Social workers failed to recognise the signs that two teenage girls in care were being systematically abused by a gang of sexual predators, a serious case review has found.
An undercover police investigation began in 2008 after concerns were identified about young people in Derby who were being sexually exploited. Thirteen men were charged and 11 stood trial for charges relating to the case, resulting in five convictions.
The serious case review, carried out in 2009, stated that two of the children involved had been known to social workers for several years because of concerns about neglect and inconsistent parenting. One had been taken into care in October 2008, the other in April 2009.
Despite this, the girls were seriously sexually abused both before and after being taken into care, the review found. Social workers had inaccurately assessed levels of risk and had not recognised “the signs and symptoms of abuse evident in the behaviour of both young women”. Part of this was also down to ineffective information sharing.
The behaviour of the girls was said to be “extreme”, but they were treated as “rebellious adolescents”. The facilities, resources and placement choices available were limited and made it difficult for staff to manage their challenging behaviour or prevent their continuing abuse, the review found.
All child protection agencies involved were criticised for failing to work together effectively and intervene early in the two girls’ lives. There was little evidence of “concerted inter-agency action” or use of procedures such as the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for collating information and concerns about the children. Health and education had missed early signs and social workers failed to respond quickly and effectively when concerns were raised.
There were also “critical delays” in providing out-of-city placements which led to one of the girls receiving a custodial sentence for assaulting care staff. Both girls received criminal convictions but should have been treated as victims, rather than as offenders, the review stated.
Had agencies intervened early, “it is likely that [the girls] would have been more resilient, and therefore less vulnerable as adolescents to all kinds of exploitation and abuse, including the abuse they did experience.”
The review, which made a number of recommendations for all the agencies involved, found key issues in the cases related to the identification of needs and indicators of abuse, organisational safeguarding policies and procedures, use of inter-agency procedures, staff co-ordination and assessments.
Evonne Williams, Derby Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, apologised for the girls’ suffering and for missed opportunities.
She said agencies had learned from the case and were now funding a sexual exploitation strategy and a new co-ordinated service response.
“We will continue to review these improvements and build on them to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect our young people.”
Martin Narey, Barnardo’s chief executive, said the number of prosecutions for this kind of activity was “woefully inadequate”. Barnardo’s experience in helping victims of sexual exploitation had proven there needed to be greater protection, improved preventative educational work and specialist therapeutic services for victims, he said.
“What is important now, is that we move on from this horror and learn the lessons of Derbyshire – so that sexually exploited children are finally given the full protection they deserve and robust measures are put in place to ensure that everything is done to disrupt this appalling exploitation of children and prevent it from happening again.” He said this meant long-term funding for specialist child sexual exploitation services was needed.
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Inform guide to safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation: Identification; response and prevention
Author: Dr Andrew Durham, independent child care consultant, consultant practitioner, Sexualised Inappropriate Behaviours Service, Warwickshire County Council