The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to outline the purpose of the meeting which was for Panel Members to receive the information presented from various organisations and services in relation to child sexual exploitation. Members had the opportunity to cross reference the level of integration and the effectiveness of the present approach and to identify areas where assistance could be given and consider whether improvements could be made. Representatives from Barnardos (SECOS), Middlesbrough Local Safeguarding Children Board (MSCB), Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS), Cleveland Police and the Community Safety Department were present at the meeting.
The representative from Barnardos explained that when a Missing From Home visit was carried out, if there were other concerns, an immediate referral would be made to Child Protection in respect of the young person. Information would also be passed to the Police with regard to concerns about any addresses or areas where the young person was found.
The Vulnerable Exploitation and Missing Group (VEMT), was an amalgamation of statutory and voluntary organisations who were involved with vulnerable children and specifically, exploited young people. The VEMT included representatives from the Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS), Youth Offending Service (YOS), Police, MSCB, Community Enforcement Service, and the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Border Agency, when appropriate. The Safeguarding Lead for Middlesbrough Schools was also involved in the VEMT and could check databases to see whether there had been any previous interventions with families.
The VEMT met on a six weekly basis to discuss every young person that had been identified as possibly being at risk. The VEMT would decide on the action to be taken by the organisation most likely to have a relationship with the young person concerned. The young person would be signposted to that organisation and actions in relation to safeguarding would be implemented. Where there were concerns about elevated risk, the young person would be referred to the Risk Management Team (RMT), which was chaired by the Councils Deputy Director, Safeguarding.
The VEMT implemented the MSBCs strategy which had six main objectives concerned with identifying perpetrators, suspects, victims and others at risk, providing support to victims and families, raising awareness with professionals and the general public, co-ordinating intervention to reduce risks and developing and demonstrating impact outcome measures.
The MSCB received a regular update in terms of child exploitation in Middlesbrough. The Chair of the MSCB also sat on a strategic VEMT that included Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland Local Authority areas where information about vulnerable young people across Teesside was shared.
Currently there were forty-two vulnerable young people being monitored by the Middlesbrough VEMT. Five of those young people were almost eighteen years old. During the past year, the numbers had been as high as sixty-eight. Once a young person reached eighteen years of age, Barnardos and the SECOS Project continued to work with them, as did some of the drug support agencies. Barnardos had a Support Worker who specifically dealt with young people aged eighteen to twenty-five who were at particular risk of getting involved in prostitution. There were significant issues with young males being exploited, particularly through on-line media and the use of mobile phones, rather than the more traditional route of being out and about on the streets.
Barnardos had offered a robust training programme for a number of years aimed at highlighting the issue of exploitation with professionals and others working with young people and families. Referrals could come from the Police, Youth Workers, Social Workers, and even training centres where young people who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) were receiving training. These referrals were discussed at the VEMT and it was agreed as to whether they were high, medium or low risk vulnerable young people and actions put in place to make sure they were safeguarded. Barnardos also worked closely with children and young people in residential care who were particularly vulnerable. Looked After Children in foster placements and residential care homes had been targeted by perpetrators of exploitation. Foster Carers and care home staff were trained to be vigilant and understand how to give evidence to the Police where they had concerns.
It was highlighted that training people to respond appropriately with regard to sharing intelligence was an area that could be improved. An example was given of a Hotelier being aware of people staying at the hotel whose actions might be suspicious and reporting those suspicions to the Police.
Most of the funding for work on sexual exploitation came from the Barnardos Charity itself, as well as contributions from Darlington and Stockton Local Authorities and from the Big Lottery. Funding for a Specialist Worker in each Local Authority area in the Tees Valley, as well as Darlington and Durham, had been accessed from the Comic Relief Charity. Additional funding was received from Middlesbrough Council for the Missing From Home Project, the Integrated Youth Service for outreach, and other charities and Trusts.
The Independent Chair of the MSCB explained that his role was statutory and the role of the Board was to scrutinise what was happening in Middlesbrough to ensure effectiveness and when something went wrong, to ensure lessons were learned. The MSCB also had a statutory obligation to scrutinise child deaths. The safeguarding role of the MSCB was broad and sexual exploitation was a very important part of it. The MSCB ensured effective sharing across the town, Tees Valley area, north east region and the country as a whole. In addition to representing the four Tees Valley authorities on the strategic VEMT, the Independent Chair was also the regional child sexual exploitation link for other Independent Chairs across the region.
The Independent Chair made reference to a recent trial in Middlesbrough in relation to child sexual exploitation and highlighted that this had been a properly planned investigation by the Police, with the support of information from agencies and witnesses. Three of the males involved had been prosecuted and received sentences of up to eight years imprisonment. Other investigations were currently ongoing based on intelligence gathered by Cleveland Police and all the information held by various agencies. The Independent Chair stressed the importance of all agencies sharing information.
The next focus for the VEMT would be around guest houses, hotels and taxis. It was felt that these areas could lend themselves to supporting exploitation and perhaps there might not be enough vigilance. A structured programme of publicity and awareness raising in these areas was planned so that people knew who they could go to if they needed to raise a particular concern.
The representative from Cleveland Police explained that five years ago he took up the role of Missing Person Police Investigator in Middlesbrough for Cleveland Police. The Police Investigators responsibility was to locate anyone missing from home, whether a child or an adult, safe and well. As the role developed, the Investigator had dealt with a lot of young people from Residential Care homes in Middlesbrough and found females at inappropriate addresses, and females and males in the company of inappropriate adults. A huge amount of intelligence was gathered and recorded.
There had recently been a major re-organisation in the Police due to austerity measures and the role of Missing Person Police Investigator had ceased to exist in its previous form. The post would change to a co-ordination and problem solving role, rather than an investigatory one. The involvement with Local Authority Residential Care homes and all the partnership agencies would continue. Whilst other Officers would carry out the investigating, it was emphasised that investigations would still be robust in order to find any missing person, and any intelligence gathered would be forwarded to the Co-ordinator for sharing with agencies.
The Community Safety Officer commented that his role was similar to the Missing Person Police Investigator but as a civil role rather than criminal. Once people started investigating individually, some of the links and consistency might be lost.
When a missing person call came in to the Police, the Controller would ask up to twenty prescribed questions of the reporting person. The information would be passed to the Duty Inspector for the case to be risk assessed as low, medium or high priority. Any young person under the age of 18 would always be medium or high, depending on the circumstances of the missing report. The case would be assigned to an Officer who would attend the home address of the reporting person and take further details as quickly as possible. If the case was high risk, enquiries would commence immediately to locate the missing person. Any young person known to the VEMT group was flagged on the system and the Police would immediately class that person as high priority.
The Independent Chair of the MSCB agreed that due to austerity measures, every agency was required to do more for less and consequently weaknesses might occur. The key was to ensure that the safeguarding agenda was a top priority for everyone. The Independent Chair stated that he was satisfied from the Middlesbrough Council and associated agencies point of view, that it was. To date, there had not been any dilution of services. However, if any weaknesses became apparent, the Independent Chair would challenge it.
For the past four years, the IYSS had been able to provide partnership funding from the Youth and Crime Action Plan (YCAP) to support the early intervention work that was vital to stop the escalation of exploitation. The IYSS worked in partnership to provide outreach services four times per week and also Stay Safe operations once a month. If a particular area of concern or "hotspot" was identified, the Police would be contacted. The outreach was particularly cost effective and well managed. Between twelve and twenty-four young people could be seen, at low cost up to four evenings per week.
A growing problem with exploitation was the use of social networking. The Police had a Child Exploitation Online Protection Service (CEOP) with dedicated analysts monitoring social media. The MSCB had provided Cyber Safety training to schools to encourage children and young people to think about their own safety when using the internet.
The MSCB had also been raising awareness with hospital staff as they too held a lot of relevant intelligence. A piece of work was ongoing with James Cook Hospital in respect of the high level of children aged under five who were presenting at hospital with what might appear to be non-accidental injuries.
In addition the MSCB provided training events for front-line professionals and had recently hosted an event on Neglect.
Over the last nine years, SECOS had worked with all Middlesbrough secondary schools and provided a pack for young people in relation to healthy relationships. Unfortunately the Big Lottery funding for that project ceased in December 2013. More recently, a theatre group had been into schools and put on play entitled "Chelseas Choice", which was designed to raise awareness and provoke discussion. Students had also been given training on online safety via special assemblies.
There were currently thirteen young people on the waiting list for targeted support from Barnado's. Additional funding of £22,000 had already been allocated by Barnardo's in the current year. These young people were attending group work whilst waiting to have a Key Worker allocated to them.
Barnardos was also working closely with new emerging migrant and BME communities to raise awareness and be proactive. Forced marriage, exploitation and domestic violence were issues that were being addressed.
In relation to the way forward, it was suggested that Councillors could ensure that safeguarding continued to be promoted within Authority networks as the primary focus for agencies across Middlesbrough and the Tees Valley. In order for that work to continue and improve it needed to be appropriately resourced. Resources, especially in schools, could be pooled to continue the commitment to child protection. It was also suggested that a Members Briefing could be held to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation issues.
With regard to the measure of success of the various agencies, the Independent Chair of the MSCB noted that during the past four years, no serious case reviews had been commissioned in Middlesbrough.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.