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Keeping Children Safe in Youth Justice Settings


Children and young people who are in the secure estate are subject to the principles and statutory protection of the Children Act 1989 and the local authority continues to have the same responsibilities towards them as they do for any other children in the local authority area.

There are three types of secure accommodation in which a young person can be placed which together make up the secure estate for children and young people.

  • Young Offender Institutions (YOI’s) – YOI’s are facilities run by both the Prison Service and the private sector and accommodate 15- to 17-year-old boys and young adult men aged 18-21. There are currently five YOI’s in England and Wales.
  • Secure Training Centres (STC’s) – STC’s are purpose-built centres for young offenders up to the age of 17. STC’s can accommodate both male and female young people who are held separately. They are run by private operators under contracts, which set out detailed operational requirements. There are currently 3 STC’s in England.
  • Secure Children’s Homes (SCH’s) – Most SCH’s are run by local authority children’s social care. They can also be run by private or voluntary organisations. They accommodate children and young people who are placed there on a secure welfare order for the protection of themselves or others, and for those placed under criminal justice legislation. There are currently 8 SCH’s and are overseen by the Department of Education rather than the Ministry of Justice.

All these establishments have a duty to effectively safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people which should include:

  • Protection of harm from self.
  • Protection of harm from adults and
  • Protection of harm from peers.

There should be agreed protocols in place between the Local authority Childrens Services, the youth offending service, the Local Childrens Safeguarding Board and the secure establishment which set out how they will work together and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare in secure establishments.

All members of staff working in secure establishments have a duty to promote the welfare of children and young people and ensure that they are safeguarded effectively. In addition, Governors, Directors and senior managers have a duty to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to enable them to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities. These procedures should include, but not be limited to, arrangements to respond to child protection, risk of harm, restraint, separation, staff recruitment and information sharing.

All staff working within secure establishments should understand their individual safeguarding responsibilities and should receive appropriate training to enable them to fulfil these duties. Appropriate recruitment and selection processes should be in place to ensure staff’s suitability to work with children and young people. These procedures should cover any adult working within the establishment, whether or not they are directly employed by the Governor/Director.

If a child in custody in an establishment in the region makes allegations about abuse that happened before they entered the custodial establishment, or it becomes clear that they may be likely to suffer be at risk of Significant Harm on leaving the establishment, a referral should be made to Childrens Services (SCAS) with a view to:

  • Convene, if required a Strategy Discussion to consider whether to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry.
  • Liaise with any other local authority in whose area the child was living or will be living, or where the abuse is alleged to have taken place, where appropriate.
  • Co-ordinating a Child Social Work Assessment

If a child in custody dies, is seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known or suspected, this should be reported as a serious incident notification to the National Child Safeguarding Practice Panel via the Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System. The responsibility for making this notification sits with the Head of Service in Staffordshire Childrens social care.

Prior to the notification being made, local arrangements are in place to consider the criteria in Working Together (2023) for a serious incident notification. Representatives from the 3 statutory partners, children’s social care, police and the Integrated Care Board (ICB) along with the Board manager for the SSCB will convene a meeting within 24-48 hours to discuss the incident, and if necessary, invite representatives from other local authority areas, before reaching a decision. Only then will the representative from the local authority make the notification.

This guidance is based upon established inter-agency arrangements for safeguarding the welfare of young people and for protecting them from significant harm.  It recognises the inherent vulnerability of children and young people held in the secure estate and that many will have experienced trauma, abuse, and exploitation throughout their lives.

Whilst statutory responsibilities for the safety and protection of children in custody rest with the Governor and the Local authority the complex nature of the secure population means that additional complementary direct social work support is required to ensure that those children with the highest level of need including looked after children are cared for and supported appropriately.

The provision of two Dedicated Social Workers (DSW’s) is currently funded by the Youth Custody Service (YCS), their role is to work with children identified as being most vulnerable including where they may be supported by or be eligible for services from Local authority Childrens Services.

Staff may be made aware that a child or young person has been abused at HMYOI Werrington or they may inform staff that they have been abused in the past. Information about alleged abuse may also come to light via other routes.

In any event, immediate action must be taken to protect the young person and to investigate matters according to this policy.  It is the duty of the establishment to develop practice which reflects the principles and guidance contained in The Children Act (1989)

Each centre holding those under 18 should have in place an annually reviewed safeguarding children policy and should work with their Local Safeguarding Children Board, relevant YOS and placing authority (The Youth Custody Service) to agree how they will work together to make sure that the needs of individual children are met as stated in Working Together to Safeguard Children (2023).

The vulnerability of young people entering custodial establishments is acknowledged. However, additional arrangements need to be in place where acute concerns arise that have not been dealt with historically.

Staff may become aware that a young person is believed or suspected to have suffered significant harm physically, emotionally, sexually or through neglect either in custody or prior to them being remanded.

If this is the case, staff must discuss their concerns with the Designated Social Work team, Child Protection Coordinator or Head of Safeguarding. If they are unavailable, they must contact the Duty Governor. The staff member is responsible for recording their concerns on Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the establishment Child Protection Log.

The Child Protection Coordinator/Head of Safeguarding or Duty Governor will make a preliminary assessment of the information, with the assistance of the Designated Social Worker within 12 hours of a concern being raised. They must decide if there are any immediate steps that need to be taken to ensure the protection of the alleged victim from further harm. All information must be appropriately recorded at this and every subsequent stage via the Child Protection Log.

The child protection coordinator will also need to know whether the alleged perpetrator of the harm can immediately be identified and what action, without prejudice to any later internal or external investigation, should be taken.  The child protection coordinator should be mindful of the fact that there may be child protection considerations in respect of the alleged perpetrator and of other children or young people who may also be at risk. Consultation with the Head of Safeguarding and Duty Governor will also take place and be recorded within the child protection log.

The Child Protection Coordinator/Head of Safeguarding/Duty Governor, in consultation with the Dedicated Social Workers if possible, having regard to the definition of significant harm, will make an informal judgement as to whether the harm is deemed to be significant and whether the criteria for a referral under the child protection procedures are met.  All incidents meeting the criteria will be discussed with Staffordshire Childrens Advice and Support (SCAS) so that information can be shared with the LADO and District Safeguarding Team Manager for consultation about action that has been taken to safeguard the young person and what further action might need to be taken. They may also be asked to forward a copy of the Child Protection Log to SCAS for information.

The explicit criteria for child protection referrals to SCAS/police under these procedures will need to be agreed at a local level.  That criterion, however, is informed by an understanding of significant harm and about the care or treatment that a young person is likely to receive and by establishing distinctions in power and status between victim and perpetrator.

The scope of the locally agreed criteria should also extend to:

  • All disclosures around historical abuse
  • All allegations of sexual abuse
  • All allegations of abuse by staff members where the harm is deemed to be significant.
  • Incidents of serious violence or abuse between peers (peer on peer abuse) where the harm is deemed to be significant.

Peer on Peer abuse is behaviour by an individual or group which may constitute a single incident or repeated over time.

It can include:

  • physical and serious violence
  • sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • emotional harm/abuse
  • on and offline bullying
  • financial abuse
  • abuse in intimate personal relationships between peers
  • initiation/hazing type violence and rituals (this could include activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group

There are initially three outcomes to be considered by the secure setting.

Manage Internally

In some cases, for example, one-off incidents that do not result in serious harm, the secure setting may take the view that the young people concerned are not in need of statutory intervention and that it would be appropriate to handle the incident internally, perhaps through utilising their behaviour management and anti -bullying policies and by providing internal support from the agencies who are based within secure settings such psychology or health.

Whatever the secure estate response, it should be underpinned by the principal peer-on-peer abuse is never acceptable and will not be tolerated.

All concerns, discussions, decisions and reasons for decisions should be recorded (written or electronic).

Internal Support

The secure setting may decide that the children involved do not require statutory interventions but may benefit from referrals to secure settings internal support from disciplines such as social workers, psychology or health. Providing support of this nature is more effective in promoting the welfare of children as well as understanding what is underpinning the behaviour which has caused the abuse. This type of support and intervention can be particularly useful to address the underlying behavioural causes and may prevent escalation of abuse in the future.

Multi-agency internal secure support will work best when placed alongside strong secure settings policies, such as behaviour management, preventative education and engagement with key workers in the child and young person’s life such as Youth Offending Team (YOT), home social workers, parents and carers.

As stated previously, all concerns, discussions, decisions and reasons for decisions should be recorded (written or electronic). 

Referrals to Childrens Services

Where a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm including immediate protection for children at serious risk of harm, secure settings should follow their safeguarding procedures which could include making a referral to local children’s social services team and informing other external agencies such as Youth Offending Team and the child or young person’s home social worker.

At the point of the referral to local children’s social work services, secure settings will generally inform parents or carers, unless there are compelling reasons not to (if informing a parent or carer is going to put the child or young person at additional risk). Any such decision should be made with the support of Local authority children’s social services team and YOT workers.

In some cases, local authority district children’s team will review the evidence and decide a statutory intervention is not appropriate. The secure setting (generally led by the Designated Safeguarding Lead/ Designated Social Worker or a deputy) should be prepared to refer again if they believe the young person remains in immediate danger or at risk of harm. If a statutory assessment is not appropriate, the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Designated Social Worker (or a deputy) should consider other support mechanisms such as specialist internal support from agencies working within the secure setting such as psychology health and social work.

Whatever the response, it should be under-pinned by the principle that peer-on- peer abuse is never acceptable and will not be tolerated.

All concerns, discussions, decisions and reasoning for decisions should be recorded (written or electronic).

Significant Harm

This is a matter for professional judgement as there are no absolute criteria for establishing significant harm. A single event such as an assault may constitute significant harm but, more often significant harm is contextual and may be a compilation of significant events which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development.

Factors to consider are:

  • degree and extent of physical harm including marks or injuries.
  • Duration and frequency of abuse or neglect.
  • The extent of premeditation.
  • The presence or degree of threat, coercion, or unusual elements.

A distinction should be made where either, the child or young person may be suffering harm, but it is not significant harm, or that they had experienced significant harm but are not currently at risk.

If inter-agency procedures for safeguarding children and promoting their welfare are instigated, and Childrens Services jointly agree that the threshold has been met for a Sec 47 enquiry, a strategy discussion must take place within 24 hours of receipt of the referral.

As Staffordshire County Council is the host local authority for any young person placed at Werrington YOI, they will act as the lead agency in any strategy discussion or meeting. The placing authority/allocated social worker will have a key role to play and will need to be a part of/ or attend any strategy discussion or meeting. The strategy discussion will also determine whether professional or complex investigation procedures are to be followed.

The initial strategy discussion will establish whether a further formal strategy meeting is required at HMYOI Werrington within agreed timescales of 72 hours.

Membership of the strategy meeting must include:

  • District Assessment and Staying Together Team Manager or the Moorlands District Lead for more complex matters. This person will chair the meeting.
  • Child protection co-ordinator (Prison Service)
  • Placing local authority Social Worker or Team Manager.
  • YOT’s representative
  • Police officers with child protection responsibility
  • Any other agency personnel deemed to be appropriate by the chair to include Health and Education.
  • Consultant on call Paediatrician.
  • Dedicated Social Worker at HMYOI Werrington
  • Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO)

The strategy meeting will need to establish:

  • What immediate measures may need to be taken in order to safeguard the young person.
  • The need to engage other relevant agency personnel for example, interpreters/facilitators.
  • The need to commence internal disciplinary procedures (if required)
  • When to inform the parents or those with parental responsibility.
  • Whether or not a Production Order is required.
  • Whether a medical examination under child protection procedures is required and who is the most appropriate person to undertake the examination.
  • The need to conduct a video interview to ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ standards. 

In order to progress the investigation neither the alleged victim nor the alleged perpetrator(s) should be moved out of the secure estate unless necessary for the safety and protection of either young person, or to protect the integrity of the process.

There may be a range of outcomes following an investigation:

  • No further action by the police.
  • Identify the need to address any welfare issues that may have arisen during the enquiries.
  • In certain circumstances, there may be a need to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference.
  • If registration does occur, then a Child Protection Plan will be formulated.
  • If the young person is released into the community during these procedures, the relevant children social care department will be responsible for the continuity of the Child Protection process.
  • Criminal investigation by the Police.
  • Internal prison service investigation.

Monitoring and Reviewing

  • The Governor will review the circumstances of all investigations to promote development of best practice in accord with local training programmes.
  • Aggregate data will be collected in order to inform other appropriate developments e.g., staff training needs, the allocation of resources and further amendments to local procedures.
  • Data collected may also be used by the local authority as part of the reporting process to the Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board (SSCB) and to relevant government departments.


The Children Act 1989 and 2004

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000


Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers 2010

The Care planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010

Visits to Former Looked After Children, S23 ZA Children Act 1989

There are two groups of young people who are classed as children in care whilst in custody, these are;

Care Order – Section 31, Children Act (1989)

Remand LASPO – Section 21, Children Act (1989) / Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.