The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to outline the purpose of the meeting which was to receive information from representatives from Middlesbrough Safeguarding Children Board (MSCB), Barnardo's and Middlesbrough Council's Children Families and Learning (CFL) service area in relation to the new scrutiny topic of exploitation of children.
The Independent Chair of the MSCB provided an outline of the role of the MSCB. The Independent Chair was not affiliated to any agency and was contracted to work approximately two and a half days per month. Every Local Authority had a statutory duty to establish a Safeguarding Children Board and the general remit was to ensure effective front line safeguarding practices across agencies including Social Services, Health, Police and the Voluntary Sector.
The role of the MSCB was set out in primary legislation and supported by the Government guidance 'Working Together'. The MSCB co-ordinated the work of local agencies for the purposes of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in the area of the authority and ensure their effectiveness. Safeguarding was defined for the purposes of the guidance as: protecting children from maltreatment, preventing the impairment of children's health and/or development and ensuring that children grew up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
The MSCB had a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. Once this core business was secure, the MSCB sought to extend its work to a wider remit to include preventative work to avoid harm being suffered.
The MSCB met every two months with key partners specifically to scrutinise child deaths to ascertain whether any improvements could be made to front-line practice. If a child had died and abuse was suspected, a serious case review would be commissioned to establish whether agencies had been working effectively together and whether any lessons could be learned. No serious case reviews had been commissioned during the current Independent Chair's three year tenure. However, to date in the current year, £35,000 had been spent on other reviews. The Independent Chair monitored attendance at MSCB meetings to ensure that all agencies were regularly represented.
The scope of the MSCB included safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in three broad areas. The first was activity that affected all children and aimed to identify and prevent maltreatment, or impairment of health or development, and ensure children were growing up in circumstances consistent with safe and effective care. Secondly, proactive work that aimed to target particular groups and finally, responsive work to protect children who were suffering, or were likely to suffer, significant harm.
Examples of the groups of children who were potentially more vulnerable included children living away from home, those who had run away from home, children missing from school or childcare, young people in the youth justice system or custody, those with disabilities and young people affected by gangs. It was confirmed that although there were some social groupings in the Middlesbrough area there was no gang on gang warfare which did exist in other areas of the country.
The MSCB worked with children who were abused and neglected within families, including those harmed in the context of domestic violence, as a consequence of the impact of substance misuse, or of parental ill health. Responsive work was also undertaken with children who were abused outside families by adults known to them, by professional carers, strangers and other young people. Young perpetrators of crime, victims of crime and children abused through sexual exploitation were also supported. A great deal of work had also been undertaken to respond to bullying, the majority of which now took place on-line and could have devastating consequences for young people.
It was highlighted that the Local Authority worked with children from pre-birth up to the age of twenty one and sometimes beyond. There were also children in the youth justice system living in secure accommodation out of the area for whom the Local Authority retained responsibility.
Reference was made to a recent child exploitation trial that had taken place in Middlesbrough. The Independent Chair explained that a major difference in this case had been that when disclosures were made by the young people involved, they were listened to and action was taken. The young people had been supported to give evidence in Court, which had been extremely difficult for them. The sentencing for the defendants would take place in January 2014 and the Independent Chair commented that he hoped the Judge would be supportive of the agencies involved and that the sentences would be appropriate.
In this particular case over forty young people were interviewed and five gave evidence in Court. It was hoped that this outcome would give other victims confidence that there had been convictions and there would be prison sentences. Many victims would not have the confidence to go to the Police or Social Services but they might phone Childline or the NSPCC.
Young people were entitled to witness protection and could give evidence in a separate room from the Court via a television screen or could be screened from the jury in the Court room. Pre-trial support was available from an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser and key workers were available to support them up to the trial. Following on from that particular trial, the MSCB intended to work with the BME community to promote vigilance and encourage reporting. All the young people involved would receive therapeutic support to help them recover and heal.
An explanation of the governance structure of the MSCB was given and how it aligned with other partners and groups at north east regional, Tees, South Tees, and MSCB levels. There was a regional network of Independent Chairs and Managers who met quarterly to share good practice, as well as a Tees Valley Group who met to ensure all Safeguarding Children Boards were working to the same procedure. Nationally, there was an Association of Independent Chairs that existed to share good practice around the country.
The Tees Child Protection website continued to be extensively updated with policies on Forced Marriage, Abuse and the Internet, among others. Between April 2012 and March 2013 approximately 750 staff across Middlesbrough attended training courses and drop in sessions. Drop in session topics included Multi-Agency Public Protection procedures, awareness of procedures when working with sexually active children and young people and the work of Child Death Overview Panels. E learning continued to expand with the introduction of courses in child protection, hidden harm and safeguarding children with disabilities.
The issue of families that moved around the country was highlighted and the difficulties of tracking them and sharing information. If a child was looked after by Middlesbrough, they would stay looked after with Middlesbrough even if they were placed outside of the Authority. If a family was being offered support and moved out of the area, the Authority would ensure a full planning meeting took place before the case was transferred to the new Authority. A 'Running and Missing Group had been established a few years ago in partnership with Barnardos to track young people who sometimes moved around the area often staying at friends houses.
It was noted that although the NSPCC had been invited to the meeting, they had not sent a representative. It was clarified that NSPCC was a national organisation concerned with child abuse. However, locally, they did not deal with sexual exploitation because Barnardos offered these services. The remit for both organisations was the protection of children and Barnardos worked closely with the NSPCC.
Barnardos had been working on exploitation in Middlesbrough since 2000. Approximately fifteen years ago, prostitution was a big issue in Middlesbrough with girls and women usually being picked up in cars. The Police, Barnardos, MSCB and the LSCB (Local Safeguarding Children Board) had taken a robust stance on the whole issue of prostitution and had probably done more for supporting women than any other area in the country to stop the flow of young children going into prostitution.
Now the scene had changed in the way perpetrators groomed children. Children might be groomed via the internet, a perpetrator might groom their parents first, they might be sat in the park going about their business as young people, or they might be picked up in a taxi. In some cases the children were as young as eleven years old.
A robust plan was in place for sexual exploitation in Middlesbrough and many victims and perpetrators were known. Intelligence on nightclubs, pubs, hotels and taxi firms was shared across neighbouring authorities. Barnardos had a specialist Sexual Exploitation Worker in every Local Authority. Staff in every school in Middlesbrough had been offered training on sexual exploitation and internet abuse. Middlesbrough school children had also received training on internet safety.
Barnardos were working with established BME communities and new migrant communities in terms of attitudes towards children, young people and women. Young gay men were sometimes abused or forced into marriage. Good role models were very important for young people and if they were not in a stable family structure this could lead to a confusing situation.
The MSCB had run a Silent Victims campaign but unfortunately it had not received as much publicity as had been hoped for. The intention of the appeal was for victims to come forward and at least get some therapeutic help, even if they did not wish to pursue a prosecution. Cleveland Police had undertaken a significant piece of work creating an intelligence profile to identify victims and the extent of the issues and, with assistance from Barnardos, to identify suspected perpetrators.
Barnardos also provided an outreach service four nights per week in Middlesbrough, taking young people off the streets and in partnership with the Youth Service, providing positive activities. In addition, there was Stay Safe, where Social Workers, Youth Workers and Police would visit pubs and clubs in the town centre and pick up any vulnerable or under-age young people and take them home. Landlords were reminded of their responsibilities to protect and be vigilant.
Concern was raised in relation to the current austerity measures and organisational change and how this might affect the potential options for frontline staff having regular access into peoples homes. The Independent Chair confirmed that from the Council perspective, he was satisfied that child protection was a top priority. However it was vital that multi-agency working continued to develop and that models of good practice were shared.
A further effect of budget cuts could be that some agencies would only be able to meet their statutory responsibilities and no more. It might no longer be possible to carry out for example, preventative work, due to lack of resources.
Another issue was that as schools converted to Academies, the Local Authority relinquished control and it was vital that Headteachers were up to date with safeguarding issues. The Local Authority had a designated Child Protection Officer who was a Member of the MSCB and who shared any issues in schools with the Board. Every school had designated members of staff for Children Looked After and Child Protection who were trained to understand signs and motivations for sexual exploitation.
A concern was raised in relation to the Council buildings that were being transferred to private operators and provision of safeguarding advice and support to volunteers who took over the running of community centres and youth clubs. It was confirmed that the training offered by MSCB was open to anyone in Middlesbrough who worked with children.
The Office of the Childrens Commissioner had recently published the findings of a two year investigation into the extent of exploitation across the country. The investigation also looked at where good practice in tackling the issues existed.
Barnardos had reached the second round of bidding for funding from the Big Lottery Fund for an initiative called "Fulfilling Lives" to help support parents and children from 0-3 years of age. If successful, the bid was potentially £50 million over a period of ten years. The initiative would focus on ensuring that as early as possible, children would grow up in families learning about empathy, attachment and bonding.
Over the last four years Barnardos had trained over 7992 people on internet safety and sexual exploitation including 382 who were parents. 684 young people who were considered to be at risk had received specific one-to-one support.
In terms of the way forward, the representative from Barnardos stated that multi-agency working and sharing of information was key. There was an absolute necessity to drive multi-agency and partnership working through every aspect of the Council and ensure that child protection remained a priority. Also to keep trying to influence hotels, businesses and taxi firms about being aware of exploitation and keeping vigilant. It was also important to be aware of the work of Health, Education, Youth and Police services on safeguarding and exploitation of children and being satisfied that what needed to be done was being done.
1. The information provided was received and noted.
2. Representatives from the Licensing Department and Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS) would be invited to the next meeting of the Panel.