The former chief executive of Rochdale Council has blamed social workers for the council’s failure to identify the extent of child sexual exploitation in the area.
Giving evidence to the Home Office Select Committee, Roger Ellis maintained he had had no knowledge of concerns until arrests were made in 2010.
Ellis also said he would be “very surprised” if either his director of children’s services or the head of children’s social care had known as they had a system in place to notify him of any potential problems early on.
“But if staff in social care were disbelieving referrals and didn’t apply proper credibility to what was being reported, then I don’t think it’s surprising that they then didn’t tell senior colleagues,” Ellis said.
He maintained this must have been the case, despite a multi-agency team set up by the council identifying at least 50 children at risk of sexual exploitation as early as 2009. Ellis said he had not been aware of the establishment of the “Sunrise” team.
He agreed someone should be held accountable for the failures, although said that he personally did not feel he could have done anything differently.
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Sara Rowbotham from the sexual health Crisis Intervention Team, who made over 100 referrals to police and children’s social care about teenagers at risk of sexual exploitation, told MPs the young people had been “treated appallingly by children’s services”.
“But I can’t blame front line staff,” she said. “I’m a social worker myself and we’re managed workers. A social worker can’t make the decision not to progress an initial investigation on their own, it’s done in partnership with a duty manager.”
Close to tears at times, she told MPs that when she found referrals were not being progressed she made it her mission to “tell everyone these children were being abused”.
Rowbotham said sexual exploitation was continuing in Rochdale and warned that, despite having a good reputation among local young people, her team had not been included in the council’s strategy to deal with the issue.
Cuts have also reduced her team over the past few years, she said, from 11 to only five, including a council-funded worker.
Social work tool: Would you spot a child at risk of sexual exploitation?