Child protection failures exposed in Derby this week are likely to be endemic in local authorities across the country and could be just the “tip of the iceberg”, experts have warned.
The warning came as news broke that five men have been convicted of sexual offences against girls in Derby. As many as 25 girls, two of whom were in local authority care, were targeted by a gang of sexual predators. Following a police investigation in 2008, 11 men stood trial for offences relating to the case.
Sheila Taylor, chief executive of the charity Safe and Sound Derby – which supports sexually exploited children and young people, and those at risk of sexual exploitation – said: “The issues highlighted by this case absolutely affect other areas. I would say this case is just the tip of the iceberg. Agencies across the country need to work together and learn from this case to help prevent similar cases of sexual exploitation and abuse,” she said.
Taylor said the case exposed systemic issues, such as ineffective information-sharing between agencies and a failure to recognise, and respond to, the signs of sexual exploitation.
The NSPCC’s expert on tackling child sex abuse, Jon Brown said: “Sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people, especially girls is a widespread problem.
“Research shows that child sexual abuse, in particular sexual exploitation of children, is under-reported and so often hidden from the police and local authorities.
“We are concerned that not all local authorities have adequate training and resources to spot the signs and take action in these cases.”
Safe and Sound Derby – which was described as “pivotal” to the case by the serious case review (SCR) in identifying and addressing the nature and scale of the abuse – helped agencies to share information but found that, “the way it was fed into different systems meant it wasn’t always accepted as valuable by all the agencies involved”.
The charity was able to secure a commitment from local police to listen to concerns over the childrens’ welfare, several of whom had been known to Safe and Sound Derby. The SCR stated that, “building on the work of Safe and Sound Derby, the police have developed an information system to enable agencies to share information about concerns regarding sexual exploitation with the police in a way which can be easily analysed and used”.
But Taylor, who also chairs the National Working Group for sexually exploited children and young people, pointed to research by the NWG this year that found there are just 29 sexual exploitation coordinators in posts across the country, representing fewer than a quarter of local children safeguarding boards.
The National Working Group is now calling for:
• A national co-ordinator for sexual exploitation
• A UK action plan to tackle the issues
• A cross-governmental department approach
What are the warning signs of sexual exploitation?
Danger signs to watch for include:
• Frequently missing from home
• Going out late at night and not returning home until morning
• Disengagement from education
• Being picked up in cars by unknown adults
• Associating with other young people who are being sexually exploited
• Significantly older ‘boyfriend’ or ‘friend’
• Unexplained money, mobile phone credit, new mobile phone
• Change in behaviour, for example becoming secretive or aggressive
• Increased use of mobile phones
Source: Safe and Sound Derby
What do you think?Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails