Professionals failing children who sexually harm, finds chief inspector

Concerning sexual behaviour was either not identified early enough or subject to disbelief, minimisation or denial by professionals (Picture posed by model)

Professionals from social care, health and criminal justice are not working together to support children and young people who sexually harm, a joint inspection report has found.

Problematic behaviour is not identified early enough and there is a lack of information sharing, poor assessments and poor risk planning following conviction. That was the conclusion of inspection watchdogs for police, probation, health and social care.

The report, published today, was a thematic inspection based on a sample of 24 boys who had been convicted of a sexual offence against other children. None were known members of gangs, all committed the offences on their own and many were already known to social services before conviction.

Related conference

Liz Calderbank will be presenting the findings of the report at a Community Care Conference on children who display sexually harmful behaviour this afternoon.

This will be followed by a multi-agency panel discussion on ways forward.

‘Disbelief, minimisation and denial’

Almost half (11) of the cases contained documented evidence of previous concerning sexualised behaviour, which was either not identified at the time or was subject to disbelief, minimisation and denial by professionals and families.

Liz Calderbank, Her Majestys Inspector of Probation, told Community Care the concerns were increased because all except one of the children had responded very positively to intervention. “Which I think shows that if we could have identified these children sooner we could have prevented harm to other children,” she said.

Although lack of training and awareness were issues, Calderbank said professionals were often simply not following normal child protection procedures. For example, in some of the cases the multi-agency meeting arranged as part of the inspection process was the first occasion all parties involved with the child or young person had met.

Some positive outcomes

“So while we saw some positive outcomes the concern is that they are not planted in rigorous enough assessment and planning to be sustainable or to prevent it happening again,” Calderbank said.

The probation chief said she felt it was important that professionals have a good grounding in what constitutes normal sexual development, but also realised that where concerning behaviour existed, it must be challenged and could be changed.

“All these children presented as vulnerable children, there is no doubt about that,” Calderbank said. “We were looking at these children six months after conviction, so admittedly it was a small timeframe.

“But at that time only one of the children had reoffended and most had got back into education, had better relationships with carers or parents and other factors that all indicated progress.”

Issue ‘not prominent enough on strategic radar’

She added: “Given this and the fact there is debate that up to 30% of sexual abuse of children is committed by other children, it is not prominent enough on the strategic radar of decision makers. That cascades down to frontline practice.”

As a result, there needs to be more resources in this area both in terms of training, but also managerial oversight and monitoring.

The report particularly highlighted a lack of proactive monitoring and evaluation of practice from youth offending team (YOT) management boards and Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

The inspectorate is also concerned about the time it took from disclosure to conviction, which in some cases was up to eight months without any support or intervention.

“That is a long time for a child, both the victim and the perpetrator, and that must be improved,” Calderbank said.

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