THE CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER FOR ENGLAND has today (8 August) published new data, obtained from the Metropolitan Police, which shows that children are being strip searched without an Appropriate Adult present, despite this being a requirement in statutory guidance.  

Between 2018-2020, 650 children aged 10-17 were strip searched – over 95 per cent of whom were boys. In almost a quarter (23 per cent) of these cases, an Appropriate Adult was not present.

The data also reveals that, in 2018 specifically, Black boys represented two thirds of strip searches conducted without an Appropriate Adult present (70 per cent). The Children’s Commissioner is also concerned by the indication of ethnic disproportionality in the data. Of all children who were strip searched, 58 per cent were Black, as described by the officer. In 2018 alone, this figure rose to 75 per cent.

In around half of all strip searches of children (53 per cent), no further action was taken by the Metropolitan Police. This low level of successful searches arguably indicates that this intrusive practice may not be justified or necessary in all cases.

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, said “I am deeply shocked and concerned by the information that I have received. I am also extremely concerned by the ethnic disproportionality shown in these figures, particularly given that ethnicity was determined to be such a key factor in the Child Q case.”

“I am not reassured that what happened to Child Q was an isolated issue, but instead believe it may be a particularly concerning example of a more systemic problem around child protection within the Metropolitan Police. I remain unconvinced that the Metropolitan Police is consistently considering children’s welfare and wellbeing.

“I have submitted this data to Baroness Casey for consideration as part of her review into standards at the Metropolitan Police. I will also be engaging with the Home Office, National Police Chiefs’ Council, HMICFRS, the College of Policing, and other relevant agencies over my wider concerns regarding the current national procedures around strip searching children. My team will also be requesting this data from all police forces, so that we can ensure sufficient changes are made to protect the rights of children”

Commenting on the data, Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “We are horrified by the number of children subjected to these searches and it is shocking that nearly a quarter took place without an appropriate adult present. Strip searches are intrusive and traumatic, and children are being completely failed if even basic safeguards are not in place.

“We are also concerned by the over-representation of black children in these strip search figures, and race and adultification were identified as issues in the awful Child Q case. Sadly we often support children who have been groomed and coerced into crimes like county lines drug dealing only to be treated as adults who have made a wilful decision, rather than offered support as victims of exploitation.

“It’s vital the Home Office and police leaders review guidance and training for police officers across the country, consulting with children and young people, and taking on board the findings of the ongoing Independent Office of Police Conduct investigations. However, it’s also crucial that existing and updated procedures are followed, and that all children and young people are treated with dignity and respect. When police officers arrest or stop and search children this should be a golden opportunity to identify risks like grooming and exploitation and work with other services to offer protection and help.”

The Children’s Commissioner has set out four ambitions to improve the safeguards for children, including amendments to national guidance, improved training, increased transparency and building upon the role of safeguarding partnerships. The Commissioner is clear that no child should be strip searched without the presence of an Appropriate Adult, apart from in the most exceptional cases, and only where there is immediate risk of harm to the child or wider public.

The Commissioner will continue to work to ensure that strip searching is only undertaken when absolutely justified, in cases of immediate risk of harm to themselves or someone else, and that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect children, and to ensure that they are fully supported and cared for after a search has taken place.

* Read Strip search of children by the Metropolitan Police Service: new analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England here.

* Sources: Children’s Commissioner for England and Children’s Society