The warning by Victim Support comes after a watchdog criticised the way West Yorkshire Police investigated child sex abuse claims and said it needed to improve its child protection practices.
After visiting the force last summer, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of Constabulary found some “good examples where police responded well to the risks posed by those who
sexually exploit children”.
It said the best work was found in areas with “mature and established partnership arrangements”, but that “in less well-developed, single-agency teams, such as in Leeds, the service was largely reactive”.
HMIC said it was “concerned about the standard” of probes into child sexual exploitation across the county and that one Leeds unit “found it difficult to cope with the high volume of referrals”.
it said its work protecting vulnerable children was “often weak” in difficult, complicated or prolonged cases, and information about cases was being recorded poorly on police systems.
Lesley McLean, divisional manager at the charity Victim Support in West Yorkshire, said: “This inspection report again demonstrates that too often the barriers to children and young people getting justice are put in place by the criminal justice system itself.
“Our charity knows from supporting hundreds of young crime victims and from recent research that the majority of them are reluctant to go to the police. They worry they won’t be believed and that the police won’t be able to do anything to help them.
“Our team sees first-hand the devastating impact a crime can have on children and young people. Regardless of whether they’ve reported the crime to the police, we offer confidential advice and support. And, if they have to testify in court, our team is there to support them.”
Fiona Richards, regional head of service for North East, Yorkshire and the Humber at children’s charity NSPCC, said: “The report highlights elements of good practice, such as positive relationships with partner agencies and local safeguarding children boards but there are clearly still many major areas that need to be addressed.
“The report’s findings that there is not a consistent approach to child sexual exploitation, or to a report of physical abuse involving a very young child, as well as the fact that children are being detained unnecessarily in custody overnight are very concerning.
“As we’ve seen from many cases this year, child sexual exploitation is a major problem and West Yorkshire Police must ensure that it responds promptly to give vulnerable children the protection they need and not allow them to simply slip through the net.
“We hope the report will encourage the force to evaluate its current working practices and look forward to seeing what steps it plans to take to ensure children’s safety is a top priority.”
Responding to the report this week, assistant chief constable Russ Foster said that when HMIC visited in August, the force was “in the throes of a comprehensive review of our safeguarding units and looking at enhancing service delivery”.
He said: “We will continue to build effective relationships with both statutory and voluntary partners and work closely with them to safeguard vulnerable children and take positive action against those who abuse or neglect children.”