We Need to Get it Right: A Health Check into the Councilâ€™s Role in Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation
Councillor Anita Ward, chair of the education and vulnerable children scrutiny committee:
The Councilâ€™s Education and Vulnerable Children O&S that I chair has carried out an inquiry into the Councilâ€™s role in tackling Child Sexual Exploitation in Birmingham.
We determined to ensure that our young people were adequately protected from CSE.
The key question for the inquiry was â€œwhat needs to be strengthened in the way the City Council prevents and deals with CSE?â€
A Scrutiny Approach
Overview and Scrutiny allows back bench councillors to consider policies and procedures and hold the Executive to account. Scrutiny inquiries entail calling in witnesses from within the Council and a range of other organisations and learning from their experiences. This happened intensively between January and July. Councillors have not looked at any case files or taken an historical perspective, as the focus was on what is happening now to keep children safe. The report is an overview based on the evidence witnesses provided, a visit, attendance at some seminars and further background evidence.
The focus of the inquiry was the City Council, but each agency holds a part of the safeguarding jigsaw.Â We did not examine other organisations in-depth as that was beyond our remit, but there are references and recommendations to multi-agency working where this has an impact on the City Councilâ€™s duty to safeguard children.
Our inquiry was well underway when the Jay Report was published and should not be seen as a knee jerk reaction to that.Â However, given the findings of that report, our inquiry and recommendations are all the more timely and relevant.
The Jay report reinforced the need for transparency and openness and we support this. Therefore this report contains a lot of detail to show that there has been no hiding of the information given to us. We have included some case studies to show the complexity of this problem and some of the challenges being faced in protecting victims and dealing with offenders.
At all points the Executive have welcomed this inquiry.
But this is not the end; it is the start of a dialogue to track progress and listen to anything we may have missed or misunderstood.
Last weekâ€™s Ofsted report on CSE, says where there have been high profile court cases:
â€œ the experience has galvanised the local authorities and their partners into trying to ensure that past failings are never repeated.â€
My aim is for this report is to galvanise action now. We cannot and should not wait for a high profile case to rear its head in Birmingham. Much has been achieved already here, but there is more to be done. Abuse of children requires our full attention.
Key findings â€“ Numbers
CSE is happening in Birmingham. It is largely unreported and many children in the city may be at risk who we do not know about. We report that in September 2014 there were 132 young people known to be currently vulnerable to or experiencing CSE.
Recent media attention has focussed on one model of grooming â€“ perpetrators focussing on looked after girls. The high profile cases have largely drawn explicit attention to the girls being â€Whiteâ€ and the perpetrators â€œAsianâ€.
Our evidence has shouted out that exploitation can happen to anybody irrespective of where you live or your family circumstances. We have heard about girls across the city; some from unstable family backgrounds or in care, but others from stable and loving homes. It can happen to white children as well as black and minority ethnic children. It can happen to boys too. The focus, particularly from the media, on just one model of exploitation actually puts our children at risk. It means that for other children warning signs can get ignored.
Key findings â€“ issues
In the course of the inquiry we heard the frustrations of some witnesses in a few cases when appropriate action had not been taken at the right time.Â These might just be isolated incidents; I donâ€™t know.Â I do know we have to make sure that no child is left inadequately protected.
Key findings â€“ progress
I became Chair in June 2012 and determined then to carry out an inquiry into CSE. I agreed it would be more productive to get the CSE Co-ordinator in place and allow some progress to be made.
Since that time there has been significant progress made.
â€¢Â There is now a CSE Prevention and Intervention Strategy and Action Plan from the Birmingham Safeguarding Children (BSCB) Board;
â€¢Â There is multi-agency training that my Members undertook which was excellent;
â€¢Â There is a multi-agency CSE screening tool;
â€¢Â The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) was established this summer;
â€¢Â There is even a small number of Council officers dealing with CSE and missing children specifically;
â€¢Â Alongside that a range of multi-agency structures have been put in place or strengthened;
â€¢Â And regionally work has been undertaken to develop and implement shared standards.
â€¢Â Innovative work is being undertaken, as shown by the civil injunctions last week.
There is a commitment to get this right from the Cabinet Member and senior officers.Â Progress is tangible. We have gone a long way but the journey is not over yet.
CSE is currently under-reported. We know we need to increase the numbers of children known at risk of CSE and to safeguard them.
Finally, I need to put on record that there are some fantastic champions for CSE within the City Council and partner agencies. I met people working tirelessly to get it right for children. Listening to the evidence was harrowing enough for me, and I commend those who do this as part of their day job. I want to thank them for the tremendous job they are doing.
NOTE TO EDITORS
The Education & Vulnerable Children O&S Committee is chaired by Cllr Anita Ward. Members are:
Cllr Barry BowlesÂ Cllr James HutchingsÂ Â (L)Â Cllr Sue Anderson
Cllr Eva PhillipsÂ Cllr Reg Corns
Cllr Chaudhry RashidÂ Cllr Guy Roberts
Cllr Valerie Seabright
Cllr Martin Straker-Welds
Other Voting Members (4)
oÂ 1 Church of England diocese representative â€“ Mrs Jackie Hughes
oÂ 1 Roman Catholic diocese representative â€“ Richard Potter (new member)
oÂ 2 Parent Governor Representatives – Samera Ali, Shahid Mir
The Committee also invited some representation from Social Cohesion and Community Safety O&S (the Chair, formerly Cllr Waseem Zaffar and latterly Cllr Mariam Khan plus Cllr Guy Roberts before his transfer over to EVC).
Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services:
This report is both timely and hugely important in shaping the cityâ€™s response to safeguarding young people from this appalling crime, and in tackling the people who destroy young lives.
Ofstedâ€™s report last week made uncomfortable reading for all local authorities so it is really important that this council has reviewed itself â€“ I believe we are the first council to do this.
We are committed, as are our partner agencies, to tackling this crime together, and Scrutiny colleagues recognise we are starting to make real progress in this direction.
This report provides an important health check on that response and recommendations for strengthening it for the future.
We have recently taken a ground-breaking approach via civil injunctions as a way of dealing withÂ perpetrators when there is simply not enough evidence to use the criminal prosecution route.
We have a robust safeguarding improvement plan agreed by the Department for Education and CSE is integral to this.
We now have a CSE co-ordinator, and are appointing a second, who will co-ordinate awareness-raising, training and prevention services, develop the cities strategic response and collate multi-agency data to provide information on the location of hotspots and trends.
We also have a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which is managing risk on the basis of a comprehensive picture.
This is an issue for all local authorities and partners; this report is about ensuring we know what weâ€™re doing right and what more we need to do.