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Who‟s looking out for the children? A joint inspection of Appropriate Adult provision and children in detention after charge

An Inspection led by HMI Constabulary with HMI Prisons, HMI Probation, the Care Quality Commission, the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales

In this inspection we examined a child or young person’s journey from the point they arrive at the police station through to charge (and sometimes beyond). We were looking at two aspects of this process: the role of the Appropriate Adult, and whether children and young people who had been charged and were waiting to appear in court were being placed in suitable local authority accommodation.

The arrangements for Appropriate Adults were introduced under the same legislation that placed reasonable restrictions on the length of time any individual could be held by the police before being charged and taken to court, and thus provided protective measures important for us all. Under its terms, the presence of an Appropriate Adult is required before the police can interview and (where appropriate) charge any unaccompanied children or young person or vulnerable adult to ensure that their rights are met, in effect acting in the role of parent or concerned adult.

The need for such a role is self-evident. Police station custody areas can be very frightening places for adults, and are all the more so for young people. Children brought into police custody may be traumatised or distressed, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs (or their after effects). A significant number have communication, learning, language or health needs, and many do not understand what is happening to them or the terminology used.

Whatever the intentions behind the legislation, we found that the procedure didn’t really consider the needs of the children and young people. It was apparent that the role of the Appropriate Adult had evolved over time to become increasingly focussed on process rather than safeguarding the interests of the child and promoting their welfare. Overall, the lack of clarity about both the role of the Appropriate Adult and the arrangements whereby a child or young person could be transferred to local authority accommodation meant that children and young people were spending longer in an unsuitable and potentially detrimental environment than was needed. The system put in place to protect their interests was not working.

Like many aspects of youth justice, this work requires an effective partnership between the police, the youth offending team, health and children’s services to operate effectively. We saw little evidence of the Local Safeguarding Children Board overseeing this area of work. Strategic leaders need to provide greater leadership, direction and supervision to enable their staff to properly understand their duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people, wherever they are.