Today I am setting out details before both Houses of three reports that deal with sexual exploitation of children and I outline the Government’s plans to take our existing action plan forward to deal with this horrendous crime.
The conviction of nine members of a network responsible for child sexual exploitation in Rochdale on 8 May raised serious concerns about the safety of young people in residential care and the ease with which they can fall prey to such abuse. On 9 May, the Secretary of State for Education asked the deputy children’s commissioner to report to him urgently on emerging findings from her inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups. He asked that the report should focus particularly on risks facing looked-after children living in children’s homes.
We are very grateful to Sue Berelowitz for this early report which sets out emerging findings ahead of the interim report which will be published in September. It is being published today, together with our response to its recommendations which we accept in full and are driving forward as set out below.
Sexual exploitation blights the lives of too many of our children and young people and we need to do more to protect children, support victims and punish perpetrators. That is why the Government published their “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan” in November
2011, looking at this abuse from the point of view of the young person and the impact not just on the victim but the whole family. We have been driving forward implementation of the plan, involving five Government Departments working with a wide range of local and national organisations, voluntary and community sector partners, and law enforcement agencies. We have made it very clear that this kind of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated and that offenders like those in the Rochdale case can expect to face the full force of the law.
We are also publishing today a progress report on the implementation of the action plan and announcing further urgent action to help protect young people in residential care in light of recent serious concerns about the vulnerability of such children, in particular those placed a long way from their home area.
Our progress report shows that local safeguarding children boards and others have been rising to the challenge to do more to identify and tackle child sexual exploitation. Recent well-reported police operations have highlighted some very effective joint working by the voluntary and community sector and by statutory agencies. There are many examples of valuable initiatives that are making a practical difference—such as the “Say something if you see something” campaign addressing the problem of hotels unwittingly being used as venues for the sexual exploitation of young people and the Barnardo’s project which is developing specialised foster care placements for victims of child sexual exploitation. The new sentencing regime for dangerous offenders, which is likely to be implemented by autumn 2012, will introduce mandatory life sentences for very serious repeat offenders and help bring more perpetrators to justice.
But as long as exploitation still exists, we can and must do more. There are still areas of the country where the existence of child sexual exploitation is not properly acknowledged or addressed. This is wholly unacceptable, and underlines the need to sustain the drive to implement the action plan fully. To support this, we are publishing alongside the progress report a new, accessible, step-by-step guide for front-line practitioners on what to do if they suspect a child is being sexually exploited. We will continue to work with local safeguarding children boards and practitioners to promote improved practice supported by this new guide.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s report published today sets out a compelling case for making urgent improvements in children’s residential care. While it makes it clear that the majority of children who become victims of sexual exploitation are not in residential care, it is also clear that these young people are disproportionately at risk. The report highlights concerns about the quality and stability of placements in children’s homes. It draws particular attention to the large number of children who are placed a long way from their home area, and who can be at additional risk through such isolation. The Government accept the report’s recommendations about how to secure improvements and provide better safety and support in children’s homes. These concern, in particular, the responsibilities of local authorities in deciding to place a child in another area, and in responding if there are problems.
The Government also welcome the “Report from the Joint Inquiry into Children who Go Missing from Care”, issued on 18 June by the all-party parliamentary groups for runaway and missing children and adults and for
looked-after children and care leavers. This emphasised the need to tackle failings in arrangements to safeguard these extremely vulnerable children and young people.
In the light of concerns raised by the Rochdale case about the safety of children in residential homes, Ofsted immediately brought forward for urgent inspection a number of homes where information received suggested some concern about the sexual exploitation of residents.
Ofsted’s new framework for the inspection of children’s homes, which was introduced in April this year, focuses more strongly on whether a home has taken action to implement recommendations in previous reports, and whether improvements are flowing through in consequence.
In addition, we are taking the following immediate action to respond to the recommendations in the reports from the deputy children’s commissioner and the all-party parliamentary groups:
Make sure that we have a clearer picture of how many children go missing from care and where they are by improving the quality and transparency of data;
Ensure children’s homes are properly protected and safely located by removing barriers in regulation so that Ofsted can share information about the location of children’s homes with the police, and other relevant bodies as appropriate;
Help children be located nearer to their local area by establishing a “task and finish group” to make recommendations by September on strengthening the regulatory framework on out-of-area placements. While there may be good reasons for placing a child or young person at some distance from their home area, it is difficult to accept that nearly half of all children in children’s homes benefit from such distant placements. Both reports are clear about the problems that can arise. We will consult on changes in the autumn.
Establish a further expert working group to look at the quality of children’s homes. This will review all aspects of the quality of provision in children’s homes, including the management of behaviour and the appropriate use of restraint, and the qualifications and skills of the work force. Too many children are still being placed in homes for short periods of time, and the care they receive can often fail to address the complexity of their needs. The group will consider the location and ownership of homes, local authority commissioning practices and arrangements to drive improvement. It will complete its work by December.
The actions we are announcing today underline the Government’s determination to tackle child sexual exploitation and protect our most vulnerable children.
The following documents will be available in the Libraries of both Houses:
Report on the emerging findings of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups,
Letter from Tim Loughton MP to Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner,
Letter from Tim Loughton MP to Ann Coffey MP, chair of the APPG for runaway and missing children and adults,
“Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan” progress report and step-by-step guide for frontline practitioners on what to do if a child is being sexually exploited.seen at 09:53, 4 July in Written Ministerial Statements.
Email this to a friend.