Updated: Sep 12
On Saturday 20th March over 2000 demonstrators descended on Hackney Town Hall to protest the treatment of Child Q. Educationalists, activists, women’s group representatives and Black parents’groups descended on the borough to register their disgust and anger at the 15-year old’s racist treatment.
The issue at hand is the published investigation of a young Black girl taken out of a school exam at the instigation of schoolteachers and subjected to an illegal invasive strip search, while also menstruating, as part of a bogus fishing exercise for class C drugs carried out by Met police officers, in 2020. The incident has horrified Black communities and parents across the length and breadth of the country.
The safeguarding review into the matter by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership found that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor” in her treatment and that the school had “insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs” of the young girl after being made to reuse her sanitary towel and return to her exams.
The review also said that if she were not Black, her experience would have been different.
The girl's mother told investigators from the City of London and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership that after the strip-search, her daughter had been "asked to go back into the exam" she had been sitting, with no teacher asking about her welfare.
Her family said the girl had changed from "top of the class" to "a shell of her former bubbly self", and she was now self-harming and required therapy.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he was "disgusted and angered" at the "extremely traumatic" incident, which happened to the 15-year-old girl at her secondary school. However, in his letter to the director general of the IOPC, Michael Lockwood, Mr Khan said he understood the watchdog had made an "initial severity assessment of 'misconduct' for the officers involved in this case and this was agreed with the Metropolitan Police Service". He urged Mr Lockwood to "consider in detail" the safeguarding review, particularly that racism had a role, adding: "allegations of discrimination would normally be considered at the level of gross misconduct" in line with statutory guidelines.
Hackney MP Diane Abbot was more definitive: "racism absolutely played a part", citing the fact that the safeguarding review stated that in 2020-2021 there were 25 searches of under-18s in the same borough.
"Only two of those 25 under-18 searches were white, the figures tell you this is about race".
Her comments are backed up by the fact that 22 of the 25 searches led to no further action.
Jacqueline Courtenay, from Islington, north London, organised the rally held outside Hackney Town Hall last month. The solitary rally was one of many nationwide demonstrations demanding justice for Child Q. Courtenay said she felt compelled to do something after reading the harrowing report.
Scotland Yard has said the officers' actions were "regrettable" and it "should never have happened".
The admission that racism may had been a factor in this incident has yet again underlined that while academic performance of Black and Minority Ethnic communities has been transformed and improved four-fold, the criminalisation of young people of colour remains a prevalent issue.
Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the girls school brought the police into the young student’s life. It is doubtful that this is a one-off incident. The way that state agencies such as the police have felt more confident intervening in the education space and young people’s civil liberties over the years is a growing concern. The irony in all of this being that Met police officers are agency partners in the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP). Their role is supposed to be as allies in the protection of children from abuse. The failure to apply even the basic of child protection rules is not lost on youth advocacy groups. The racialised criminalisation of young people at the hands of education and Met police has a long and dishonourable history.
As far back as 1984, Mrs Carole May, headteacher of St Pauls and Hallows Church of England infants’ school in Tottenham, London, called in police to question four Black children between the ages of four and six. Mrs May was acting on her suspicious ‘that they had money on them which they should not have’ (Caribbean Times 9 Nov 1984). Despite outraged protests from local parents, the action was fully endorsed by the schools Board of Governors. May’s approach pretty much set the tone for the next thirty years with similar situations occurring, particularly in our urban cities.
To underline the point, if we consider innocent DNA collection between 1995 and 2006, DNA collection of juveniles added to the UK National DNA database grew by 750,000 for 10 to 17-year-olds. By 2012, 135,000 Black men aged between 15 and 34 in London were on the system by spring. That is equivalent to 77 per cent of the young Black population of England and Wales. In contrast, only 22 per cent of young white males and 6 per cent of the general population are logged.
If you are not seeing the regional picture, consider this: in 2020/21, two thirds (66%) of children arrested in London were from minority ethnic groups, compared to 20% of children arrested in the rest of England and Wales (Govt Ethnic Data Stats 2021).
The fact of the matter is that despite huge and significant improvements in academic performance in the 2000s – particularly from girls, the criminalisation of young Black minorities walks hand in hand alongside each other. Schools have established close relations with the police, Department of Health, and social care and benefit agencies. Worryingly, the proposed new Policing Bill will give the police even more extensive powers of stop and search. The guidance on their conduct is not a matter of public debate – they are left to the discretion of state institutions, they are enabled to probe the most intimate details of people’s lives. As in the case of Child Q, to ascertain whether a crime has been committed or not. The push back on Child Q will hopefully be a cause to probe the relationships between our public institutions like schools and their relationship to the police.
The Voice newspaper reported that Florence Cole, an Education & Community Care solicitor at Just for Kids Law, who is representing the girl’s case against her school, stated:
“From the education aspect, there is still ongoing correspondence with the school following the initial complaint launched by Child Q and her mother in 2020; in which they seek to hold the school to account and to ensure this never happens again to any other child.
“No child should be subjected to such an ordeal, and it is hoped that the school will reflect and consider the detrimental effects and negative impact that adultification, disproportionate sanctioning and the over policing of Black children has on their emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, particularly in light of the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership report and its findings.”