Local authorities “still not facing up to reality of child grooming”

Rotherham
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Victims of child grooming have been identified by fewer than half of England’s local safeguarding boards, according to an influential government commissioner.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) said there were still too many areas “where those who have responsibility for the protection of children are failing to face up to the realities of child sexual exploitation”.

It said different rates of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are reported in different parts of England, and that in one unnamed region numbers of known victims varied between one and 65 per 10,000 children.

Of the 148 local safeguarding children boards in the country, only 48 per cent were able to provide data about known victims of CSE in 2013.

The report said: “Although some variation in the rate of CSE is to be expected, the evidence from our Inquiry was that there are children in every part of England who are being exploited.

“There are still too many areas in England where the identification of victims of CSE is particularly low. This points to a failure to identify children who are being abused, rather than an absence of CSE in the area.”

The OCC’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups was launched in October 2011 and published six reports making 37 recommendations for local and national agencies to protect children and young people from child sexual exploitation.

In its latest report, the OCC said it was “worrying” that the inquiry’s recommendation that personal, social and health education programmes become a statutory component of the curriculum has not been adopted by the Government.

Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England and chair of the inquiry, said: “When we began our inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups in 2012, there were a few lone voices around the country desperately trying to help the child victims.

“Thankfully, much has improved and many of the agencies which are responsible for protecting child victims have woken up to this damaging crime. However, it is clear that at the frontline much work is still needed.”

She added: “Once again we are calling for age-appropriate relationships and sex education to be made a statutory component of the curriculum. Young people need to understand what are and what are not healthy relationships.”

The report says that 92 per cent of local safeguarding children boards have produced a strategy to address child sexual exploitation and 79 per cent of police forces have done a strategic analysis or problem profile of child sexual exploitation victims and offenders.

The report comes after it emerged that the former leader of Rotherham council has been summoned to Parliament to answer questions about his handling of the town’s sexual exploitation scandal.

Roger Stone stepped down last August on the day the Jay report into Rotherham grooming was published, claiming at least 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town.

He is now set to attend the Department for Local Government and Communities (DCLG) select committee, which is investigating failures in leadership in the South Yorkshire town.

Stone, who led Rotherham council from 2003, has not spoken publicly since his sudden resignation and was recently accused of presiding over a sexist and bullying culture which suppressed whistleblowers.