Local authorities have been too slow to face up to their responsibilities to prevent child sexual exploitation, according to an Ofsted report published today.
In the first ever in-depth survey into how local authorities are dealing with the sexual exploitation of children, Ofsted finds that the risk of exploitation is still not well understood in many areas.
The report The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn’t happen here, could it? was commissioned by Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to build a clearer picture of how well local authorities and partners are working to prevent child sexual exploitation in their area, to offer protection to its victims, and to pursue and prosecute its abusers.
The report includes the views of more than 150 young people, inspection evidence and case examination from 8 local authorities, 36 children’s homes inspections, and evidence from Ofsted’s wider body of published inspection reports. Inspectors also spoke to over 200 professionals including elected members, Local safeguarding children’s board (LSCB) members, plus local authority and partner agency staff.
Inspectors found that local arrangements to tackle sexual exploitation are often underdeveloped, and leadership frequently lacking. Some areas have only begun to address the issue strategically within the last 12 months, despite statutory guidance being issued more than 5 years ago.
Partnership action between local authorities, police, health services and others is often disjointed, with poor information sharing leading to an overall lack of understanding of child sexual exploitation in some areas.
Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, Debbie Jones said:
Child sexual exploitation has a devastating effect on children, young people, and whole communities. It cannot be acceptable that local authorities and their partners are still failing to grasp and deal with it effectively.
While we have found examples of excellent frontline practice, it is clear that some areas have moved faster, further and more effectively than others. LSCBs in particular must step up to be the driving force in prevention, making full use of the range of policing and other powers available to them to disrupt child sexual exploitation.
It is not enough to simply wait for the next scandal to happen. We are calling on all local authorities and their partners to ensure that they have a comprehensive multi-agency strategy and action plan in place to tackle child sexual exploitation.
The report’s other findings include:
inconsistency in the quality of care planning for young people, leaving some exposed to the risk of sexual exploitation
the way data is collected by many police forces is of limited value because it does not effectively collate crime and prosecutions that are specifically linked to child sexual exploitation
training in identifying the warning signs of exploitation was of good quality - but was reaching an insufficient number of professionals
many local authorities are still failing to provide good support to children in care who go missing once they have returned, nor are they effectively making the connection between child sexual exploitation and children who are missing from school
several local authorities have developed specific campaigns to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation - which are being delivered well, particularly through schools
all authorities had taken some steps to increase wider community awareness of child sexual exploitation, including engagement with faith and community leaders, but these approaches have tended to be ad hoc and reactive
The report recommends:
local authorities and partners should develop and publish a child sexual exploitation action plan that fully reflects the 2009 statutory guidance as a matter of priority
authorities and partners must ensure that information and intelligence is shared proactively across the partnership to improve the protection of children and increase the rate of prosecutions
LSCBs should ensure that the local authority and its partners have a comprehensive action plan in place to tackle child sexual exploitation, and hold partners to account for the urgency and priority they give to their collective and individual contributions
local authorities must ensure that managers oversee all individual child sexual exploitation cases, and make sure that plans are progressing appropriately
local authorities must make sure that every child returning from a missing episode is given a return interview. Information obtained from the interviews should be used to inform and improve future operational and strategic activity
authorities and their partners should make sure that local strategies and plans are informed by the opinions and experiences of those who have been at risk of or have suffered from child sexual exploitation
the government should review and update the 2009 supplementary guidance so that it reflects recent research, good practice and findings from child sexual exploitation reviews and criminal investigations
Debbie Jones concluded:
Many organisations have had to act decisively to learn lessons from recent cases, and to apply their increased understanding to ensure that this type of sexual abuse is dealt with more effectively.
Ofsted is no exception. Child sexual exploitation is something inspectors now focus on much more closely under the arrangements for inspecting local authority child protection and looked after children’s services that came into effect a year ago.
I hope that the findings of this in-depth thematic inspection will further strengthen the understanding of both leaders and frontline practitioners so that children at risk of being sexually exploited can be assured of the support and protection that they deserve.
Notes to editors:
Ofsted has also published inspection reports for services for children in need of help and protection, looked after children, and care leavers in Rotherham and the Isle of Wight. These can be found on the Ofsted reports website.
Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 0300 013 0415 or via Ofsted’s enquiry line 0300 123 1231 between 8.30am and 6pm Monday to Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057 359.