in January 2016. In particular:

  • HMIP’s Advice Note on Medway,[23] produced shortly after the allegations emerged, noted concerns that staff had carried out ‘poor practice’ in areas not covered by CCTV, that there was a very high rate of staff turnover, and that managerial oversight had failed to protect young people from harm. The final report of the Medway Improvement Board concluded there had been a focus on contract delivery at the expense of the welfare of the children.[24]
  • The Secretary of State for Justice responded to the Medway Improvement Board report by saying that the fundamental problem was “those running Medway conceived it as a place of coercion, where the culture and incentives – as they were designed in the contracts – were centred around corralling and control of children, rather than their full rehabilitation”.[25]
  • The Youth Custody Improvement Board report in February 2017 concluded: “The appalling situation at Medway and the decision of G4S to sell its remaining STC contract indicate that these arrangements have not played out as intended. It raises questions as to the capacity to manage contracts and suggests the contracting arrangements are insufficiently flexible to deal with underperformance, ensure high‑quality provision and effective recruitment and retention of skilled staff”.[26]

21. A press release from the Prison Governors Association in January 2018 stated that contracts for prisons and other services had not been fit for purpose, and running the contracts had diverted managers from running prisons.[27]

22. In light of this evidence, we addressed the question of whether children are generally safer in establishments that are run by state bodies rather than by private contractors, and if so whether this means they are likely to be better protected from sexual abuse in establishments run by state bodies.

23. Some witnesses remained concerned about private custody providers:

  • Pam Hibbert considered that the state should be responsible for the care of detained children and that problems were exacerbated when the focus was on contract compliance and profit.[28]
  • Carolyne Willow expressed concern that financial considerations and reputational risk may get in the way of protecting children in privately run institutions.[29]
  • Steve Gillan, the General Secretary of the POA, said the POA’s position is that the Government should be responsible for all custodial care, because public-sector staff are more likely to have broader experience and publicly run establishments have improved security and vetting procedures.[30][31]

24. However:

  • Angus Mulready-Jones said there was no evidence that links private companies to poor outcomes; there are very poor outcomes in some public provision as well as private provision. He referred to an internal report by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) which raised concerns that too much reliance was placed on information provided by the contractor, so that inaccurate reporting was hard to detect. The report also noted that the focus is on process rather than the quality of service.[32]
  • Professor Hardwick stressed that children were at risk from being detained, whether the establishment was privately or publicly run.[33]
  • Sara Robinson said there were polarised views about whether private provision should be used, but there are examples of where private provision has been successful. She said the evidence does not show children are safer in publicly run institutions compared to those run by the private sector.[34]

25. We heard directly from those involved in providing custodial services on a private basis.

26. G4S had run Medway and Rainsbrook STCs until 2016. Medway had been taken over by HMPPS and Rainsbrook by MTC Novo. Jerry Petherick, managing director of G4S Custodial and Detention Services, acknowledged the concerns raised by the Medway Improvement Board and HMIP about Medway in 2016, specifically in HMIP’s case that safety, and the institution as a whole, was inadequate.[35] He accepted that the 2015 HMIP report on Rainsbrook had also found that safety was inadequate,[36] but other reports had not been so critical. He explained that, since the issues that had arisen at Medway, significant efforts had been made by G4S with respect to whistleblowing, safeguarding processes, CCTV, body-worn cameras, shower viewing panels and the introduction of an additional layer of leadership at the chief operating officer level.[37] Nearly all of the personnel who worked at Medway and Rainsbrook are no longer employed by G4S.[38]

27. In terms of other G4S-run institutions:

  • The June 2017 Ofsted report for Oakhill STC found safety to be inadequate, raised several concerns about safeguarding and management of it, and noted there were still areas where children did not feel safe due to an ongoing lack of CCTV coverage.[39]
  • The December 2017 HMIP report for HMYOI Parc[40] concluded that although safety had been a challenge and violence remained too high, it was encouraging to see many previous recommendations attended to, which was said to be to the great credit of the Director and her staff. [41]

28. Jerry Petherick was asked about the May 2018 Independent Monitoring Board’s report on the Brook House detention centre run by G4S (although children are not detained there).[42] A further Panorama programme had revealed disturbing scenes of ill-treatment of detainees by some staff. Mr Petherick accepted this reflected some serious concerns. He said there is risk in every custodial situation worldwide of some staff behaving inappropriately and referred to “small pockets of very negative behaviour” that were “well hidden”.[43]

29. Stuart Jessup of MTC Novo is the current Director of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre. Mr Jessup was involved in the transition of Rainsbrook, following the transfer from G4S. He explained that after the 2017 Ofsted score of ‘inadequate’ an action plan was implemented to address the recommendations.[44] Mr Jessup told us about MTC Novo’s improvements. These included the early implementation of the SECURE STAIRS framework, the changes it has made to enable children to have better contact with the outside world, improvements to the company’s recruitment processes, its staff training programme, the system of supervision for staff, increases to its senior management team, its systems with respect to body-worn cameras, shower viewing panels and night staff rotas.[45] We are aware that the most recent Ofsted report on Rainsbrook noted the improvements that had been made in the four areas of the inspection.[46]

30. Jonathan French of HMPPS has been the governor of Medway since January 2017. The number of children at Medway was very low when he arrived (14) but gradually increased. Since taking over, he has prioritised staff training because many staff indicated they had had very little training at Medway and did not feel equipped to deal with the children they were looking after. He had also initiated training around sexual abuse for some staff. A comparatively high proportion of staff are enrolled on the youth justice foundation degree. The Custody Support Plan (CuSP) scheme was rolled out 12 months ago. Medway is now fully staffed. The Ofsted report in March 2017[47] rated the establishment as ‘inadequate’. However, by March 2018[48] the overall grade had improved to ‘requires improvement’ and the report stated “Medway had improved in all areas since the last inspection”.[49]

31. In terms of the future, Sara Robinson explained there are currently no plans within the Youth Custody Service to put more children in publicly run establishments. Instead the Youth Custody Service intends to follow the recommendation from the Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales by Charlie Taylor in 2016 to develop “a secure school, which is built on a principle of smaller provision, looking at 60/70 beds, it’s more geographically based, that is led by a culture that is more akin to education and health and security being secondary, although it is a primary factor in terms of safety for children”. She said these schools would use the approach set out in the Department for Education legislation currently applicable to SCHs. The main differences between secure schools and SCHs is that the former will be run by an education authority and will be bigger.[50]


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