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Child Sexual Exploitation

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2015

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and Louise Casey’s follow up report on the performance of Rotherham council both provide a terrible account of the appalling failures by the council, the police and other agencies to protect vulnerable children. The culture of complete denial that was uncovered by Professor Jay persists today. That is why immediate action has been taken to protect the children of Rotherham through the appointment of five commissioners to take on the full range of the authority’s executive functions and begin a rapid improvement programme; and the launch of an independent two-stage investigation into child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham—Operation Stovewood run by the National Crime Agency.

I have been clear that the situation in Rotherham is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to confront these failures at a national level which is why in September last year I announced that I would chair a series of meetings with other responsible Secretaries of State to look at the failures highlighted in Professor Jay’s inquiry at the Prime Minister’s request.

I have chaired a number of these meetings with the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government, Education, Health, and Justice, and the Solicitor-General. Today the Government publish a report setting out the actions we are taking in response to Professor Jay’s and Louise Casey’s findings.

The actions will strengthen accountability and leadership in professions and local government; address the culture of inaction and denial that led to victims being dismissed and ignored; improve joint working and information sharing so that agencies intervene early; strengthen the protection of children who are at risk; reinforce law enforcement efforts to stop offenders; and provide greater support for victims and survivors. Among these actions are:

The establishment of a new independent taskforce, bringing together specialists in social care, law enforcement and health, which will be deployed in local authorities where child abuse is a concern. Linked to the taskforce, will be a new centre of professional expertise, which will develop better approaches to tackling sexual abuse.

The launch of a £1 million communications campaign, to promote a wider understanding of what people should do when they suspect a child is being abused. This will be accompanied with revised guidance, “What to do if you are worried a child is being abused”, for professionals, the public, and children.

The creation of a new single point of contact for child abuse related whistleblowing, which will monitor patterns of failure across the country. We will make clear that all organisations with safeguarding responsibilities should have internal whistleblowing policies.

A new system of multi-agency inspections, to examine whether local agencies are working in a co-ordinated manner, sharing information and taking joint decisions to protect children.

Failure of agencies to share information about children at risk was a critical element of what happened in Rotherham. Today, my ministerial colleagues and I have written to the leaders of every local authority, directors of children’s services, police and crime commissioners, local safeguarding children’s boards, health and wellbeing boards and GPs, making clear that there can be no justification for failing to share personal information about a child when that information could be used to protect that child’s life.

The Government are clear that child sexual exploitation must be stopped. Work is already under way to put into practice these and other proposals.

A copy of the Government’s response will be placed in the House Library.

I would also like to give an update on Home Office work in response to allegations in Professor Jay’s report that the Department had been made aware of the problems in Rotherham in 2002, but had failed to take action on this information. I gave an assurance that the Home Office would conduct an internal investigation to ascertain what happened, which Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC would then review to ensure it had been undertaken absolutely properly. My Department has been undertaking detailed searches of Home Office files and records of the time—and potentially relevant files and records across Government—to establish what information was passed to the Department about child sexual abuse in Rotherham and what action was taken as a result. Searches of the Department’s digital holdings are still ongoing and we expect to be able to provide the completed investigation to Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC in the next three months, subject to their availability.