IOPC Makes 10 Recommendations to Improve Child Strip Search Practice

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has made a series of recommendations aimed at improving policing practice across England and Wales around strip searches of children, to ensure their safety and wellbeing are prioritised.

We have made ten nationwide recommendations to the Home Office, National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing after drawing on evidence from several IOPC investigations that looked at police searches of children involving the exposure of intimate parts (EIP).

In September 2023, we called for the government to undertake a substantial review of policing powers relating to the strip searches of children to improve safeguarding.

These latest recommendations include a specific call for the government to amend relevant laws, so police forces are required to make mandatory safeguarding referrals for any child subject to an EIP search.

The Home Office has said it’s factoring our recommendations, including child safeguarding measures, into reforms they are carefully considering into policing powers around the searches of children.

We have also called for national policing bodies – the College of Policing and NPCC – to review and update all relevant police guidance and training products relating to EIP searches of children, so sufficient emphasis is placed on the child’s safety and wellbeing, and prioritising safeguarding.

As a result of our recommendations, which also included involving young people in any review of training to ensure the voice of the child is reflected, both policing bodies have committed to carrying out a dedicated review of Stop & Search Authorised Policing Practice (APP).

We also found there was an inconsistent use of appropriate adults by forces when strip searching children and we’ve called for the NPCC, which accepted our recommendation, to work with chief officers to ensure all officers understand the laws around appropriate adults.

IOPC director Steve Noonan said: “We know that strip searches on minors can be traumatic and have a significant, lasting impact on the child involved. When developing these recommendations, we liaised with a wide range of policing and non-policing stakeholders to further understand issues in this area to help identify opportunities to improve policing practice.

“We recognise that the laws around stop and searches and searches in custody are important and necessary powers for the safety of officers, those being searched, and for the wider public.

“However, through our investigations we’ve found that children’s wellbeing and safeguarding aren’t always prioritised, and that policing laws, training and guidance need to be updated to better protect and safeguard them.

“It’s clear that improvements to training and guidance and a consistent, standardised approach across police forces are essential to improve policing practice, ensuring a child-first approach and reducing the risk of adultification of children.

“We’re pleased that policing partners are taking our recommendations seriously and have committed to carrying out reviews of relevant training and guidance. We’re also encouraged that the Home Office is proposing amendments to policing powers around searches of children, which we have been consulted on, and we hope any changes to law which increase safeguarding measures for children are introduced quickly.”

As part of our recommendations, we also called for the Home Office to update annual data it publishes on strip searches of children both within and outside of custody and for it to coordinate the ongoing national policing response to all recommendations made in this area.

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