School governors in North Yorkshire ‘must ask questions about child sex abuse’

North Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan
North Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan
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GOVERNORS at schools in North Yorkshire must start asking head teachers what they are doing to prevent child sex abuse and help make sure vulnerable children are protected, according to the county’s police commissioner.

Julia Mulligan says the police force in England’s safest county needs to increase the awareness of the signs of sexual exploitation among young people to stop them being groomed by potential abusers.

She spoke after officers at North Yorkshire Police presented a ‘health check’ on the way child sexual exploitation (CSE) is tackled locally in the aftermath of the bombshell Alexis Jay report into abuse in Rotherham.

Mrs Mulligan said she had been reassured that “North Yorkshire is definitely not a Rotherham waiting to happen” and that good systems to deal with victims of abuse, once they have been identified, have been in place “for some time”.

But she said the force had a number of areas where it could improve and that “more needs to be done to prevent CSE and highlight the risks to parents, children, schools and school governors”.

She added: “The complexities of knowing which children are at risk and ensuring they are proactively identified is challenging and needs further consideration and coordination.”

Analysis by the force has revealed that there are 110 possible victims of child sexual exploitation in the county, 20 of whom are at the “highest risk”, mostly concentrated in the Scarborough and York areas. Some 80 possible abusers have also been identified across 18 locations.

Mrs Mulligan said that those identified as being potentially at risk were being referred to the right services, but improvement was needed in making sure schools and young people were aware of the risks.

She said: “I think actually there is a gap in this which is engaging with school governors. I would say to readers of The Yorkshire Post who are governors that this is something you should be raising with head teachers.

“When I was a governor in meetings this did not come up. I do think governors should be able to feel they can raise this with head teachers and be satisfied the heads are doing everything they can to make sure children who may be at risk are identified and referred appropriately.

“Head teachers really do need to make sure their staff are fully trained in this area. That is something that needs to be worked on. In some areas they will be totally across it and in others not so much.”

Detectives yesterday presented a ‘health check’ on how North Yorkshire tackles child sex abuse in the aftermath of the bombshell Alexis Jay report published in August.

Revelations of the full scale of the abuse in the town, where 1,400 children were sexually exploited over 16 years as council and police officials turned a blind eye, have sparked intense scrutiny in other areas of the country where it is feared the issue may have been ignored.

Among actions recommended in the Jay report were raising awareness of signs of abuse, including in schools, to help early identification and better-trained staff being deployed onto the streets to talk to young people.

Mrs Mulligan said one of the difficulties faced by North Yorkshire’s force was “keeping abreast of technology and social media channels used by young people to share information.”

The force has already announced plans to open a new cyber-crime unit, staffed by four officers, by the end of the year and will join forces with neighbouring Cleveland Police in tackling hi-tech crime.

Earlier this year, a former mayor of Scarborough, Peter Jaconelli, was stripped of his civic honours after police revealed he would be interviewed under caution over alleged child sex offences if he were still alive. He was the mayor of the seaside resort in the 1970s before he died in 1999.