West Yorkshire Police has improved its child protection work in the last two years but has made “disappointing” progress and was still falling short in several key areas, according to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
The main criticism was that frontline officers were not recording child protection issues properly, meaning some cases were not being referred to social services as they should have been.
HMIC said that after highlighting the same problem in a report a year ago, it had “grave concerns” that no progress had been made in recording all relevant information about children’s welfare. Its report said: “As a result, some children will continue to be at risk, and potentially at significant risk.”
It added: “HMIC acknowledges that West Yorkshire Police has taken some steps to improve child protection practice, but its overall progress was disappointing.
“There is still much to be done before the force can be confident that it is providing a consistently good service to children who are at risk of harm.
“Force leaders will therefore need to accelerate the pace of improvement and monitor progress for some time to come.”
In one case where a woman was hospitalised in an attack by her ex-partner, five children were present but police did not inform social services until ten days later.
HMIC carried out its original child protection inspection in August 2014 and published its findings in January 2015. In February that year the force provided HMIC with an action plan setting out how it intended to respond to the recommendations.
The force said in a statement at the time: “West Yorkshire Police would like to reassure victims that all crimes are taken seriously, recorded appropriately and investigated thoroughly.”
In the follow-up inspection last August 34 child protection cases were examined. Of these, the force’s work was assessed as good in 11, requiring improvement in 20 and inadequate in three.
Praising a “continued commitment to improving outcomes for children who are at risk from harm”, HMIC said there had been “some positive developments” since the first report.
The number of officers and staff focused on protecting the vulnerable has increased by nearly 130 as a result of £3.5m in extra funding from the police and crime commissioner, and safeguarding hubs have been set up with staff from different local agencies.
Child sexual exploitation teams have also been set up to look into allegations of historic sexual abuse.
But HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham said that despite these improvements “there are some important areas the force still isn’t getting right”.
He said: “In 2014 HMIC recommended the force improve how frontline officers record child protection issues. HMIC has concerns that the force has made no progress against this recommendation.
“As a result, officers are still failing to properly record concerns about children and refer cases to social services where necessary.
“The force also needs to improve its understanding of why it detains children in custody.
“Although there was some good practice in this area, five of the seven cases inspectors looked at where a child was detained in custody were judged to require improvement.”
West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said the force were rated as good in a separate HMIC inspection about the protection of the vulnerable earlier this year.
But he said he would be meeting with Temporary Chief Constable Dee Collins “to ensure all the concerns have or are being addressed”.
He said: “Child Sexual Exploitation and abuse is one of the highest priorities for police and partners and quite rightly is an area of work subject to close scrutiny and we need to constantly work together with safeguarding partners to ensure we are doing all we can to identify and protect vulnerable victims.
“The safeguarding of children is all of our responsibility and it is never acceptable for any child to be failed by the agencies that are there to support them.”
Temporary chief constable Dee Collins said the force had worked hard to implement HMIC’s recommendations. She added: “More still needs to be done, and certain practises will be improved I can assure our communities that we will continue to develop our approach to ensure children are protected from harm.”
A spokesman for charity NSPCC said the force’s “clear commitment” to protecting children “doesn’t gloss over other concerning shortfalls in the report”.
He said: “The inspection uncovered a number of worrying issues that need to be addressed immediately, including the fact children continued to be unnecessarily detained in custody.
“The force hasn’t made any progress in improving how frontline officers record child protection issues, despite having been told to address the problem in 2014.
“As more victims of child abuse and exploitation continue to come forward, it’s vital police are properly trained and equipped to respond to these horrific crimes and help the victims.”