Child protection

The Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has written to Sir Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, warning of “serious weaknesses” in their child protection strategies of a number of police forces, which could see “a repeat of the sort of catastrophic failings we saw a few years ago in places like Rotherham, Oxford and elsewhere.

The letter documents with examples how in the past year, more than half of Ofsted’s 42 inspections of local authority children’s services in 2015/16 identified serious weaknesses in the contribution made by the police to safeguarding children. Inspectors found evidence of cases where Forces were not:

  • sharing information about domestic abuse cases in a timely way
  • notifying social workers quickly enough when children went missing
  • attending important child protection conferences
  • carrying out joint child protection visits with social workers tackling DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) backlogs.

Forces where examples of these weaknesses were found include the Metropolitan Police, Cambridgeshire, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Essex, Kent, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Sussex and Thames Valley.

The most serious concerns given in the letter about the role of the police in protecting children in the past year is at Stockton-on-Tees, served by Cleveland Police. The inspection found:

  • the lack of support from Cleveland Police meant that the Safeguarding Board was judged to require improvement
  • police officers were often unavailable to attend strategy discussions when a child might have been at risk of significant harm
  • police officers had been instructed not to attend initial child protection conferences in respect of unborn babies
  • the closure of a case even though there was clear evidence that the children concerned had suffered non-accidental injuries

The letter states: “Overall, inspectors found an unacceptable and potentially dangerous gulf between the stated priorities of Cleveland Police in relation to its support for child protection and the practice observed in the course of the inspection of the local authority’s children’s services.”

Sir Michael’s letter notes that while “across the country there has been a steady improvement in the multi-agency response to child sexual exploitation (CSE) and other child safeguarding issues, the problems we highlighted in the Stockton-on-Tees inspection are by no means confined to one police force. Where forces give a high priority to the issue of child protection, we see senior officers playing a leading role in LSCBs (Local Safeguarding Children Boards) and making sure decisions are carried through to the front line. In these areas, expert police resource is being made available to quickly locate missing children, undertake proactive work to divert offenders, identify high-risk CSE areas and carry out effective risk assessments in cases of domestic abuse.”

However, there is mounting evidence to indicate that this is not happening in a significant number of police forces. I would like to be reassured that every Chief Constable recognises the vital role that the police have to play in protecting our most vulnerable children from harm. They are the ones armed with the intelligence to identify where organised abuse may be taking place and to spot emerging patterns of criminal activity.”

Police and Crime Panel members are well placed to raise these concerns, both with their Police and Crime Commissioner and with their local authorities where these have responsibilities for child protection. PCPs which have experience in this area include:

  • Thames Valley PCP, which has a Sub-Committee on Preventing Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), the purpose of which is to support, monitor and scrutinise the PCC on preventing and taking action with regard to CSE across the Thames Valley to provide assurance to Panel members;
  • Lincolnshire PCP, which held a themed meeting on safeguarding, with input from the Chairs of tjhe local Adult and Children Safeguarding Boards, having agreed Key Lines of Enquiry prior to the meeting, and subsequently questioned the PCC on his work; and

Hampshire PCP, which conducted a scrutiny review in 2015/16 on the topic of CSE, in which members reviewed the actions of the PCC in pursuit of his aim to "work effectively with the Hampshire Constabulary to ensure that children at risk of CSE are safeguarded and referred to appropriate services through leading the introduction of a 'Sexual Crime Strategy' and by raising awareness and encouraging joined up working around CSE. The Panel also sought to understand how the PCC was improving the experience of victims and witnesses of CSE across the criminal justice system.

Published: 25 October 2016

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