The Plight of Child Q and The Direct Failure of Policy Implementation

Written by Diontre Davis, Joint International Chair of the Young People Advisory Board

Image by Humphrey Nemar of My London New

The following contains two institutions in today’s society, the public school system and the Metropolitan Police, who have failed to safeguard the well-being of a Black children. Instead, these institutions violated these children (who will be referred to as Child Q for personal protection) privacy rights, innocence, subjected to  and were racially profiled with false accusations. Today, we will focus on the treatment Child Q, named to protect the individual concerned, when she was removed from her exams by the teachers claiming that she smelled of cannabis. After finding nothing, they contacted the police that conducted a strip search on the 15-year-old girl in the school’s medical room. During the search, only the girl and two police were present. She was on her period and was asked to strip naked, removing all her clothing. She was also asked to remove her sanitary towel, and after the search she had to re-use the same sanitary towel. As she was refused permission to use the restroom to clean herself afterward (there are other details that are too horrific to mention in this article). The search was conducted without any other adult present in the room. 


After there was nothing found in the search, she was let go to continue taking her exams. There was a report recently published about the incident: Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review. The report stated that the strip search was unjustified listing the following: 


  • The strip search should never have happened
  • Racism was likely to have been an influencing factor
  • Adultification bias, the treatment of non-adults as adults, may have also played a factor here. (This also begs the question, if Black children are often perceived as older than they may appear we may need to see this reflected in the Child Safeguarding Practice and future policies)


The Metropolitan Police Service have since issued an apology but the young girl is said to be emotionally  traumatised. She now self-harms, is in therapy, and her mother has also expressed concerns that the police officer’s camera may have recorded the ordeal, and whether they are re-watching it. The trauma was so much from this incident, she nearly took her own life. The incident has also left a community grieving for the future of Back children.


This incident has raised a very important question: when we envision a civil society, is this the image that we expect? There is a line that should not be crossed but it still happened. We are now at a crossroads wondering are there going to be changes that will ever be effective to break this cycle of pain. In particular, society adultifies Black children and criminalises them. How we treat our children is a reflection of our society. What will happen to them, the future of our society, when they grow up continuously traumatised? If we are to claim to be a civil society, then we need to acknowledge lines of privacy, respect, and humanity were crossed. Will the outpour of grief from the community in the form of marches and  petitions all pushing for change have the desired effect, or the sit-ins at the said school as the children claim that they no longer feel safe. Who is there for them to turn to now? In the two years since this horrific event, what recommendations have been brought forward to safeguard their concerns?


In order to provide recommendations to create safeguards for children, we need to examine the policy that governs searching, screening and confiscation advice for headteachers, school staff and governing bodies. What happened to Child Q is an example of how the school system fails to be a safe place for Black children and an environment that policed Black children. According to the YMCA’s Young and Black Report, 95% of young Black British students have witnessed racist language in education with two-thirds of these numbers not trusting the police to treat them fairly or provide safeguards. Additionally, teacher perception of Black students was revealed as the biggest barrier to educational success. A change needs to occur. In the bid for greater equality and safeguarding, there are questions that we need to ask:


  • What are the different ways law and policy create the conditions that enable practice of criminalising and causing significant harm to children? 
  • What steps need to be taken to ensure all practitioners need to be mindful of their duties to uphold the best interests of children?
  • School staff had an insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs of Child Q when responding to concerns about suspected drug use. Is this a common action that heavily impacts Black children in the school system and why is that the case? 
  • Was practice involving Child Q sufficiently focused on her potential safeguarding needs? If not, why was her safety and mental health disregarded? 
  • Is the law and policy, which informs local practice, properly defined in the context of identifying potential risk and furthermore, does law and policy create the conditions whereby practice itself can criminalise and cause significant harm to children? 
  • How can we implement better methods to verify the need(s) to acquire parental consent when strip searching children? This can help prevent the undermining the principles of parental responsibility and partnership to ensure safeguards for children.


The two institutions in this case have fallen short of the expectation to serve and protect. 

Unfortunately, some may argue that Child Q’s specific treatment is an anomaly that does not occur to Black children often, but this is far from the truth. There have been 9,000 children stripped and searched by the Metropolitan Police over the last five years, with 35  of them being under 12 years old. There have even been over 650 Black boys forced under intrusive and traumatic strip searches after the initial scandal of Child Q conducted by the Metropolitan Police between 2018 and 2022. This is far from an isolated incident. Labour MPs and celebrities have stated their outrage and disapproval, however there has not been any response from government ministers. 


For example, Leroy Logan, an MBE former superintendent who is known for working to change race relations in the police force, shared his perspective on the situation, 


It’s not just police that have had a race problem for a number of years & decades, but also the schools. As shown by the Adultification of young Black people, including the disproportionate number of black students excluded over years. Child just Q exemplifies this toxic mix in the most starkest terms. This is just the tip of the iceberg because there’s been massive under reporting over the years, however, Child Q has shed a light on this matter in a way that it hasn’t had before and there will be more IOPC enquiries to come. Child Q safeguarding report echoes a lot of these themes raised.” 


In fact, these cases reveal the use of racist policy implementation that violates the privacy protection of Black children and the adultification of their being.


The case of Child Q is at the intersection of policy failure, poor policy implementation, racism, and the adultification of young Black children. When it comes to strip search of a minor that led to this tragedy of Child Q’s and many others alike, is it a question of policy failure around safeguarding minors? Or perhaps is it the failure of the unrestrained nature of when and how to implement the safeguarding policy.


Safeguarding the community isn’t just about the police. It’s ultimately about  protecting the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of children. Child Q has shown that the safeguarding is completely disregarded from the minds of law enforcement and school staff when it is a young black child under scrutiny. 

Therefore it is important to be inclusive of people with lived experience to be integrated as part of the process to improve the effectiveness of not only  the development and  implementation of policies, but also the monitoring and assurance particularly, if they may be negatively impacted and further marginalised by them. 


Policies are similar to living documents, they grow and adapt to the changes to how society grows to respect and protect human and civil rights. The same goes for guidance, practices, and processes. 


To reduce bias and support the effectiveness of the policy and offer guidance we must follow these 3 practices:


  1. Guideline of the Policy We’ve got to be there when they are developing the policies and the guidelines around how the policy will be implemented  
  2. Arbitrary nature of the policy. Looking into to arbitrary nature of policy when they make the guideline of how they intend to implement when they make the guidance and the rules of how they should be interpreted
  3. Monitoring and evaluation When the policy is action monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the policy is it fit for purpose?


Empathic leadership should be extended to include to Black communities. It is currently selectively used for White communities, and these biases will  continue to lead to situations like what happened to Child Q. It will take courageous leaders to admit the wrong actions have been taken  and the root causes of those actions. This case can be seen as an opportunity for institutions to change and lead with empathy, compassion, understanding of different lived experiences, a recognition of errors and the systems that these errors are built on. 


There is a need for transparency within institutions and on strengthening  relationships with the vulnerable communities. The Met Police have already recognised that there is much work that needs to be done when building relationships where Black communities are concerned. As Black communities often feel overpoliced and under-protected. This will be a starting point to lead with empathy and understanding, there are always lessons to be learned. 


As we mentioned earlier in this article, policies and the arbitrary use of them can dictate a lot of an institution’s culture. It is crucial to transform an institution and  strengthen how it functions to protect all members of the community it is meant to serve. It is vital to have the ability to include all members of the community, especially those on which policies are having a detrimental impact.


The incident also illustrated the junction where judgement around action rules, within policy interacts, and various figures of authority. Judgements were that the search for the drugs was more important than the need to safeguard the young girl. For that reason we have a warranted independent analysis, that details the potential impact of disproportionality and racism and how these factors might have influenced the actions of organisations and individual professionals. This is the core purpose of The Black Policy Institute. The TBPI formed to amplify the much-needed voices of the Black community around the support and enhancement of policies that have a detrimental impact on the black community due to racial oversight. 


There are always lessons to be learnt in tragedies. Here are two definitions taken from the Oxford Dictionary to ponder: 1) Empathy, the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation and compassion, the feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it. 2) Pity that inclines one to spare or to succour. The question here is how can we do better and more importantly what is stopping us?


During the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review for Child Q, they convened relevant expertise, a reference panel including Black and Global Majority Ethnic safeguarding professionals was also convened. Their input has been invaluable in helping to explore and validate the review’s findings in the context of anti-racist practice. This sums up what we can do now of value for the future: the protection of Black children from the prejudice in the school system and disciplinary acts of law enforcement. We must be inclusive in the creation of how these policies are put together and function. Where ambiguity may occur there needs to be tighter guidance. This may go even further, then Black children being  in an inhumane way because the societal history of injustices makes it socially acceptable. We need to develop new policies to protect Black children and understand the nuances of how people who are vulnerable are subjected to this kind of treatment, especially children. Child Q has now even stepped forward and voiced her dissatisfaction with the lack of action from the school and police department to hold themselves accountable. In the words of Child Q, speaking via her lawyers, the girl said she wanted “cast-iron commitments to ensure this never happens again.”