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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Safe inside? Child sexual abuse in the youth secure estate

Prevention measures and protective factors

There were various prevention measures and protective factors in place intended to contribute to children’s sense of safety and wellbeing. We categorised these as individual, interpersonal and operational factors.

In terms of factors specific to individuals, some children employed self protection strategies to help them feel safe, for example, projecting a sense of confidence to avoid being seen as ‘weak’ or consciously keeping their distance from other children. Many (in the YOI in particular) described being in a constant state of vigilance. The physical characteristics of other children, for example physical size and strength, influenced perceptions of vulnerability and capability to cause harm.

Interpersonal factors related to relationships and meaningful, positive relationships between children and staff emerged as a critical – and arguably the most important – factor to children feeling and being safe in these environments. It helped children feel at ease in an often unfamiliar environment and facilitated any disclosures. It enabled staff to better understand children and identify changes in behaviour. Most children had at least one member of staff that they trusted and could talk to. Attitudes towards staff were generally more positive in the SCHs compared to the STC and YOI, where views were more mixed. Children articulated various attributes they valued in staff such as reliability and someone they could ‘have a laugh with’. However, a number of issues impeded children and staff from being able to build quality relationships including: a lack of staff continuity, a lack of time to develop relationships, being moved between units, and perceived breaches of trust.

Operational factors related to the management of the wider secure environment and processes within establishments. The following factors played a critical role in managing the environmental risks: staff recruitment processes; staff to child ratio; how children were allocated to specific units; the design and management of the physical space; and information sharing. However, children were not always aware of certain operational processes that were in place to keep them safe – and knowing about these may have helped to alleviate some of their concerns. There were mixed views between children and staff in relation to some operational measures designed to contribute to safety, especially closed circuit television (CCTV) and body worn video cameras (BWVCs). It was also concerning to see how often restraint appeared as a theme in the accounts of children and staff and that there was no backstop against restraint being used on children with known past experiences of sexual abuse. There were different and complex challenges of managing mixed populations, which included mixing children by gender and by status (welfare and criminal justice cases), requiring a dynamic and considered approach to assessing risk.

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