The purpose of the meeting was for the Panel to receive an update on a previous review entitled "Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation" which was concluded in June 2014. The Panel had assessed the extent of the problem of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Middlesbrough, the measures that were being taken and whether there was anything more the Council should or could be doing to prevent CSE.
The Panel made a number of conclusions and recommendations and a copy of the condensed Action Plan was attached at Appendix 1 to the submitted report. The Action Plan was cross-referenced with actions from Alex Jays Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham.
The Assistant Director, Safeguarding and Childrens Care, was in attendance at the meeting to update the Panel on the actions taken to date. The Chair of the Middlesbrough Childrens Safeguarding Board (MSCB) was also in attendance.
A review of operational and strategic plans had been undertaken and a benchmarking exercise to ensure any gaps in support or service provision were addressed had been carried out under the direction of the Strategic Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing and Trafficked (VEMT) Group on behalf of the four Tees Local Safeguarding Childrens Boards. The review had informed some of the actions taken in terms of preparing the VEMT process and developing it across the Tees area. This action corresponded with two recommendations from the Rotherham Inquiry.
Joint Strategic Needs Analysis (JSNA) information for CSE had been agreed as a priority across the Tees Valley and a joint workshop with Public Health and Childrens Services was planned for 31 March 2015.
The Authority had written to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in relation to drivers and DBS checks. A holding letter had been received; however a full response was awaited.
The Councils Licensing Team now had a representative on the VEMT Sub-Group of the MSCB with a view to improving communication.
A campaign was undertaken in June 2014 and letters and leaflets were distributed to 398 taxi drivers, 20 hotels, 20 bed and breakfast establishments and 138 takeaways, advising people who might come into contact with CSE how to respond. The campaign was tees-wide and was picked up by the local media. Whilst there had not yet been any victims making contact as a result of the campaign, this did not mean it had not been successful. Reference was made to a previous campaign where a victim had not come forward until ten months later.
The number of multi-agency training sessions had been increased and safeguarding had funded six courses from Barnardos, four for social workers and two for foster carers and residential staff. E-training would be available via the Local Safeguarding Childrens Board (LSCB) training in 2015/2016. A briefing session had also been provided for Members. A drama production called 'Chelseas Choice' had been performed in several schools and funding was available to cover a further twenty schools.
One of the Panels key concerns was funding for Operation Stay Safe. A commitment had been made from key agencies to continue to fund Operation Stay Safe and consideration was being given to whether the frequency of operations could be improved.
Education packs were now available for teaching and non-teaching school staff to ensure all schools were fully equipped to recognise and deal with CSE.
With regard to the action in relation to funding to provider trained Counsellors for schools, it was noted the post of Assistant Director, Learning and Skills was currently vacant. The Assistant Director would take up the post in April 2015 and this would fall within that remit.
A strategic approach to protecting Looked After Children (LAC) who were sexually exploited had been implemented via the Tees VEMT arrangements. The VEMT sub group met monthly and reviewed all those identified as at risk. It had been proposed that Middlesbrough should consider the benefits of a multi-agency CSE team with a dedicated single manager, resourced jointly by the Police and the Council in order to ensure that CSE provision was consistent with the demand for service. The Panel was informed that nationally the Police had been discussing the way forward on this issue and discussions were ongoing as to whether or not to develop a specialist CSE team for Middlesbrough.
The 0-19 Service had been restructured and renamed the Stronger Families Service with a different focus re-aligned to ensure early help and social care was provided as required. This would ensure that children affected by CSE were well supported and were offered a range of preventative services. It was highlighted that services were available from Barnardos and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
The deadline for the action requesting that all agencies should continue to resource and strengthen the quality assurance work currently underway under the auspices of the MSCB had not yet been achieved. Middlesbrough was working with the other Local Authorities as part of the strategic VEMT. Local Authorities were looking at how individual data sets could be blended into a common data set and the Government was also developing a national data set.
With regard to improving engagement by the Council and the MSCB with the BME community to ensure they were represented and involved in the communication, development of support services and reduction in CSE cases, some preliminary work had taken place. Several meetings had been held but a strategy had not yet been fully developed.
The final action point relating to the issue of race being tackled as an absolute priority if it was a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised child abuse in Middlesbrough, again this was ongoing. Whilst the MSCB was fully involved with the Police with regard to such crimes, to date there had not been discussions about race being a significant factor.
Overall in terms of the twenty actions in the Plan, the Assistant Director stated that good progress was being made.
The Assistant Director and the Chair of the MSCB had recently attended an event hosted by joint Government Departments including Health, Education, Home Office, Homes and Communities and the Ministry of Justice. Following the Rotherham Report, the Government was keen to establish a strategy to develop a national approach to CSE. CSE was now a national priority for the Government alongside tackling terrorism.
One of the significant pieces of feedback from the event was that in some schools Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) did not have the profile that it should in terms of helping to protect children in the longer term. If the profile could be raised in schools locally and nationally it might help to stop children falling in the trap of being exploited. Young people who had experienced CSE and the aftermath could be helped and supported and a common referral form was in place across the four local boroughs to help both teaching and nursing staff to identify and firm up concerns about how a young person was presenting.
A document had also been issued at the Prime Ministers summit the previous week which included proposals for local authorities, police and health agencies to develop their practice in relation to responding to CSE. It was noted that unfortunately the media had picked up on a line in relation to wilful neglect by professionals and the main headline had been about social workers being liable to prosecution.
Following the summit, a letter had been sent to heads of all offices emphasising the importance of information sharing across the agencies. Historically some of professionals said they could not share information because of Data Protection. However it was clarified in the letter that if a child was at risk this was the overriding factor.
The Assistant Director highlighted the importance of training, not only for front line staff but across all agencies. Elected Members had received an initial overview briefing and discussions were ongoing with the Chief Executive as to how this might be followed up. An E-learning package was available for health staff which tried to raise awareness and described some signs and symptoms of CSE.
It was recognised that Councillors had good networks within their wards and the importance of actively encouraging people to provide intelligence to the police about possible CSE was highlighted. Reporting information through the Police would also assist with developing a more comprehensive picture across the Tees area.
The Assistant Director reported that there were currently twelve young people identified as being high risk in Middlesbrough and 76 young people had been identified and supported over the last year.
In relation to investigations there was a strategic group chaired by the police and key partners, including the Local Authority, who were kept up to date as far as the police were able to, with regard to what stage those investigations were at. The Chair of the MSCB stated that his role was to ensure the effectiveness of safeguarding across all agencies and he was satisfied that victims and those at risk were being identified.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.