Safeguarding e-Bulletin – 20th June 2019

Sam Preston 20 June 2019 3 min read

Review of social care in Huddersfield CSE case finds opportunities lost

A review commissioned by Kirklees Council has concluded that opportunities to expose a grooming gang, which raped and abused girls as young as 11 in Huddersfield, were lost.

Following examination of social work files, the review carried out by the Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership, Dr Mark Peel, found that the council had “sufficient evidence” to conclude that two girls were being exploited but had failed to take action.

In 2018, 20 men were convicted of more than 120 offences against 15 girls, which took place between 2004 and 2011. The review found that 15 of the 22 women who gave evidence at the trial were known to children’s services at the time and whilst the majority of them had received “services of an acceptable standard”, there was “direct intelligence” of child sexual exploitation in two cases.

Social work notes for one of the girls (known as Girl 4 aged 16) recorded "she is being exploited into prostitution, she hangs around with a number of men who take her money". The notes also stated "she is a very promiscuous girl".

In relation to the second girl (known as Girl 8), social work notes recorded that she “is getting into cars with Asian men for the purpose of drugs, alcohol and sexual exploitation".

Dr Peel said: "It is my contention that children's services officers knew at the time that these young women most likely to have been engaged in inappropriate, exploitative and illegal sexual activity to the extent that they had sufficient evidence to conclude these vulnerable young women were at risk of 'serious harm'.

"In both instances, however, it would appear that, other than recording this information, no subsequent preventative safeguarding action was taken, and that thus an opportunity to break the CSE ring operating in Kirklees, and protect these girls directly and others more generally, was lost."

In a statement, Kirklees Council Director of Children’s Services Mel Meggs said the council was "truly sorry the girls were not protected in the right way”. Meggs went on to state "Dr Peel has been clear that the vast majority of cases were handled in line with the policy and practice of the time. However, the studies of 'Girl 4' and 'Girl 8' show that, historically, professionals did not always spot the signs of exploitation and did not always respond appropriately to concerns.”

"We are truly sorry that these two girls were not protected in the right way."

New school admission priority

Education Secretary, Damian Hinds announced last week that the school admissions code in England is to be changed to make it easier for families escaping domestic abuse to switch schools. Hinds stated that more needs to be done for the 1.6 million children not in care but classified as “children in need” and that he wants vulnerable children to get a school place "as quickly as possible". Hinds went on to state "We need to improve the visibility of this group, both in schools and in the system as a whole.”

This move, which will form part of the Domestic Abuse Bill, is in response to a report published earlier this year which called for children forced to move home to be given priority over school places.

The committee set up to review the draft Bill is also calling on HM government to consider amending the definition of harm set out in the Children Act to include the trauma caused by children witnessing coercive control between adults in the household. Members raised concerns about a lack of legal definition for children as victims in the Bill after hearing evidence that highlighted a "negative impact on services for children who have suffered such trauma".

Knife crime bounties

In a BBC Beyond Today podcast, Liverpool teenagers reported being offered up to £1,000 by gang leaders to stab other youngsters. One boy reported that his best friend was the target of a £1,000 bounty. Such bounties are being paid by "elders" who want to avoid carrying out the attacks themselves. One teenager said people would go to watch "straighteners" (a fight arranged to resolve a dispute) where people were "getting stabbed". When asked why they would take such action the teenager said “they'll go and do it because they'll think, if I do this, then I'll get more money and I'll get more respect from the elders."

In a statement Merseyside Police said it was aware organised crime groups used violence to settle disputes and that gangs were known to exploit "young and vulnerable people to sell drugs and even to use violence".

According to official statistics, last year Merseyside Police had one of the biggest increases in recorded knife offences, a rise of 35%. In 2018 the force recorded 1,231 offences involving a knife. Last week, Ministry of Justice figures showed that 22,041 knife or weapon offences were recorded in England and Wales in the past year - the highest number since 2010. One in five of those convicted or cautioned were aged between 10 and 17.

Prevention plan for mental health

Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May has said she believes the next "revolution in mental health" should be in prevention as she unveiled her "prevention plan". The plan will be backed by updated statutory guidance to make clear schools' responsibilities to protect children's mental wellbeing.

As part of the plan every new teacher will be trained to spot the signs of poor mental health in pupils. In addition, there will be support for school mental health leads so they can help children experiencing self-harm and at risk of suicide.

The Prime Minister said tackling mental illness was a "personal priority" and that she believes "the next great revolution in mental health should be in prevention”. NHS staff and social workers will also be trained to spot the signs of mental health difficulties.

Whilst in the main the announcement has been positively received there has been some criticism that the plan fails to address key issues. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "The aspiration to train school staff to spot signs of mental illness among pupils is welcome, but it will amount to little more than a sticking plaster." She added: "Schools need strong pastoral systems, but teachers cannot cover for the cuts to mental health specialists. Recognising the early signs is important, but timely routes to appropriate professional treatment is essential."

A white paper will be published before the end of the year in response to the review of the Mental Health Act chaired by Simon Wessely, past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

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