Lessons from The Case of Child Q

First, I will start by outlining the case of Child Q. Although there was widespread outrage and comprehensive coverage of the case, some of my international readers may be unfamiliar with it.

A summary of the Child Q case

 

In 2020, a Black female child, referred to as Child Q, was strip searched by two female police officers. The search took place on school premises without any supervision from a member of staff at the school. The search involved intrusive inspection of the child’s intimate body parts. During this search, Child Q was forced to remove her tampon for inspection of her genitals. The details of the case are graphic, and some parts are hard to write. Reading the Safeguarding Practice Review on the case was emotionally taxing for me and there were times I wanted to put it down and leave it alone. But this case warrants significant in-depth exploration.

I write this piece not to follow the latest sensational story or play identity politics. I write this piece as an act of process reform so that this does not happen again. The remaining contents of this article will devote itself to several recommendations for schools and their safeguarding practices. I do not write this as a safeguarding expert, but as an education professional seeking to do better for all children where we can eradicate discrimination in various ugly forms. Misconduct, mismanagement, and malpractice give us an opportunity to reform our behaviour and clean up house. The following recommendations I have set out serve to this end.

General Safeguarding Tips

  1. Never defer a situation to the police without having an Appropriate Adult present. An Appropriate Adult should be the DSL, DDSL or member of the Senior Leadership Team. Every member of staff should know who their DSL and DDSL is. Child Q was left alone whilst she was strip searched. This was an egregious failure on the part of school leadership. If possible, parents should be present.
  2. Always inform parents during any critical scenarios such as fighting or violent conduct, suspicion of drugs or prohibited substances, carrying of weapons or anything that may require intervention from the police or external agencies. The only exception to this should be cases where informing parents could potentially place the child at greater risk.
  3. Take a child centric approach in all matters concerning safeguarding. Schools should build a culture driven by the spirit of Article 3 in the UNCRC (best interests of the child). Such an approach can serve as a north star, putting at the forefront the child’s wellbeing, welfare, development, and protection. I’d also advise colleagues to look closely at Article 12 of the UNCRC “Respect for the views of the child”. The Safeguarding Practice Review for the Child Q case claims that the young girl asked for her mother to be present during the event, but this was denied. If this is true, then clearly her rights, in the context of Article 12, were violated. The full convention for children’s rights can be found here.
  4. I think there’s a significant need for schools to have Counsellors on site. These professionals can provide a particularly child-centric perspective during a vast array of situations involving child welfare. Unlike SLTs, they are not overly focused on KPIs, league tables and teaching and learning targets, subsequently allowing them to put students at the centre.
  5. Practise a range of case studies as mock simulations. Although nothing can fully prepare us for dealing with real life situations, having a range of mental models acquired through rehearsals can provide opportunities for school staff to devise appropriate actions and responses. It’s interesting that we conduct regular fire drills but seldomly or never for matters of safeguarding and critical incidents. Following these simulations, I’d recommend conducting ‘post-mortems’ to identify and explore appropriate and weak responses from colleagues

This post is by no means exhaustive. Perhaps the most significant factor in the Child Q case is that of race. This aspect warrants a whole exploration of its own. There are qualified experts in this area whom we need to listen to. I can say with certainty, if we approach safeguarding cases from a child-centred perspective, I feel we can mitigate many of the potential dangers and pitfalls of making devastating mistakes.

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