Major reforms to tackle sexual exploitation announced

The government has unveiled a package of wide-ranging reforms designed to improve “very serious weaknesses” that have left children in care at risk of sexual exploitation.

Children's minister Tim Loughton

No children’s home should be allowed to open in a ‘high risk’ area and Ofsted must share previously private information about the location of children’s homes with the police and other relevant bodies.

These are two of the urgent recommendations made today by the Office of the Children’s Commissoner (OCC) in a report into the sexual exploitation of children and young people.

The report – which highlights interim findings from the OCC’s two-year inquiry into the problem – found that, although the majority of known victims are outside the care system, a disproportionate number of looked-after children are being groomed or sexually exploited.

Private children’s homes should be inspected every month, the OCC recommended after the report found disproportionate numbers of victims were in residential care. It also found evidence that some homes are specifically targeted by abusers.

Other recommendations include a ban on any looked-after child being placed in bed and breakfast accommodation and an agreed safety plan for every victim of sexual exploitation or child at risk. Local safeguarding children’s boards should also have an oversight of the intelligence on exploiters in the area and children at risk.

Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner, said the report – accelerated after the high profile abuse case in Rochdale – set out a clear action plan to keep looked-after children safe. “Children have told me of being abducted, threatened, serially raped and subjected to other forms of violence resulting in them feeling worthless and losing all sense of self respect.

“Tragically this is too often compounded by adults refusing to believe what is happening. They must be taken seriously if we are to uncover the truth and protect them; doubting them only reinforces their sense of despair and abandonment.”

Government action

In response, the government has today unveiled urgent reforms to address the problem, including a thorough examination of residential care and more robust checks before children are placed in homes outside their home boroughs.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton confirmed the government will lift regulations that stop Ofsted revealing the location of children’s homes and will review all aspects of the quality and effectiveness of children’s homes, including management, ownership and staffing.

The government has also published a progress report on the national action plan to tackle sexual exploitation and ‘step-by-step’ guidance for frontline staff, including social workers.

“These reports lift the lid on very serious weaknesses in the system,” Loughton said. “There are good children’s homes and excellent care workers but it is clear that far too many of the most vulnerable children in society are being exposed to harm and danger. It is completely unacceptable that existing rules are simply being ignored and that frankly, some local authorities and homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’.

“We are setting out urgent, immediate steps to protect children in care and address all the weaknesses. We want to get rid of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture which sees residential care as a last resort, instead of protecting vulnerable young people and giving them the best possible start in life.”

The OCC’s final recommendations will be made at the close of its inquiry in autumn 2013.

More information

Register for the soon-to-be published Community Care Inform guide to working with children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Would you spot a child at risk of sexual exploitation?

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