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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Safe inside? Child sexual abuse in the youth secure estate

Methodology, ethics and limitations

We adopted an exploratory case study approach, carrying out qualitative in-depth interviews with children and staff members across a small number of establishments within the youth secure estate. A case study method is a common qualitative approach when investigating complex phenomena. In this instance, it allowed us to gain an in-depth understanding of safeguarding practices in specific establishments.

Interviews were carried out in four different establishments in England and Wales – one YOI, one STC and two SCHs. Due to their comparatively smaller size, two SCHs were visited in order to achieve our sample in this establishment type. A summary of the sample and number of interviews carried out per establishment type is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Sample summary

As part of the sample selection we reviewed population data provided by the establishments and randomly selected children aged 14–17, ensuring a range of characteristics were included such as: age, gender, ethnicity and sentence type. Targeting children with prior experience of sexual abuse (either within or prior to entering the youth secure estate) did not form part of our sampling criteria for ethical reasons.

We took a stratified approach to selecting staff to ensure we spoke to individuals from a range of professional backgrounds, at different grades, and with varying lengths of service. This allowed us to capture the views of a cross-section of staff and the multidisciplinary roles involved in different aspects of safeguarding practice.

Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed, and transcripts were thematically coded and analysed.

The project was subject to rigorous ethical scrutiny. A number of ethical considerations were carefully managed and measures were put in place to ensure the safety of research participants and researchers was maintained at all times. These included: ensuring researchers had Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance; having two researchers present for all interviews; and ensuring a disclosure protocol was in place should any concerns arise during interviews. Informed consent was collected from all participants.

There were a number of limitations to the project. The sample criteria and consent restrictions meant the sample was not representative of the wider population across the youth secure estate, and with a small case study sample our research findings are not generalisable. It is also likely, linked to barriers to disclosing sexual abuse, that children may not have felt able to openly discuss any issues or raise concerns with researchers.

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