Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming - Home Affairs Committee Contents


5  What other steps could the Government take?

123. The Government produces guidance for local authorities and has also produced an action plan for tackling child sexual exploitation. It has also set up working groups, one based within the Department for Education which examines all aspects of the response. However we wish to explore whether further work could be done at a national level to improve the co-ordination of agencies and the local response to child sexual exploitation.

Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs

124. The issue around data collection and sharing has been one of the constant themes throughout the report. During our first evidence session, we asked Peter Davies, the head of CEOP, what practical things could be done to improve the response to child sexual exploitation. He told us

    No. 1, share data better between the agencies and be far more open with information about individuals who are potential victims.[278]

This followed on from the CEOP report produced the year before which had identified that

    A key underlying difficulty in assessing the scale of 'localised grooming' is the inconsistent recognition of child sexual exploitation by frontline practitioners and the failure to record relevant information at a local level. ... Data relating to child sexual exploitation is often partial and incomplete, concealed in equivocal secondary indicator data, or simply unrecorded.[279]

In the November 2012 interim report, the Office of the Children's Commissioner highlighted a number of inconsistencies around the collection and recording of data.[280] Almost two years on from the publication of the CEOP report, the Minister admitted that there were still issues as regarding data being shared although he noted that the data collection tool produced by the University of Bedfordshire was intended to improve the rate of collection and the compatibility of the data collected.[281] Given that the collation of data is one of the more effective methods of detecting child sexual exploitation, we regard this as a positive step.

125. One of the ways that data sharing between agencies has been encouraged is through co-location of services, known as a multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH). CEOP recognise the multi-agency safeguarding hub as a model of best practice which allows practioners to work together in order to safeguard children.[282] Whilst a Local Children's Safeguarding Board is responsible for the local area's strategic response to child sexual exploitation, the MASH is responsible for co-ordinating those working on the front-line. The Minister also highlighted that the compatibility of the data collected across agencies in the local area can also be improved where those services are part of a MASH.[283]

126. Witnesses have suggested that one way to ensure consistent data collection and recording across the country is to require that each LCSB set up a MASH.[284] This would also require LSCBs which have not analysed the extent of child sexual exploitation within their local area to do so.[285] The benefits of a MASH are clear - as CEOP noted in their 2011 report, child sexual exploitation requires a multi-agency response.

    Sexually exploitation demands a multi-faceted response, and ... victims may be identified by a number of different agencies, including specialist service providers in the community and voluntary sector, children's services and police forces. Each agency is likely to possess varying intelligence on individual cases and the wider picture of child sexual exploitation within the region, and each agency provides a particular aspect of the wider response to child sexual exploitation, from the investigation and prosecution of offenders, to the dispensation of therapeutic services for victims. It is therefore essential that these agencies are able to come together to share information and intelligence, and to respond to individual cases. No one agency can deliver a complete response. By working together, outcomes for victims are improved. For example, common thresholds for intervention in exploitative relationships can be established, evidence gathering and sharing is improved, intelligence is gathered proactively, all agencies are included in responses, and all agencies have a shared understanding of issues underlying child sexual exploitation.[286]

The leader of Rochdale Council highlighted the benefits of the MASH model when he gave evidence to the committee. He described it as being crucial to the whole understanding and identification, to early identification and to early intervention. He also emphasised the need of it to be engaged with the wider to community.[287] Alyas Karmani of STREET underlined the potential benefits of voluntary organisations being linked to the MASH.

    I think it is vital that we develop community intermediaries who can then be a conduit between the grassroots and the statutory agencies. At the moment, if you ask a young person who has been exploited would they go to the police or social services, they would probably run a mile, so we need to have those intermediaries in place.[288]

As discussed earlier, we are deeply concerned by barriers to prosecution surrounding CPS tests for witness credibility. Although we welcome the DPP's clear intention to improve the CPS's record on child sex abuse cases, we feel there is still some way to go in achieving the sea change that is required. In particular, we were dismayed to hear that one recent case in Rotherham had collapsed, after charges had been bought, due to the CPS refusing to prosecute.[289] It is for this reason that better specialist training for prosecutors will be vital but so will more integration with local specialist child sexual exploitation investigating teams.

127. We recommend that each Local Children's Safeguarding Board be required to set up a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub which would house representatives from social care, local police, health professionals, education, youth offending teams and voluntary organisations. Each MASH ought to be linked to one of the Crown Prosecution Service specialist co-ordinators for child sexual assault cases so that advice regarding any potential prosecutions can be sought early on if required. The police and the CPS should also produce guidance on data sharing via the MASH. Where there is one or more significant minority community within the area, each MASH team ought also to have a community liaison who can develop a trusted relationship with that community in order to ensure that officials are working with the community to combat all models of child sexual exploitation.

Legislation

128. One suggestion made to us was that the Government could introduce a statutory duty to co-operate and share information regarding the victims of child sexual exploitation. Such a duty would work in a similar way to the current Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, implemented under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The act requires that the local criminal justice agencies and other bodies dealing with offenders to work together in partnership in dealing with these offenders.[290] According to DCS Doyle

    There is still reluctance in some areas to share what is key information, which is why the relationships are so important, because they get past those barriers. But if we had a duty to co-operate, so the onus was on co-operation and the proactive sharing of information to protect children, rather than an ability to hide or be scared of the Data Protection Act, I think that would probably help more than anything.[291]

Legislation which requires anyone who suspects that child sexual exploitation is taking place to report it would strengthen this further. In April 2012, the State of Florida passed new legislation which requires anyone with knowledge of known or suspected cases of child abuse to file a report with the Florida Abuse Hotline.[292] Under this legislation it is also an offence to file a false allegation of abuse.

129. Had such legislation existed previously in England and Wales, then there would have been a requirement for the police to act on information provided to them through referrals from, for instance, the Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team.[293] Such legislation would appear to be a drastic step however, if we fail to see significant progress in local areas where awareness must have been raised following the high profile trial in Rochdale then it may be that such a step is necessary. In HMIC's review of the information known to police forces about the offending behaviour of Jimmy Savile, it was noted that failure to report an arrestable offence in Northern Ireland is actually a criminal offence and that every State in the United States of America, all bar one Australian state and all bar one province in Canada have adopted some form of mandatory reporting requirements where there are allegations of child abuse or neglect.[294] The review called for an examination of the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse on the basis that guidance issued to practioners can sometimes be inconsistent across professions and does not carry the same weight as a legal requirement.

    We recognise the difficulties that introducing mandatory reporting might bring (such as levels of reporting that leave the agencies dealing with the reports unable effectively to cope). However, we consider that the time has come to assess again whether a requirement to report their concerns to the appropriate authority should be introduced on those who, in their professional lives, are made aware of facts that reasonably lead them to the conclusion that a child may be the subject of abuse. That authority may not necessarily have to be, in the first instance, the police, if it was thought that there were a more appropriate individual to whom to report the matter, for example, a Local Authority Designated Officer.[295]

130. We recommend that the Government commission work to examine the feasibility of introducing a statutory duty to co-operate and share information to tackle child sexual exploitation. We also recommend that the Government examine the Florida Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act passed in 2012 in order to ascertain whether the mandatory reporting of child abuse could, and should, be implemented in England and Wales.


278   Q 98 Back

279   Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, p35 Back

280   Office of the Children's Commissioner, Interim report, p 32 Back

281   Q 897 Back

282   Ev 151 Back

283   Q 897 Back

284   Q 868 Back

285   Q 672; Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, p37 Back

286   Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, p34 Back

287   Q 49 Back

288   Q 834 Back

289   Q731 Back

290   http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/offenders/mappa/mappa-guidance-2012-part1.pdf Back

291   Q 473 Back

292   http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/abuse/publications/mandatedreporters.pdf Back

293   Qq 264-5 Back

294   Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, "Mistakes were made.", HMIC's review into allegations and intelligence material concerning Jimmy Savile between 1964 and 2012, p50 Back

295   Ibid., p51 Back


 
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Prepared 10 June 2013