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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Safe inside? Child sexual abuse in the youth secure estate

Eight key findings from the research

Eight key findings from the research

1) Some practices in the youth secure estate do not seem to serve the best interest of the child

As set out in international and national frameworks, the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration when any action is taken or any decision is made in relation to a child in the youth secure estate. The 'best interests' test requires establishments to take a rehabilitative approach and promote the reintegration of children into the community. Children deprived of their liberty must be treated with humanity and dignity, and establishments must take appropriate steps to protect children from all forms of abuse and ill-treatment.

A number of practices in the youth secure estate in England and Wales did not seem to serve the best interests of the child. There were challenges to children and staff being able to form positive meaningful relationships, mixed views about the extent to which certain prevention measures promoted safety (notably the normalisation of surveillance and over-reliance on restraint) and a lack of understanding about child sexual abuse, including identifying signs of abuse.

2) More work is needed to ensure safeguarding and embedding a culture of safety is seen as everyone's concern

Safeguarding should be everyone's concern. However translating this vision into reality remains a challenge. The role of leadership is critical in championing and embedding a clear and consistent whole-establishment approach to safeguarding, underpinned by a culture of safety.

Some establishments included in the research had yet to embed a culture of safety and further work was needed to create a safe environment for children.

3) Children in the youth secure estate do not always feel safe or are kept free from harm

The youth secure estate is entrusted with the care of children, many of whom are vulnerable and have complex behavioural needs. Establishments have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep children in their care free from harm, and children should feel safe at all times while in the youth secure estate. Feeling safe is a precondition of children being able to prosper in these environments, overcome any previous trauma they might have experienced, and develop the skills and tools required for their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Children had several concerns about their safety, particularly in relation to violence from other children.

4) Prevention measures in place to keep children safe do not always reduce risk or promote a safe environment

There are a number of operational factors that require careful and considered management to ensure a safe environment for children. Management of risk requires a whole-system and dynamic approach, grounded in defensible decision-making processes. The utility of technology can be increased when combined with other operational and safeguarding measures.

There were mixed views around the use of technology and restraint. Children were not always aware of certain prevention measures in place, and knowing about these could have alleviated concerns, for example decisions made in the allocation of children to units.

5) Children in the youth secure estate are not well equipped to have healthy sexual relationships

While in the care of the youth secure estate, children need to be equipped with knowledge to enable them to adopt healthy relationships when they return to the community. This includes more education about sexual abuse that is offered to all children in the care of the youth secure estate – and not limited to children identified as needing particular support in this area.

The current understanding of healthy sexual relationships amongst children in the youth secure estate was poor and children did not have the necessary knowledge to properly identify concerning behaviours.

6) Children and staff struggle knowing what constitutes abuse and inappropriate sexual behaviour

Staff need more guidance and support so they feel confident and able to identify sexual abuse and harmful sexual behaviours. This in turn would improve the understanding and behaviour of children in their care. A consistent approach from staff, combined with more education on healthy sexual relationships (and ongoing targeted interventions) would allow children to develop their understanding of what types of behaviour are appropriate.

Children and staff found it challenging to decipher what behaviour was appropriate in secure settings. For staff, this led to inconsistent practice in challenging sexualised behaviours. Children did not identify potentially harmful sexual behaviours they were experiencing. Behaviours deemed inappropriate in wider society could become ‘normalised’ and acceptable in the secure environment.

7) More work is needed to ensure staff in the youth sector estate are equipped to deal with safeguarding issues

It is essential that staff have a detailed understanding of safeguarding practices and implementation, and are adequately trained and supported to raise concerns and respond to disclosures. Senior management need to cascade relevant information to assist staff learning and development. Rigorous monitoring processes are needed to ensure safeguarding practices are being applied in a timely, consistent, safe and proportionate way.

Staff generally understood what safeguarding meant. They were able to describe various behaviours that would be a concern, although views were varied and subjective when considering certain nuanced behaviours (including sexual behaviours). There was a lack of clarity about the formal safeguarding process and the safeguarding vision of senior management. An overly complicated process, coupled with a lack of information and inconsistent training, compounded this issue.

8) Fostering good relationships and multidisciplinary working is a challenge

Establishments need to improve relationships with key partners, both internal and external, in order to improve the effectiveness of the overall safeguarding process. All staff need to better understand the roles of the safeguarding team and the LADO.

All establishments highlighted problems with their relationships with key stakeholders in the safeguarding process. Communication was often poor and the perceptions of safeguarding teams and the LADO among operational staff were not always positive. This impacted on their involvement in the process and the willingness of staff to report incidents to them.

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