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Poor information-sharing still putting children at risk

Date:17 JUN 2015
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Senior Editor
Ineffective processes for sharing information are still hampering action on child sexual exploitation, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw voiced his concerns at the first of his regular meetings with the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

In discussions with Chief Constable Simon Bailey, lead for the national policing response to child sexual exploitation, and Wendy Williams from HMIC, the chief inspector reiterated his concerns at the lack of clarity on the scale and extent of child sexual exploitation across the country. In particular, Sir Michael raised the issue surrounding the continued lack of meaningful data and poor information-sharing on children missing from care – children widely accepted to be at greater risk of becoming victims of exploitation.

During the meeting Sir Michael shared evidence from recent Ofsted inspection reports (from February 2013 and November 2014) highlighting the fact that many local authorities and children’s homes are still not getting their approach to missing children right. Over half of recent ‘single’ inspection reports show that authorities are failing in basic statutory duties to carry out ‘return interviews’ or are ensuring that such interviews are of good quality and carried out by an independent person.

Such failures mean the reasons that cause children to go missing aren’t fully understood, rendering further help and support for them ineffective. There is often poor and inconsistent recording of the interview, and findings are not collated and analysed to identify patterns or trends at a local level. This poor intelligence undermines the capacity of local partners to take effective preventative action and disrupt sexual exploitation before it happens.

Sir Michael called for help from the police to ensure that Ofsted and HMIC have the right information to target inspections in those areas where children are most at risk of sexual exploitation.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

'More must be done to identify and protect vulnerable children who are at risk of being sexually exploited. This duty is incumbent on all parties, including Ofsted and the police service.

Police leaders share my concern and frustration that a lack of understanding of the scale and extent of child sexual exploitation – in all its forms – is hindering efforts to prevent and tackle this issue.

I remain concerned, a full 2 years after Ofsted published a detailed report into missing children – among some of the most vulnerable to exploitation – that this issue has not been given the priority it deserves by some local authorities and partners.

It is particularly worrying that many local authorities are unable to provide Ofsted with data about missing children in their area.

Ofsted has strengthened its own focus on children who go missing in all single inspections. Where local authorities and partners are not serving these vulnerable children well, we will state this clearly and unequivocally.'
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Supported by police partners, Sir Michael also reiterated his calls for agencies to have access to a single, accurate and comprehensive register so they can properly track children who go missing and understand any trends or patterns.

Ofsted has been working with fellow inspectorates for the police, health and probation services to develop a programme of targeted, responsive, joint inspections that will address issues including child sexual exploitation and provide a shared narrative about what is happening locally. The model will roll out from autumn 2015 after consultation in July.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said:

'The protection of vulnerable children is a key priority for the police service, but it is something which is not only our responsibility, but that of partners in education, health, social services and children’s services departments as well as colleagues in third sector organisations.

I welcome any opportunity to engage in meaningful and productive dialogue and action with partner agencies and these regular meetings between myself, HMIC and Ofsted are a welcome addition to the fight against child abuse in all its forms.'
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said:

'I fully endorse Sir Michael’s comments. There is a growing body of evidence, including that from HMIC’s National Child Protection inspection programme, that highlights the particular vulnerabilities of children who go missing from care. Independent return interviews can provide a wealth of information about the reasons why they are running away, particularly where this is becoming more frequent and the child is reluctant to speak to police or other agencies. This is crucial if the right steps are to be taken to protect these vulnerable children.

Our inspections show that police forces are investing in improving responses to risk, especially for children who go missing from home and those at risk of child sexual exploitation. But there is more to do on a collaborative, multi-agency basis, both to understand the nature and scale of the problem and to address it effectively. HMIC is also is strengthening its focus on this important issue which is integral to the vulnerability strand of our PEEL all-force inspection programme. An inspection of forces’ preparedness to tackle child sexual exploitation and their management of missing children is currently underway in all police forces in England and Wales. We will report on our findings in the autumn.'