The Government has issued its response to the recent reviews by Professor Alexis Jay and Louise Casey into the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham. The reviews found that organised exploitation has been happening "on a massive scale, over many years".
The Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation report outlines a number of actions which are to be developed to protect vulnerable children and to reduce offending in this area, as well as focusing on strengthening accountability, addressing the culture of denial and improving joint working.
Accountability and leadership
The report stresses that those who have a duty to protect children must be held accountable. Lead officers in local authorities, police and health bodies must take responsibility for addressing the failures shown by the Rotherham report and any other inspections in their area.
The Government intends to consult on options for imposing sanctions for failure to take action on abuse or neglect where it is a professional responsibility. These proposals will include a new offence of wilful neglect for elected members and council staff, similar to that introduced for NHS staff in the wake of the Francis Inquiry into Mid-Staffordshire.
The Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance will be revised to make clear the overarching responsibilities of local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In particular, it will highlight the role of the Director of Children’s Services and Lead Member for Children’s Services as the key point of professional and political accountability within local authorities. It will also be clear about the vital role of other professionals including the police, school workforce, social workers and health service professionals in keeping children safe. These individuals must be in no doubt about their legal duties to protect children.
All Local Safeguarding Children Boards must conduct regular local assessments on the effectiveness of local responses to child sexual exploitation and publish the outcome in their annual reports. This analysis should include how the local partners have used their data to drive their response to vulnerable children and families.
The Government is particularly concerned about senior staff taking a large redundancy payment and then walking into a new job in the same sector shortly afterwards. It has announced that it will introduce amendments to the Small Business and Enterprise Bill that is currently before Parliament, to enable exit payments for senior staff to be clawed back where those people are quickly re-employed in the same part of the public sector.
All organisations that have safeguarding responsibilities must have internal whistleblowing policies in place, which are then integrated into training and codes of conduct. These policies should reflect the principles that Sir Robert Francis sets out in his review ‘Freedom to Speak Up’.
There will be a new whistleblowing national portal for child abuse related reports to help to bring child sexual exploitation to light and to spot patterns of failure across the country.
A key focus in tackling child exploitation is removing barriers to the sharing of information. The Government considers that "there can be no justification for failing to share information that will allow action to be taken to protect children".
Local authorities and health providers will therefore need to take a fresh look at how information is shared internally and between other agencies.
The Government is due to issue further guidance on this later this month; however, key concerns for agencies are:
- identifying the objective for sharing;
- determining what information needs to be shared to achieve to that objective, when should it be shared and with whom;
- understanding and documenting the legal basis for sharing information;
- the arrangements and protocols for sharing information with other agencies;
- maintaining data security; and
- communicating sharing arrangements to service users and managing their right to access personal data.
The Prime Minister has said that "We owe it to our children, and to the children who survive horrific sexual abuse, to do better and ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated again."
Local authorities, children’s services, health professionals, chief constables and experts in child protection should now review their working practices and look at how they can strengthen the systems in place to protect children.