17th March 2022

Child Q – Sorry needs to mean it won’t happen again

Like so many of us, I was appalled and shocked to read the Serious Case Review relating to Child Q, which found the system designed to protect and support her had seriously failed. And I am grateful to Jim Gamble for undertaking it, and giving her the opportunity to be heard, albeit belatedly.

Let me start by saying, what happened to Child Q was unacceptable. I say that completely unambiguously, because if any one of the adults involved had said so at the time we might not be in this position.

It is unbearable that this should happen to any child. I want to commend Child Q on the incredible bravery she has shown in speaking-up about her treatment in a situation where the adults around her should have kept her safe. I commend and share her desire to make sure that this never happens again, to any child. But, let me be clear, this should not have happened in the first place.

We need to look at the culture that allowed this to happen. It is clear none of the professionals around this child understood the consequences of what was happening to her. No one paused to think, in front of us – first and foremost – is a child we need to protect. Sometimes we make this very complicated, but what this comes down to is: “are professionals able to think about the child, talk to them about what is happening and understand how this is being experienced by them?” In real time, not in retrospect.

The value in lessons being learnt comes from them not being repeated. That’s what sorry means, it means it won’t happen again.

I will be writing to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and calling for a comprehensive and force-wide response to this review that seeks to address the culture which enabled this to happen. I am asking what the plan is to ensure that this cannot and does not happen again. I am always happy to bring children’s voices to that conversation. This needs to be intrinsic to policy formation, implementation, and evaluation.

Having worked in schools for over thirty years, I know that sometimes teachers can find it hard to challenge other safeguarding professionals, even when they think something is wrong. And this is why, all of us working with children must speak to them – to ask questions, to make sure they feel heard, regardless of the circumstances. Their voices need to be the galvanising force across all professionals. Last, and importantly, I want to address the Review’s conclusion that race played a part in the decision to undertake a strip search of Child Q. This is completely and unequivocally reprehensible. Children are, above all, children. I expect the IOPC to address this. And all recommendations to be implemented without delay.

Child Q has been very strong and brave in using her experience to demand changes within the Metropolitan Police.

It is beholden on all of us in positions of power and influence to respond to that call.

Dame Rachel de Souza