Social workers repeatedly ignored victims of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale because they perceived teenage girls to be “making their own choices”, a review has concluded.
The review of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Rochdale is a fore-runner to a serious case review, due next year, and was conducted at the same time as some of the criminal court proceedings.
It found serious faults with the way General Manchester Police (GMP) and Rochdale’s children’s social care dealt with allegations and referrals, as well as lack of a joined-up strategy to tackle the problem.
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The review acknowledged that professionals around the country were only just starting to become more aware of the issues around sexual exploitation between 2007 and 2011. They recognised the impact of the Baby P case and budget cuts had hampered this.
However, it also concluded that social workers did not follow current 'child in need' guidance properly, which would have protected some of the victims. Police also missed chances to arrest and convict perpetrators early on.
The review followed the case of Suzie*, one of the victims involved in the high profile Operation Span, which saw nine men convicted of grooming girls earlier this year.
One victim's experience
Although Suzie had been referred to children’s social care several times since the age of 15, none of the referrals were followed up. When Suzie fell pregnant social care focused on the risk to the baby but continued to ignore the exploitation she was experiencing.
Despite twice reporting attacks on her to police, a poor investigation and a decision by the crown prosecution service that Suzie was an unreliable witness meant her attackers went free. Suzie lost all faith that agencies were able to protect her.
Combined with perceived pressure from social care about her parenting, Suzie resorted to self-harming, drug and alcohol use and running away.
“Social work practitioners and managers wholly over estimated the extent to which Suzie could legally or psychologically consent to the sexual violence being perpetrated against her,” the report stated.
There were numerous problems creating the specialist “Sunrise” team to deal with sexual exploitation. They included a lack of co-ordinated funding and a failure to plan for issues such as governance, supervision and information sharing protocols. It also remained difficult to recruit a social worker to the team, the review found.
Many of the report's recommendations have already been put in place by Rochdale’s Safeguarding Children Board, including more staff training on sexual exploitation, workshops in secondary schools and an expansion of the “Sunrise” team.
All referrals to social care of children over the age of 12 are also now screened for signs of sexual exploitation.
Jim Taylor, chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said the council accepted the findings of the review. “There was more that could, and should have been done to protect the victims when allegations first came to light. Unacceptable practice is being investigated and dealt with in line with our procedures.”
Chief superintendent Annette Anderson, divisional commander for Rochdale, said the report had highlighted the complex nature of child sexual exploitation.
“We have already stated that there were issues with an initial inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in 2008. However, the IPCC are currently supervising an investigation into that inquiry so it would be inapprotpriate for us to go into further details at this moment.
"All we can say is that GMP’s forcewide approach to child sexual exploitation and child abuse in general has changed significantly over the last few years,” she said.
*Name has been changed
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