The Assistant Director of Safeguarding and Childrens Care and the Risk and Reduction Manager were in attendance to provide an update to the panel. The Chair of Middlesbroughs Local Childrens Safeguarding Board was also in attendance to provide an update from the Boards perspective.
Reference was made to the Rotherham Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and the publicity generated by the panels previous review on the topic of CSE. It was acknowledged that although the report had generated some adverse publicity it had raised significant interest amongst Members and the local community, which had ensured that Middlesbroughs approach to this national issue was very proactive. The Chair of Middlesbrough Childrens Safeguarding Board (MCSB) advised that Crown Court trials were scheduled for the New Year in relation to local CSE cases and Members needed to be kept abreast of this issues. It was emphasised that CSE was such a serious issue and more work was always needed. The panel queried as to whether this was an issue of increasing prevalence and it was advised that although it was difficult to confirm whether CSE was more prevalent in all areas of the UK it was certainly more visible.
A copy of the updated action plan in response to the panels recommendations was provided to Members. The Risk and Reduction Manager advised that the document had been completed by the relevant key contacts from MSCB. It was noted that the work to address the required actions listed under the 7 See me hear me principles had been driven forward by the Strategic Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing and Trafficked (VEMT) group on behalf of the four Tees LSCBs. The group actively sought to incorporate good practice nationally in addition to local learning to ensure the practice deployed was effective as possible. It was confirmed that information about VEMT children was added to the JSN, which was also due to be refreshed.
In respect of the work undertaken with the Councils Licensing Department it was confirmed that the Licensing Manager is a member of the VEMT and the Council is confident that there was robust information sharing between the teams. All Taxi Drivers in Middlesbrough were required to undertake mandatory training on working with vulnerable children and adults. It was acknowledged that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) operate a different application process for obtaining a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence to operate a vehicle of 9 seats or more and this issue remains a concern. A Member of the panel made reference to the recent phenomenon of limousines being used by young people to attend school / college parties and it was queried as to drivers of these vehicles were required to be licensed in line with the Councils licensing application process. It was stated that where these vehicles were owned by Taxi Operators the issue was being dealt with. The Licensing Department was also exploring the possibility of expanding licensing requirements to include people working in all areas of the night-time economy. At present operational disruption activities e.g. visiting addresses where CSE parties were believed to be taking place remained the main focus. Information sharing in respect of suspected premises, vehicles and perpetrators was regularly shared and different regulatory authorities e.g. community protection and the border agencies worked collectively to take appropriate action.
The panel was advised that in terms of joint working and information sharing the systems in place had developed significantly in their level of sophistication. It was explained that when young people go missing, for example, those young people were closely monitored to track where they went missing to. Missing from education cases were also built in and massive steps had been taken to better inform the required interventions. It was emphasised that detecting problems of this nature rather than reacting to them once they had happened was also of key importance. A Member of the panel queried whether the licensing requirements for Uber drivers was to the same standard as private hire drivers. The panel was informed that this has been an issue for larger inner city areas and was something that needed to be monitored.
In relation to the See something say something campaign it had been rolled out with local businesses and listed as a condition in some hotel and on-licence premises. The aim of the campaign was to promote the need to be vigilant, raise awareness around spotting the signs of sexual exploitation and assist the Police in helping tackle the issue of CSE being committed in hotels. In terms of training the Middlesbrough Safeguarding Childrens Board (MSCB) delivered a host of different training programmes collectively funded by all partners and each agency accessed the training it required.
In terms of having specialist staff who were trained in recognised signs and symptoms of CSE it was confirmed that all staff in the Councils First Contact Team had received the training. Cleveland Police had also relaunched the Shield document to gather intelligence on CSE activity. The Chair of MCSB expressed the view that at present some agencies were much more intelligence focussed. The need to gather intelligence was reinforced at regular briefings with all agencies, however, there was still some way to go in order to derive the full benefits from the intelligence gathering activities.
Reference was made to Operation Stay Safe and it was advised that the number of nights the operation was undertaken remained the same as in 2014. However, the operation was now part of the response to support potential victims of CSE and disrupt perpetrators by visiting addresses where CSE parties were believed to be taking place. The point was made that a lot of individuals do not consider themselves as victims and it is not until a considerable time later that the person becomes aware they had been exploited.
Members were informed that the age of the children believed to be at risk from CSE tended to be grouped between those that were very young aged 12, 13 and 14 and those aged 15-17, who were more involved in the party scene and actively looking for a relationship. Once children reached the age of 18 it was much more difficult for the Police to take formal action. It was advised that there was also a small number of young people who had been victims since they were very young and had become involved in procuring other young people for perpetrators. There was an ongoing need to transform the lives of these young people. The statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education, published by the Department of Education in September 2016, highlighted the need for schools to teach all children how to keep themselves safe.
Reference was made to the gradual academisation of schools and the view was expressed that this had led to a reduction in the Local Authoritys ability to ensure thorough safeguarding provisions were in place in all Middlesbrough schools. The Chair of MCSB made reference to the bi-annual section 11 audit report, which contained a series of questions for completion by schools. Recent responses had been fairly fragmented and as a result the Chair was unable to state with any confidence that effective action was being taken in all schools. The Assistant Director of Education and Skills was fully aware of the issue and was keen to move forward and address it.
With regard to teacher training it was noted in the action plan that Barnardos Education Worker was available to provide advice and guidance to teaching staff dealing with CSE on a spot purchase basis. Despite this availability there had been very little take up, with only two schools in Middlesbrough accessing the support, as school funding was required. Acklam Grange School was highlighted as an example of best practice in response to this issue and the school had taken a very proactive approach to dealing with CSE. A comprehensive piece of work had also been undertaken by the Manager of MCSB in respect of e-safety, which could be provided to the panel.
During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:
The Chair of MCSB expressed the view that there was a need to ensure the most appropriate professionals were undertaking the training on offer through MSCB.
As academies developed into Trusts with out of area providers the local authority still needed to seek reassurance from schools on CSE. Members raised the query as to what alternative courses schools were accessing and at present this information was not known.
OFSTED was the only agency with the authority to inspect schools and assess whether they were acting in accordance with the statutory guidance.
In response to a query it was advised that the needs of young people trafficked into the UK under the guise of asylum seeker were very different to those of children that had been sexually exploited. The Tees Strategic VEMT incorporated actions relation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in an effort to address this issue.
The Chair of the MSCB stated that there was a need to ensure Members maintained a high level of interest in this topic, as they remained the eyes and ears of the local community.
Agreed as followed:
That a Chairs briefing be scheduled with the Assistant Director of Safeguarding and Childrens Care, the Assistant Director of Education and Skills, the Chair of the Local Childrens Safeguarding Board and the Councils Risk and Reduction Manager in respect of the panels approach to undertaking a survey with schools on sexting and youth produced sexual imagery.
That the possibility of seeking OFSTEDs endorsement of the panels questionnaire in advance of its distribution be explored.
That a brief written report containing statistical information on CSE in Middlesbrough in 2016 be provided to the panels next meeting.
That six monthly updates on the topic of CSE continued to be provided to the panel.
That an invitation be extended to the appropriate representatives from MSCB to provide further information on this topic at the panels next meeting.