Inquiry Report – Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions

Rob Casey of Switalskis’ Child Abuse Compensation Team represented a Core Participant at the Public Inquiry known as Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The investigation report has now been published and here Rob summarises the recommendations.

IICSA has a number of modules looking at different areas of child abuse. I represented a Core Participant at the Public Hearing into sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions. The hearing took place in July 2018 and the report has now been published (on 28/02/19).

The hearing was part of an inquiry into the extent of any failures to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation while detained. It was acknowledged that children in detention are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse but it was felt that very little was known about the experiences of the children or the extent to which institutions in England and Wales discharged their duty of care to protect them. The inquiry focused on recent and current issues relating to the sexual abuse of children in custody but it’s remit was wide ranging and evidence was heard from a number of witnesses who were sexually abused in custodial institutions from as far back as the 1960’s.

The report indicates that “the accounts from adult survivors of child sexual abuse who were detained in custodial institutions in earlier years were among the worst that the Inquiry has heard”. It is certainly true that harrowing accounts were provided by witnesses who showed great courage in providing their evidence to the Inquiry. 

The Inquiry also heard from a wide range of professionals from a number of agencies who have extensive experience of working with children in custody. 

Some children in custody are detained not because of criminal activity but for their own welfare and others are on remand awaiting trial. Whatever reason for the detention, the report makes it clear that these children are particularly vulnerable when placed in a closed institution where access to the outside world is necessarily restricted and those in authority are distrusted by the children themselves. The report states “it is all the more difficult to escape an abuser when there is nowhere to hide”. 

The Inquiry has found that there has “been a shocking decline in safety in the secure estate in recent years” and the report contains a number of recommendations which reflect the Inquiry team’s view that the culture and ethos of Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres must change, with a child-centred approach to care and support replacing regimes currently focused on control and discipline. These principles are said to underpin the operation of Secure Children’s Homes and the inquiry team sees no reason why this cannot be achieved within Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres.

The inquiry team have now made seven recommendations which can be summarised as follows;

  1. That the Youth Custody Services commissions research into why the child remand population is as high as it is and if the reason is a lack of appropriate community provision or in any other way unrelated to a genuine need for those children to be remanded in custody, it is recommended that the Youth Custody Service and appropriate partner agencies put in place an action plan to address this.
  2. It is recommended that the Department for Education and the Youth Custody Service conduct a full review of the practice of placing children for justice and welfare reasons together in Secure Children’s Homes to establish whether it increases the risk of sexual abuse to children. If so, appropriate action should be taken, including consideration of alternative models.
  3. The Youth Custody Service should take steps to ensure that its training provides staff with an appropriate understanding of safeguarding in the context of the secure estate and that this is reviewed and updated.
  4. That the Ministry of Justice introduces arrangements for the professional registration of staff in roles responsible for the care of children in Young Offenders Institutions and Secure Training Centres.
  5. The inquiry team makes it clear that they consider the use of pain compliance techniques should be seen as a form of child abuse which is likely to contribute to a culture of violence which may increase the risk of child sexual abuse. It is recommended that the Ministry of Justice prohibits the use of pain compliance techniques.
  6. The inquiry team recommends that all institutions, including those which are privately run, publish their safeguarding procedures in full as well as regular reports about their use, to aid scrutiny and increase transparency.
  7. It is recommended that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education share policy responsibility for managing and safeguarding children in custodial institutions. This is to ensure that standards applied in relation to children in custody are jointly focused on discipline and securing child welfare.

On behalf of our client we were able to make a number of representations to the inquiry team and a number of the recommendations reflect our view about how the protection of children in custody can be improved. The inquiry report is a wide-ranging and helpful document which will hopefully act as a starting point for real and significant change in this area. It was clear from the evidence heard during the public hearings that the inquiry team are correct when they say that the culture of some of the establishments which hold children in custody needs to change and I think the recommendation that the relevant agencies, the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education, share policy responsibility for all children in custody is a helpful step forward.

Only time will tell if these recommendations are positively received but one hopes that they will be taken seriously and where appropriate acted on in order to hopefully reduce the risk of harm to young people who are in custody. Certainly our client expressed a very strong view that he hopes that nobody else would ever have to go through the traumatic experiences he suffered whilst in custody and if this report and its recommendations reduce the risk of sexual abuse occurring then they are, of course, to be welcomed. Responsibility now passes to the relevant agencies to act on the recommendations and it is important that their responses are monitored carefully to ensure that the good work of the inquiry leads to positive results.

The full report can be found here.

Rob Casey is a Director and Solicitor Advocate in Switalskis’ award-winning Child Abuse Claims team. For more information about our Child Abuse Claims services, or the team’s involvement with the IICSA, please call 01924 882000 or send a message using the contact form below.


Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.