Child Abuse in Youth Detention Settings | Bolt Burdon Kemp Child Abuse in Youth Detention Settings | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Abuse Claims

Child Abuse in Youth Detention Settings

Children who are detained in institutions are particularly at risk of abuse due to the imbalance of power between them and those members of staff paid to look after and care for them. We can help bring a claim against institutions where staff abuse their positions of trust and exploit vulnerable children.

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Our specialist solicitors at Bolt Burdon Kemp can help you make a claim if you were abused. Get in touch with our caring team and we will guide you through this difficult process. We act for most clients on a no-win, no fee basis, and can also advise you about making a claim through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

What is a youth detention setting?

Last year, the Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published their conclusions regarding child abuse in youth detention settings.

These “detention” settings include the following:

  1. Young offender’s institutes (previously known as borstals) – custodial institutions for male young offenders aged between 15 and 21 years old;
  2. Secure training centres – again, these are secure custodial centres for young people aged between 12 and 17 years old;
  3. Secure children’s homes – these provide accommodation for children and young people who are either in Local Authority care who cannot be safely looked after at home or in a foster care placement or for criminal justice reasons. The children and young people in these children’s homes are usually aged between 10 and 17 years old.

We have also seen the introduction of immigration removal detention centres.  Strictly speaking, unaccompanied children under 18 cannot be detained in these centres however there are exceptions to this rule – an unaccompanied child may be detained in the short-term or may be detained in relation to criminal cases or prior to being deported.  There have also been occasions on which children under 18 have been detained following an incorrect assessment (usually conducted by the Home office or Local Authority.  Again, children in these situations are effectively detained.

Reporting child abuse

It goes without saying, children in these settings are particularly at risk by virtue of their detention and the imbalance of power between them and those members of staff paid to look after and care for them.  There are often significant barriers preventing any child from disclosing abuse – shame, embarrassment, lack of trust, fear of not being believed, and these barriers are arguably magnified in a detention settling.

The Inquiry also noted that those obstacles faced by children being able to report abuse were “strikingly similar” across all detention settings and these included:

  • The power imbalance between staff and children
  • Children’s distrust of authority figures
  • An absence of “normal” friendships and intimacy, a lack of feeling safe in their environment
  • The fact they literally have nowhere to run.

The Truth Project, which forms part of the IICSA, also noted that the background of those individuals who provided evidence regarding the abuse they suffered, had “unstable childhoods where their parents and carers were unable to provide suitable and safe homes or meet their children’s basic needs. Home and family environments featured domestic abuse, substance misuse and extreme poverty”.  This is echoed in HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ report “Children in Custody” published in February 2020 which notes that over half of the survey participants (52%) had been in Local Authority care. This hammers home just how vulnerable the majority of these children are when they are taken into detention.

Sadly, there is a long history of abuse of children who have been detained.  There have been reports in the media of non-recent sexual and physical abuse of children in detention and during the course of the IICSA, Medomsley Youth Detention Centre was used as a case study.  There have been convictions in relation to physical and sexual abuse that was endemic at Medomsley and there are number of other institutions in which widespread abuse occurred including Kirklevington Detention Centre, Aycliffe Assessment Centre and Stanhope Castle Approved School.

Although there has been a broad reduction in the number of detained children, it remains that there are still vulnerable children and young people at risk of abuse.  The Independent Inquiry has more recently produced a report, Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Settings (2009 – 2017), published in February 2019.

It has been well established that there have been budget cuts and constraints within HM Prisons Service and this appears to have filtered down to young offender institutions and secure training centres and the same cuts have also been imposed on funding for secure children’s homes.  This, combined with high staff turnover, has made it harder for deficits and failings in the system to be robustly addressed.

It has been reported that between 2009 and 2017 there have been 1,070 incidents of sexual abuse within Young Offenders Institutions and Secure Training Centres – over two incidents a week. These figures do not include secure abuse in secure children’s homes and due to barriers in disclosing abuse, this figure could be much higher (the HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspection reports regarding various Young Offender Institutions indicate that a high number of children and young people would not report even bullying or victimisation whilst detained).  Despite this, there are nevertheless statistics that confirm that sexual assaults on children & young people – by prison staff – are still occurring, with the following abuse being documented in the Children in Custody report.

  • 2% of young people surveyed reported sexual assault (a total of 14 individuals)
  • 12% of young people surveyed reported physical assault (a total of 86 individuals)
  • 21% of young people surveyed reported threats or intimidation (a total of 151 individuals)
  • 33% of young people surveyed reported verbal abuse (a total of 237 individuals)

In light of this, it appears that children are still being subject to abuse whilst detained in institutions and that, when considering the barriers to disclosure, this may be the tip of the iceberg.

How Bolt Burdon Kemp can help

Our experienced and sympathetic solicitors have helped many child abuse victims win their cases. We understand how hard it can be to talk openly about these subjects, but you can trust in our specialist solicitors to handle your case sensitively.

We are quality approved to undertake legal aid work for child abuse compensation claims by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). Our expert solicitors also hold memberships with the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL), the Law Society’s specialist Personal Injury Panel and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

We know that money can never truly compensate for abuse at a youth detention setting. However, it can help to rebuild survivor’s lives, as a claim can be made for the cost of private counselling or loss of earnings if the incident has impacted your career.



Unreserved apology for survivor after abuse at children's home

Our client was sexually abused at a children’s home. Our client was extremely affected by the abuse and could not come to terms with what had happened to her for some years. We alleged that the local authority was responsible for her while she had been in care, and had failed to protect her. The defendant’s settlement offer of £50,000 was accepted just before trial, and we also negotiated an unreserved apology from the council to our client.

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Legal Assistant – Part of the Abuse Claims Team
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