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

Conclusions and recommendations

Child Sexual Exploitation: scale and prevalence

1.  Despite recent criminal cases laying bare the appalling cost paid by victims for past catastrophic multi agency failures, we believe that there are still places in the UK where victims of child sexual exploitation are being failed by statutory agencies. The police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service must all bear responsibility for the way in which vulnerable children have been left unprotected by the system. The recent verdict in the Oxford trial demonstrates that contrary to ill-informed beliefs that localised grooming is a crime confined to Northern cities, in fact, no assumptions can be made about where child sexual exploitation takes place. This is a crime that can happen anywhere. Belatedly agencies have made positive steps to try and improve the situation but there is no doubt that both in terms of support for victims and prosecution of offenders, a postcode lottery still exists and agencies are still failing to work effectively together. Those cases of children at risk identified by the Office of the Children's Commissioner must be monitored by local authorities who have overriding responsibility for the welfare of those children. (Paragraph 16)

2.  We take this opportunity to record our gratitude to the Office of the Children's Commissioner for its work in the area of child sexual exploitation and support all of the recommendations made as part of both the accelerated report and the interim report. We recommend that the Government publish a timetable for implementation of these recommendations which will ensure they are in operation by January 2014. (Paragraph 17)

3.  We do not doubt the commitment of either the Minister or the Department for Education to tackling child sexual exploitation. However, the commitment must be maintained in the future if the Government wishes to tackle the issue with any degree of success. The failure of these cases has been both systemic and cultural. Rules and guidelines existed which were not followed. People employed as public servants appeared to lack human compassion when dealing with victims. Children have only one chance at childhood. For too long, victims of child sexual exploitation have been deprived of that childhood without society challenging their abusers. Such a situation must never happen again. (Paragraph 18)

Children's Social Care

4.  We note the work taking place on the issue of children in residential care. We recommend that the Government implement its action plan for improvements in residential care by January 2014. (Paragraph 21)

5.  All local authority Directors of Children's Social Care should ensure that their staff view troubled children who have been exploited as victims rather than collaborators in their own abuse. Assumptions about 'consent' must be challenged—it should be the fundamental, working assumption of all frontline staff working with children and young people that sexual relations between an adult and a child under the legal age of consent are non-consensual, unlawful and wrong. Directors of Childrens Social care must ensure that they have received adequate training on the issue of child sexual exploitation. They must also take full responsibility for the failure of their department if it does not protect vulnerable children, no matter what they knew. It is their personal responsibility to find out what is taking place in their department. (Paragraph 22)

6.  All frontline council workers, even those who do not work directly with children and young people, ought to be trained to recognise the signs of localised grooming and the indicators of child sexual exploitation, and should know how to report anything that might give them cause to believe that a child is at risk. Local authority staff, or contractors working on the authority's behalf, have a significant presence in public places where children and young people congregate—park wardens, staff at sports centres and libraries, environmental health officers and taxi and minicab licensing officers are all likely to notice children hanging out when they would normally be expected to be in school, and could act as a valuable early-warning system for behaviour which indicates a problem. Councils should also set up employee hotlines where anything suspicious can be reported. (Paragraph 23)

7.   We recommend that all local authorities ensure that there are clear lines of dialogue between their children's social care departments and their licensing boards. As part of their scrutiny role, Local Safeguarding Children's Boards should monitor the relationship between children's social care departments and licensing boards and ensure that any recommendations made to the licensing board are acted upon. Local authorities must make greater use of licensing to tackle the issue of grooming. (Paragraph 24)

8.  We recommend that the forthcoming statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care should require local authorities to conduct return interviews, delivered by an independent professional a child or young person is comfortable speaking with, to all children who run away or go missing from home or care, within 72 hours of a missing incident. (Paragraph 26)

Scrutiny of Children's Social Care departments

9.  Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) must collect data in a standard format so that it can be shared between them. Given the historic difficulty of LSCBs collecting comparable data, we recommend either that Boards form a network to ensure uniformity and promulgate best practice or, if that fails, the Government identify an appropriate body to produce central guidance. (Paragraph 32)

10.  Every Local Safeguarding Children's Board should publish an annual report on the work of the child sexual exploitation team, using the data collected to assess the scale and nature of child sexual exploitation within the local area. Such a report ought to include data on the number of: complaints; investigations; prosecutions; convictions: and, police officers social workers and other specialist support workers working on child sexual exploitation. A child sexual exploitation co-ordinator ought to be nominated for every LSCB and they should ensure that the report on the work of the child sexual exploitation team is published in a standard format across the different LSCB areas in order to make comparison of local authority areas easy for the public and to assist Ofsted as part of the multi-agency inspection of services for children which they are planning to implement. (Paragraph 33)

11.  The role of a Local Safeguarding Children's Board is to scrutinise the effectiveness of its members, not protect them from criticism. We recommend that the Government give the victim or their family, or an independent third party, the right of redaction of serious case reviews, rather than the Local Safeguarding Children's Board. We also recommend that Serious Case Reviews are published in full, subject to delay where it may compromise an ongoing investigation. (Paragraph 37)

Rochdale and Rotherham

12.  Prevention and early intervention in cases of children at risk of sexual exploitation is essential rather than trying to resolve the situation once the exploitation has started. We recommend that all local authorities ensure that there is sufficient funding for prevention within the budget of any multi-agency team tasked with tackling child sexual exploitation. We also believe that it is important for Local Safeguarding Children's Boards to consider how they will approach the sensitive issue of raising awareness of child sexual exploitation risks among Year 6 and Year 7 students, as abusers are targeting that age group. The Government can assist in this by gathering together in one easily accessible location best practice resources. (Paragraph 52)

13.  Both Rochdale and Rotherham Councils were inexcusably slow to realise that the widespread, organised sexual abuse of children, many of them in the care of the local authority, was taking place on their doorstep. This is due in large part to a woeful lack of professional curiosity or indifference, from the council Chief Executive who claims to have known nothing about the problem during his first decade in post, to the Director of Children's Services who saw prosecution of sex offenders as a desirable but ancillary goal, through the Local Safeguarding Children's Board which tried to suppress criticisms in a Serious Case Review, to the individual practitioners who, in a chilling confirmation of the abusers' blackmail and threats, dismissed the victims—children as young as 12—as 'prostitutes'. That it took so long for anybody, at any level from the Chief Executive downward, to look at reports of young girls with multiple, middle-aged 'boyfriends', hanging around takeaways, drinking and taking drugs, and to think that it might be worth investigating further, is shocking. Because of the widespread publicity, not least due to the investigative journalism of Andrew Norfolk in The Times and the subsequent public outrage, both local authorities now recognise the nature and extent of localised grooming, and have made improvements to the way that they deal with children and young people who are at risk of sexual exploitation. However, it is clear that senior leadership in both Rochdale and Rotherham councils failed in their duty of care towards these girls. We are surprised that, with child sexual exploitation remaining a problem in Rotherham, the council was considered to have made sufficient progress to have its notice to improve lifted by the Department for Education in 2011. (Paragraph 55)

14.  When victims such as Emma Jackson approached the authorities for help, many were treated in an appalling manner. Even reports by frontline health workers were ignored. It is no excuse for Rochdale and Rotherham managers to say they had no knowledge of what was taking place, as they are ultimately responsible and must be held accountable for the appalling consequences of their lack of curiosity. Early retirement or resignation for other reasons should not allow them to evade responsibility and they must be held to account. In particular, we are deeply shocked by Roger Ellis' receiving £76,798.20 in redundancy payout. He should be required to repay it. Despite improvements in their response to child sexual exploitation, we remain concerned by the actions of both councils. Rotherham in particular has failed to secure any prosecutions since 2010 and we are doubtful about whether the child sexual exploitation training and working group meetings are actually taking place. We therefore recommend that further Ofsted reviews take place for Rotherham over the next two years to ensure that the changes they are implementing are not just cosmetic. The first should take place by December 2013. At least one Ofsted review in respect of Rochdale would also be appropriate. (Paragraph 56)

The Criminal Justice System

15.  We welcome the plans put forward by the Director of Public Prosecution and Association of Chief Police Officers to improve the response of the criminal justice system to child sexual exploitation. Their implementation ought to be a priority and should be monitored and supported by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. We recommend that both departments report quarterly on progress to the working group on child sexual exploitation set up by the Department for Education. The focus on this issue must not be lost in the transition of police standards and guidelines from ACPO to the College of Policing. (Paragraph 67)

16.  We would also like to commend the work of the Director for Public Prosecution, Keir Starmer QC and the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, Nazir Afzal OBE. Unlike many other official agencies implicated in this issue, the Crown Prosecution Service has readily admitted that victims had been let down by them and have attempted both to discover the cause of this systematic failure and to improve the way things are done so as to avoid a repetition of such events. Mr Starmer has striven to improve the treatment of victims of sexual assault within the criminal justice system throughout his term as Director of Public Prosecution and, when he leaves the Crown Prosecution Service this year, he will be missed. His response should provide a model to the other agencies involved in tackling localised grooming. (Paragraph 68)

17.  Given that the issue around child sexual exploitation appears to be that people in positions of responsibility were failing to listen the victims, we are surprised by Shaun Wright's reluctance to engage with victims. Considering the lack of prosecutions for offences relating to child sexual exploitation in South Yorkshire, despite evidence that it is still occurring, we suggest Mr Wright may wish to take more of an interest in the victims then he has done previously. (Paragraph 72)

18.  We have heard evidence that South Yorkshire Police Force have previously let down victims of localised grooming and child sexual exploitation—as a result, we would expect the force be striving to redeem their reputation. We do not believe that differences in the number of offenders could explain why Lancashire has 100 prosecutions a year whereas South Yorkshire has none. Such a postcode lottery is unacceptable. We believe it is the responsibility of the Chief Constable to ensure that investigations lead to prosecutions. (Paragraph 74)

19.  We note that South Yorkshire has recently increased the number of officers working on localised grooming with funding for ten new officers announced. We expect that with this, alongside the many changes introduced in police forces across the country, we will see an improvement in the recording and prosecution of incidents of child sexual exploitation We recommend that all police forces ensure that their IT systems are able to identify these incidents and whether multiple perpetrators have been involved. This information can be used to improve the chance of conviction and to help map the scale and extent of child sexual exploitation nationally. We also recommend that the College of Policing work with CEOP to formalise the sharing of best practice, including the use of surveillance and alternative legislation to prosecute perpetrators. We will revisit this issue in a year's time to examine whether the prosecution of such crimes has improved. (Paragraph 75)

20.  The evaluation of the work of police forces in the area of child sexual exploitation is difficult because of the range of charges which can be brought in these cases. We recommend that police forces be required to notify the child sexual exploitation co-ordinator of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board as to how many cases they have investigated linked child sexual exploitation; how many have been prosecuted and how many of those prosecutions were successful to be published as part of their annual report. We also recommend that CEOP use the reports by child sexual exploitation co-ordinators to monitor the performance of all police forces and, if necessary, implement an action plan for improvement where forces are failing to perform. (Paragraph 76)

Identifying vulnerable victims and ensuring they have access to support

21.  The Association of Chief Police Officers' Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan recommends that forces identify support services to provide care to victims and their extended families "for the duration of their criminal justice journey and beyond". We welcome this proposal, and recommend that all victims of child sexual exploitation be offered the services of an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor prior to their Achieving Best Evidence interview. The ISVA should be trained in court processes and, wherever possible, the victim should be supported by the same individual throughout the process. (Paragraph 82)

22.  We recommend that the new national policy and guidance for police and the Crown Prosecution Service which will be drawn up by the College of Policing include a checklist of support services which a victim of child sexual exploitation ought to be offered following the decision to prosecute the case. This checklist ought to include, at the very least, pre-trial therapy, a pre-Court familiarisation visit and a chance to meet the prosecuting barrister. The Independent Sexual Violence Advocate assigned to the case ought to be present when these support services are offered to the victim. (Paragraph 83)

Court processes

23.  We are at a loss to understand why the Ministry of Justice, fourteen years after the Act was passed, has still failed to implement this measure. If the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, with his unrivalled experience, can find no reasonable legal obstacle to the immediate implementation of Pigot 2 then there can be no justifiable argument for continuing to subject highly vulnerable victims to cross examination in court given the highly publicised risks this clearly carries. Pigot 2 represents the will of Parliament and it is for the Ministry of Justice to implement this measure in a timely manner. We recommend they implement Pigot 2 by January 2014. (Paragraph 85)

24.  We are pleased to see that the Government and the Crown Prosecution Service are supportive of the use of special measures in child sexual exploitation trials. The work of the CPS and the advocates' gateway toolkits are both steps in the right direction. However, the description provided to us of the failure of special measures to be implemented correctly is a cause for concern and roundtables are unlikely to resolve that. If the issue proves to be recurring throughout the court system we recommend that each court have a named individual with the responsibility for ensuring that special measures are being implemented appropriately whether that require training for staff or investment in technical equipment. (Paragraph 88)

25.  The experience of reliving incidents of sexual exploitation in a court is inevitably harrowing for witnesses. We are clear that reforms are necessary to ensure that victims of this appalling crime are able to give clear and effective evidence in court. We are acutely aware that any such reforms must align with the defendant's right to test the evidence against them in a fair trial. However, where witnesses become overwhelmed and intimidated giving evidence, and are unable to give a clear account, that is not in the interests of justice for victim or defendant. We believe that at the moment, the balance is skewed too strongly in favour of protecting the defendant's rights as opposed to the very vulnerable witnesses in cases of child sexual exploitation. For that reason we recommend immediate implementation of Pigot 2, as discussed above, by January 2014. We have been deeply concerned by some of the examples of language used in court that stereotypes child sexual exploitation victims. We acknowledge the difficulties facing the judiciary as they have to strike the balance between removing potential juror prejudice about child sexual exploitation victims and their need not to stray beyond bounds and provide grounds for appeal. However, we conclude that child sexual exploitation offences are an area on which further specific guidance and training of the judiciary would be appropriate, in particular the question of whether cross-examination of complainants by all defence counsel in cases with multiple defendants should be controlled and if so, how. This should include consideration of allocation of issues between counsel, and the imposition of time limits. We invite the Lord Chief Justice to consider recommending to the Judicial College that this training be developed and provided, and will write to him accordingly. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice provide funding for any work that the Lord Chief Justice and Judicial College decide to undertake. We invite the Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Regulation Authority to work with the Judicial College and Ministry of Justice to develop and provide similar training for barristers and solicitor advocates. In addition, we recommend the Ministry of Justice provide guidance on the use of expert witnesses in child sexual exploitation cases who can at least assist by educating juries about some of the apparent behavioural anomalies associated with child sexual exploitation. (Paragraph 93)

26.  We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice introduce specialist courts (similar to the domestic violence courts currently in existence) for child sexual abuse or sexual offences as a whole. We do not mean that new buildings or new bureaucracies should be created, merely that in each region, one court room should be designated as the preferred court for the most serious child sexual exploitation cases. This court room should be selected on the basis that it has the most up to date technology and appropriate access and waiting facilities. For each region a team of specialist child sexual exploitation judges, prosecutors, police, witness support and ushers should be identified, trained and linked into the local Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub and Local Safeguarding Children's Board teams. We believe that at the moment there are training initiatives in the police, CPS, judiciary and so on. There is a lot of will at the top of these organisations and that is to be commended but there is still inconsistent application on the ground. Victims do not experience the will at the top of the organisation, they experience the reality on the ground. In order to ensure that the most serious cases are guaranteed the most experienced whole court team delivering the best practice, we believe specialist whole court teams in court rooms equipped with the necessary technology are the answer. We will write to the Ministry of Justice requesting periodic updates on this piece of work and will revisit the issue in eighteen months time. (Paragraph 94)

Health and Education

27.  We accept that there is a level of commitment within Government to ensuring that health professionals are aware of the issue of child sexual exploitation and a desire to identify victims through their interactions with health professionals. We recommend that the Government ensure that the details of all children up to the age of 16 who present at Accident and Emergency Departments are entered on the Child Protection - Information System rather than just those of younger children. (Paragraph 98)

28.  We recommend that all frontline health professionals be given training on the warning signs of child sexual exploitation and that representatives from both primary and secondary care within any local multi-agency team set up to combat child sexual exploitation. We also recommend that, given the importance of sexually transmitted diseases as a marker for child sexual exploitation, sexual health services give consideration as to how such information might be shared across the region in order to better identify children at risk. (Paragraph 99)

29.  We welcome the increase in funding to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Child sexual exploitation is extremely to damaging to a young person's mental health and may result in a young person being unable to be a functioning member of society. It is therefore in the financial, as well as the wider, interests of society that the pain and trauma experienced by victims is recognised and dealt with as soon as possible. We recommend that the Government publish the report and recommendations of the health working group on child sexual exploitation and a timetable for the implementation of all the recommendations it has accepted. (Paragraph 100)

30.  Teachers are more likely to see victims on a regular basis than almost any other professional. They will notice recurrent or prolonged absences and significant changes in behaviour. They are therefore key in identifying children at risk at an early stage and, by raising concerns at an early stage, being able to potentially stop the grooming process before the sexual exploitation has begun. We have asked the Minister to look, once again, at the relationship between schools and local authorities in regards to highlighting concerns about missing children. We recommend that the Government ensure that all teachers are provided with the list of warning signs for child sexual exploitation and the contact details of a named individual within the local authority that they can contact with any concerns. We again recommend that schools should be reminded annually of their statutory responsibilities in this matter by the Secretary of State. (Paragraph 104)

Voluntary sector

31.  The voluntary sector plays a vital role in identifying child sexual exploitation and supporting victims through investigations, prosecutions and beyond. We recommend that the Government ensure that where voluntary organisations are effectively supporting official agencies in tackling child sexual exploitation, there are resources made available to continue the partnership. This is especially important in terms of funding for voluntary sector organisations which work with young people at risk. We earlier highlighted the importance of prevention and early intervention and we take this opportunity to recommend that resources be allocated to ensure that this vital work takes place. (Paragraph 107)

The Issue of Race

32.  There is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation. It is a vile crime which is perpetrated by a small number of individuals, and abhorred by the vast majority, from every ethnic group. However, evidence presented to us suggests that there is a model of localised grooming of Pakistani-heritage men targeting young White girls. This must be acknowledged by official agencies, who we were concerned to hear in some areas of particular community tension, had reportedly been slow to draw attention to the issue for fear of affecting community cohesion. The condemnation from those communities of this vile crime should demonstrate that there is no excuse for tip-toeing around this issue. It is important that police, social workers and others be able to raise their concerns freely, without fear of being labelled racist. The communities that these offenders come from must also play their part and do much more to acknowledge, report and tackle the issue. In particular community leaders and Imams have a vital role to play. We welcome the establishment of the Rochdale community forum and we recommend that multi-agency safeguarding hubs carry out outreach work in order to connect with forums such as this and all communities. In essence, the responsibility of all agencies, particularly social services, the police, and schools, is to protect those at risk from grooming and sexual exploitation and help to bring to justice those responsible, totally regardless of race or background, or indeed any other factor. To do otherwise leads to what occurred, or in fact didn't occur, for far too long at Rotherham and Rochdale, and quite likely other places as well. (Paragraph 120)

33.  We caution against focusing just on one particular model of child sexual exploitation. We have heard evidence that models vary within and between different types of child sexual exploitation. For example, the majority of child sexual exploitation conducted online is by White perpetrators. Authorities should not be blinkered by one formula which will blind them to other patterns of abuse taking place. Stereotyping offenders as all coming from a particular background is as likely to perpetuate the problem as is a refusal to acknowledge that a particular group of offenders share a common ethnicity. (Paragraph 121)

34.  Every child, whatever community they come from, must feel able to report abuse. In order to do so, they need a justice system that they can have confidence in and communities to give them absolute support. We are concerned by reports that ethnic minority children are less likely to be identified as victims of child sexual exploitation. Statutory agencies must ensure that they are able to support children of all races and tackle abuse by offenders of all races. (Paragraph 122)

Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs

35.   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. (Paragraph 127)


36.  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. (Paragraph 130)

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Prepared 10 June 2013