The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to the outline the purpose of the meeting which was to receive information from the Chair of the Licensing Committee and officers representing Licensing and the Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS) in connection with the current scrutiny topic of Exploitation of Children.
The Chair of the Licensing Committee explained that when people applied to become taxi drivers they were interviewed by a Licensing Officer and had to pass various tests. All applicants had to undergo an enhanced criminal record bureau (CRB) check. If there were any issues with regard to the granting of the licence, the Licensing Officer could refer the application to the Licensing Committee for a decision as to whether to grant the licence or not. The CRB check listed any convictions that the applicant had.
The Licensing Committee had a Policy and Guidelines in relation to timescales for various convictions such as theft, violence, motoring offences and drug offences, and how much time must have elapsed since the conviction before considering granting a licence. For example, the Committee might consider that applicant would have to be conviction free for a period of ten years where a drug related offence had been committed.
Sometimes additional information was provided by the Police in cases where there had not been a conviction. For example, a complaint of an incident of a sexual nature against children. Even though a complaint may have been made, it was not always possible to proceed with a case because of lack of evidence. It was the Licensing Committees decision as to how much consideration they gave to such information.
If intelligence was received from the Police concerning an applicant and children, where there was no conviction, a meeting would be arranged with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in Childrens Services, the Licensing Officer and the Police Child Protection Team, in order to consider the particular circumstances. The Police could access the investigation records and provide the group with further information on a specific incident. It would be difficult for the Licensing Committee to make a decision if there was just one line in the report referring to an incident. If the Committee chose to refuse the licence, the applicant could appeal to the Magistrates and it was therefore vital that clear reasons were given for any refusal.
In addition, any taxi licence holder who committed certain offences would be reported immediately to the Licensing Department by the Police. Where there was sufficient cause for concern, the Department had the power to suspend a licence with immediate effect. Previously, drivers could continue to drive until their case was heard in Court. The Licensing Department would also inform the drivers employer if their licence was suspended as there was the potential for the operator to be breaking the law if they were not aware that a drivers licence had been suspended.
The Local Authority only licensed private hire vehicles and hackney carriages up to 8 seats. Any larger vehicles, for example minibuses, were licensed by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). An issue of concern had been raised locally that there was currently no requirement for a minibus driver to have a CRB check. Applicants were required to sign a Declaration to VOSA to notify their employer. A local hackney carriage driver had recently campaigned try and change the law on this issue.
With regard to the licensing of hotels, bars and restaurants, any issues or concerns that were raised were mainly from the Police. One of the four licensing objectives that the Committee had to ensure was met, was the Protection of Children from Harm.
Licensed premises had to have a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) who was required to have a personal licence. The DPS would have policies in place with regard to the sale of alcohol and regular staff training should take place. All bar staff had to be authorised by the DPS.
Each license application was examined by the Licensing Officer and included details of the type of premises, what activities would take place on the premises and the opening and closing hours. If it was proposed that the premises would open to accompanied children, the application and any proposed conditions would be forwarded to the Police and Childrens Services for their comments. If no objections were received to the application, the Licensing Officer would grant the licence without referring it to the Committee. However, if, for example, the Police voiced concerns, the Committee would consider the application. Most objections generally came from the Police with regard to age policies.
If the Police raised a concern as to how a premises was being managed, the Committee could revoke the licence, or leave the premises open and remove the DPS. It was highlighted that most problems with licensed premises tended to occur during the early hours of the morning. The Police maintained that the longer hours an establishment was open, there was a higher risk of incidents.
Operation Stay Safe was a multi-agency approach, funded from the Youth Crime Action Plan, to protect vulnerable children in Middlesbrough. Approximately twenty nights per year a team of two Police Officers, a Social Worker, an Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS) Worker and a Worker from Barnados would travel around Middlesbrough in a van looking for children and young people who were walking around the streets at night. The team operated from 10.00 pm until 4.00 am and would stop every young person and ask them what they were doing and where they were going. If the young person was in possession of alcohol and underage, the alcohol would be removed and the young person taken home.
Details of all the young people who were stopped and checked were logged. If a young person had been stopped before, further action might be taken. An example was given of a young girl aged 14 who had been stopped on more than one occasion and taken home. The girl was with two others of a similar age and three 18 year old males. Support, advice and a programme about family awareness of sexual exploitation was provided to the young person and to her parent. It was noted that young people were often not aware that they were potentially being exploited. No further action was taken in relation to the other two girls as when they were returned home and the Workers spoke to their parents, it was clear that they had lied about their whereabouts. For those families there was no further action because it was evident that the family support network was there.
Any young person picked up who was in a vulnerable position would have an assessment called a CAF (Common Assessment Form) completed. The CAF would remain on file until that young person was considered to be out of vulnerability. The Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Streets Project (SECOS), provided by Barnados, focussed on support for sexual exploitation and the IYSS focussed on other issues. Counselling could also be provided. Barnados also worked with the perpetrators of sexual exploitation and provided a 12 week intensive programme. Perpetrators did not always see the implications of being with younger children.
It was also highlighted that people from other countries and cultures did not always recognise the dangers of young people wandering the streets at night. An example was given where four Romanian children aged between six and fourteen were found at 3.25 am. When returned home, Mum was at a party at another house nearby. This case was referred to Social Services as a child protection issue.
The IYSS was currently working in Prince Bishop, Ashdale and Acklam Grange Schools to promote child safety. The programme had been well received and it was hoped to extend it to other schools. A group of sexually exploited girls was in the process of making a film about their experiences which would be shown in schools and youth centres. This type of peer mentoring was most useful as personal experiences and understanding could be shared with other young people. The IYSS also provided an outreach service three nights a week.
The IYSS offered a universal provision and tried to track all young people until they reached the age of twenty. Some received intensive interventions whilst others might only receive a phone call. It was acknowledged however that it was difficult to track all young people, particularly when they left education or changed address. The approach was targeted and so those who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) would receive more attention.
It was emphasised that the vast majority of young people living and working in Middlesbrough were well integrated into society and in full time education up to University or in employment or uniformed organisations.
The IYSS was currently under review and would shortly merge with Surestart and would in future cover the age range from birth to nineteen.
1. The information provided was received and noted.
2. The Scrutiny Support Officer would request further statistical information in relation to the type of exploitation offences occurring in Middlesbrough, the age range and the prevalence.