Inspectors criticise response to child criminal exploitation in Northumberland

By David Harris

| 05 August 2019

Agencies working to combat child criminal exploitation in Northumberland do not fully understand the extent of the problem, according to a multi-agency inspection published this week.

Northumberland DCS Cath McEvoy-Carr is among service leaders responsible for addressing inspectors' concerns around child criminal and sexual exploitation in the county

Director of children's services at the county council Cath McEvoy-Carr, as well as leaders for safeguarding, policing, youth offending, probation and clinical commissioning were praised for their "strong commitment" to working together to safeguard children.

However, the targeted joint-area inspection into how the county deals with both criminal and sexual child exploitation found that "the complex needs of children who offend because of child sexual and/or criminal exploitation are not sufficiently recognised or planned for".

Service leaders are required to produce a written statement of proposed action setting out how they will address the problem. 

Following a series of inspections by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and HMI Probation in June, the report, published this month, adds that practitioners' understanding of child criminal exploitation is "underdeveloped", with few social workers having used multi-agency training. 

Social workers had received seven-minute briefings but, unlike practitioners in other agencies, they had not all read these.

The letter continues: "There is no formal training for police staff members within the Mash [multi-agency safeguarding hub], and their knowledge and awareness of child criminal exploitation is limited. 

"Community rehabilitation company staff had not accessed the Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) multi-agency training, although they had received single agency training on safeguarding."

However, the inspectors acknowledged that a sub-group of the NSCB have begun to work on a new strategy designed to expand its existing approach beyond sexual exploitation so that criminal exploitation can be more comprehensively addressed. This sub-group began its work in March.

The report underlines recent national concern about criminal exploitation of children - in February the children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, warned that many local safeguarding children boards have no information on gang activity and the risk it poses to children.

Longfield gave her warning on the publication of Keeping Kids Safe: Improving Safeguarding Responses to Gang Violence and Criminal Exploitation, which estimates that 27,000 children in England are in gangs.

The issue was in the news again last week after the home affairs committee called for greater investment in youth services in an effort to combat violence. 

The Serious Youth Violence Report says that there should also be a "youth service guarantee" to ensure that funding is ring-fenced.

Although the Northumberland inspection identified weaknesses, it also highlighted a series of strengths.

It states: "New concerns about children are responded to in a timely manner. In the main, thresholds are understood and the risk of significant harm identified."

Inspectors also noted that within the Mash co-operation between agencies is considerable and that political support from councillors has ensured that funding for children's services has been protected.

The number of social workers has also increased in the past two years.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director of children's services at Northumberland County Council said: "We are working closely with multi agency partners in order to fully understand the prevalence of child exploitation in Northumberland. This work had started before the inspection and the report has provided a benchmark to accelerate the development of assessment and intervention models.  As a partnership we feel that there are a lot of positives in the report, with good work to build on."

Paula Mead, independent chair of the Northumberland safeguarding children board said: "The responsibility of safeguarding children and young people does not rest with a single agency, and the report highlights the strong commitment demonstrated by all the Northumberland safeguarding agencies to working together to safeguard children. It is also welcome that inspectors noted that children are being listened to, and their views are being recorded and acted upon.

"The report does note where further work is needed, and a number of these actions have already been completed. Going forward we will build on those recommendations to continue to make further improvements to keep children and young people safe."

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