Child Q: Black professionals urge education secretary to take action following strip-search

Exclusive: In a letter to Nadhim Zahawi and the home secretary Priti Patel, seen by The Independent, dozens of signatories expressed their outrage at the incident

Nadine White
Friday 25 March 2022 15:51
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<p>Child Q’s case has sparked outrage among politicians and the public, with protests taking place across the UK </p>

Child Q’s case has sparked outrage among politicians and the public, with protests taking place across the UK

The education secretary must take immediate action to tackle institutional racism within the education sector following the “dehumanising” strip-search of a black child in London, a collective of black professionals has demanded.

The teenager, known as Child Q, was strip-searched by two female Metropolitan Police officers at her Hackney school in 2020, without another adult present, and when it was known that she was menstruating.

School staff had wrongly accused her of possessing cannabis – for the second time in the space of just a few weeks – and had called the police.

In a letter to Nadhim Zahawi and the home secretary Priti Patel, seen by The Independent, dozens of signatories expressed their outrage at the incident, calling for the teachers involved to be sacked and for a review of safeguarding policies to take place in order to prevent such an incident from happening again.

They also called for changes to the curriculum to be implemented in order to provide children and teachers with “a better understanding of the rights of a child”.

“It is clear that racial profiling and the adultification of a black child was at the heart of this abhorrent case, so changes to the curriculum, in particular the PSHE [Personal, social, health and economic] content, is needed, so that children and teachers have a better understanding of the rights of a child,” the letter, which was sent this week, reads.

The letter was addressed to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, as well as the home secretary, Priti Patel

“Initial teacher training providers must ensure that their programmes of study reflect the contents of this case, and [that] those training to teach are aware of correct protocol to adhere to under circumstances where a minor is suspected of a criminal offence.”

This comes as new data reveals that most children in London who were strip-searched by the police in the last three years came from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A local child safeguarding practice review, conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) and published last week, concluded that the strip-search should never have happened, that it was unjustified, and that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”. It also published a series of recommendations to the police and government.

There have been widespread calls for the officers involved in the strip-search to be dismissed and prosecuted – a demand that has been echoed by the collective behind the letter, which includes signatories from the education, law, business, religious and political sectors.

“It is imperative that the officers involved are fully disciplined; nothing short of the loss of their jobs would be sufficient recompense in this case,” they said.

The officers involved were not suspended but have recently been moved to desk duty, Hackney MPS said on Wednesday during a controversial online forum on community policing attended by concerned members of the public.

Referring to the 1999 Macpherson report, which highlighted institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police Service, the authors of the letter said that not only does racism continue to plague policing two decades later, but it is also embedded within the education sector.

Joanne Benjamin-Lewis said she had felt ‘horror and disgust’ on reading the Child Q review

“The racism which precipitates the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ for black young people enables the existence of cultures within schools which consistently reproduce an unwarranted variation in the experiences of children based on the colour of their skin,” they wrote.

Child Q’s case has sparked outrage among politicians and the public, with London mayor Sadiq Khan sharing his “dismay and disgust” as protests took place across the UK in response to the incident.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched its investigation following a complaint in May 2021. A spokesperson said it had completed its inquiries, was finalising its report, and was investigating the officers involved for misconduct – a charge that the London mayor has asked to be escalated to gross misconduct.

Joanne Benjamin-Lewis, a former school leader based in Birmingham, arranged the letter and told The Independent: “As a mother of two black daughters and a former school leader, I cannot adequately express my horror and disgust that I felt upon reading the Child Q review.

“I am bewildered by the actions taken by the police, who subjected this child to what can only be described as sexual abuse.

“I was even more appalled to read about the involvement of the teachers in this case, and how they utterly failed this girl, taking her out of an exam to a room and allowing her to be strip-searched by officers whilst menstruating ... not even allowed food or drink, left alone and not allowed to go the toilet, made to go home and no call to her parents. I really don’t have adequate words.

“I really want to ensure that Child Q knows how much we support her and that so many of us will do all that we can to make sure this never happens to any child ever again hence. It is for this reason that I wrote this open letter.”

Anntoinette Bramble

On Tuesday, mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said that the headteacher of Child Q’s school should stand down, stating that confidence has been lost in their leadership.

Speaking to The Independent on Monday, local councillor and deputy mayor Anntoinette Bramble was critical of the police’s conduct and the government’s collective lack of response to Child Q’s case.

Pledging to help bring about the changes required to avoid harm being inflicted upon another black child, the councillor said she is also working closely with the community and Hackney residents to provide support.

“Bad things keep happening to black children in disproportionate numbers, with disproportionate effects. If we don’t keep reminding people [of this] and speaking up, we begin to normalise these disparities because it’s something that keeps happening,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “This was a distressing incident which should not have happened. We are in touch with the school in question, where staff are taking steps to support the child involved and her family.

“Schools should be places where pupils feel safe and protected, which is why we have strengthened our safeguarding guidance and extended it to all schools and post-16 settings – staff should receive regular safeguarding training to improve their confidence in managing sensitive situations.”

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