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Black children up to six times more likely to be strip-searched

The data shows the strip-searching of children s is not an isolated problem, limited to London.

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, has today published the first analysis of strip searches of children conducted by police under their stop and search powers across England and Wales. The data shows the strip-searching of children s is not an isolated problem, limited to London. Across England and Wales, police are strip searching children as part of stop and searches and there is evidence of deeply concerning practice.

The Commissioner’s findings include evidence of widespread non-compliance with the statutory safeguards in place to protect children, including the lack of Appropriate Adults in more than half of searches and strip searches being conducted in schools, police vehicles, and within public view.

The numbers

A total of 2,847 children were strip searched between 2018 and mid-2022, 95% of whom were boys. Almost one quarter (24%) searches were of children aged between 10-15 years old. While more than a third (37%) of searches happened at a police station and one in eight (12%) at a child’s home, the location of nearly half (45%) searches simply was not recorded.

The most concerning figures are:


The Children’s Commissioner highlighted her serious concerns about the poor quality of record-keeping, which makes transparency and scrutiny very difficult, and means that the numbers in this report may only be a minimum. She described the fact that  Black children are up to six times more likely to be strip searched when compared to national population figures as “utterly unacceptable”. By contrast, white children are around half as likely to be strip-searched.

Dame Rachel says that she accepts that in certain, limited situations strip-searching may be necessary for a child’s own safety but says that if “this intrusive and potentially traumatic power” is necessary, then there must be robust safeguards.

She argues that the additional complexity of conducting these searches during a stop and search should mean that there is a higher degree of scrutiny than if conducted in custody, not less.

The Commissioner describes what she says is “a fundamentally reactive and permissive system that places too much reliance on non-specialist frontline officers always doing the right thing, with no system of scrutiny to ensure that vital safeguards are being met, and little consideration of the impact of a potentially traumatic power on vulnerable children”.

She makes the point that there is sustained attention on this issue not because of a police whistle-blower or a damning inspection report, but the bravery of a girl (known as Child Q who was strip-searched in Hackney last year) to speak up about a traumatic thing that happened to her.

Dame Rachel says that further work is needed to strengthen the guidelines around strip searches, for there to be oversight and inspection to ensure compliance, and reform of a culture that has allowed this to go unchallenged. She says it is “completely unacceptable” that police forces in England and Wales are largely unable to account for the necessity, circumstance and safeguarding outcome of every strip search of a child that they conduct

Conclusions and recommendations

Dame Rachel acknowledges that there have been some local policy changes at the Metropolitan Police and elsewhere, but the national rules under which Child Q were searched have not been strengthened. However, she argues that much more work is required to create a culture among the police in which children are, first and foremost, treated as children.

The Commissioner argues that the Home Office Should undertake a comprehensive review of the legislative and policy framework for searches involving children in custody and under stop and search powers. She says that the purpose of the review, which should include public consultation, would be to ensure that children are only ever strip searched in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to protect them or others from significant harm. She also says that these searches should occur in a safe, controlled and appropriate environment in accordance with strict and transparent procedures that are subject to scrutiny.

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