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All children are at risk of criminal exploitation

Agencies urged not to under-estimate risk of criminal exploitation

Published on 25th November 2018

Agencies should not underestimate the risk of criminal exploitation in their areas, a joint thematic report has warned.

The report, from inspectorates Ofsted, HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and HMI Probation found that some partners do not have a grip on the scale of criminal exploitation in their area.

"Poor intelligence-sharing sometimes hampers wider recognition and understanding of criminal exploitation, and, in turn, the ability to effectively respond to children. This includes missing the risks to some children, or identifying them too late," said the report.

The inspectorates carried out the in-depth inspections scrutinising practice in children’s social care, education, health services, the police, youth offending services and probation services across three local authority areas.

They warn that local agencies must learn lessons from past sexual exploitation cases if they are to effectively respond to ‘county lines’ drug running and other forms of child criminal exploitation.

The report states that all children, not just the most vulnerable, are at risk of criminal exploitation. Child victims come from a wide range of backgrounds and while the most vulnerable are obvious targets for gangs, there are examples of private school children being groomed too.

Many local partnerships across the country have worked hard to deal with child sexual exploitation in their areas, however, this success must be built upon and shared so that other forms of exploitation, like county lines drug running, can be dealt with effectively.

The report calls on all agencies to get the basics right, making sure that there are clear systems in place at the ‘front door’ of services that first come into contact with children is essential, so that children at risk are identified and receive a prompt and appropriate response.

The inspectorates urge a ‘culture shift’, so that front line staff both recognise the signs of criminal exploitation, and see children as victims despite their apparent offending behaviour.

They call for better training for all agencies, but especially the police. In the areas inspected, police had made some progress in recognising the context of criminal exploitation when dealing with children in possession of drugs. However, all police forces admitted that it was still possible that children could be prosecuted, despite clear evidence that they were being exploited.

The report calls for a whole system approach to address the perpetrators, to protect and support victims, as well as preventing exploitation by raising awareness in the community and disrupting criminal activity. In one of the areas visited, inspectors saw examples of innovative work to disrupt criminal exploitation from some agencies.

The report calls for agencies and professionals to work together with parents and children to alert them to the signs of grooming, exploitation and county lines. The report shows that children are often being groomed or tricked into working before they recognise the dangers, and often before parents or professionals realise what is happening. Inspectors saw clear efforts to raise awareness in the local community in the areas visited.

A whole-system approach also requires schools and colleges to be essential partners. Some schools are working hard to understand, reduce and prevent the risks of county lines, however, this awareness needs to be developed and supported across the country.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care said: "Tackling child criminal exploitation, including county lines, is a big challenge for agencies and professionals nationally and locally. It can be done, but agencies must make sure that they have the building blocks in place to work quickly and effectively."

"Children who are being exploited cannot wait for agencies that are lagging behind or failing to recognise this issue. In responding to this dangerous situation, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past, where some partners were too slow to recognise the risk of child sexual exploitation in their areas, or somehow felt that it ‘doesn’t happen here’," she concluded.

Joint inspections of child sexual exploitation and missing children


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