Latest Public Sector News

03.03.15

Jail for public officials who ‘neglect’ child sex abuse

Councillors, teachers and social workers in England and Wales who fail to protect children from sexual exploitation could face up to five years in prison under new proposals being unveiled by the prime minister. 

The government will consult on extending the new criminal offence of ‘wilful neglect’, first introduced in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act earlier this year. At the moment, it applies only to individual care workers or care provider organisations looking after children and adults in the NHS and adult care homes. 

At a Downing Street summit today, David Cameron will reveal plans to prioritise child sexual as a ‘national threat’, like serious and organised crime.

A new national whistleblowing helpline for public sector workers to report bad practice will be established and victim support organisations will get extra funding. 

The new package is part of the government’s national response to damning reports by Alexis Jay, Ann Coffey, Louise Casey and others, which found systematic institutional failings and cultures of denial and blame in Rotherham, and elsewhere. 

Cameron will say: “We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country. Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet – often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness. That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated. 

“Today, I am sending an unequivocal message that professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.” 

The prime minister will add that the culture of denial is to be “eradicated” through new joint official health, police and education inspections and a new Child Sexual Abuse Taskforce of professional troubleshooting experts in social work, law enforcement and health to support local areas at every level. 

Maris Stratulis, England manager at The British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said: “Our starting point must always be what best protects children from harm and any additional investment that can help support victims is welcome. 

“We totally support public accountability and transparency so welcome any measures that will make it easier for social workers and other professionals to whistle blow.” 

Commenting on the proposals, Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, agreed that there needs to be a stronger child protection system that properly listens to children. 

“The prime minister has a real opportunity to improve child protection. But these changes don’t go far enough,” she said. 

“Stronger laws are needed to protect children. The government should bring forward a legal duty to report child abuse, a new specific offence of child exploitation and new child abduction warning notices – however, ministers voted against these last week.”

Anne Longfield, England’s children’s commissioner, who will be at today’s summit, told the BBC that she thinks the package is a “very clear” and “symbolic signal” that things need to change. 

“We can’t have this situation where children suffering one of the most horrendous crimes you can think of, as young as 11 or 12, are being systematically ignored if they present to you,” she said. 

The Department of Health has also published new guidance on the role of school nursing services in preventing child sexual exploitation. 

UPDATE

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, told PSE: “At last we are starting to see a firm response to dealing with the sexual abuse of children, an abhorrent crime that must be targeted by all available resources at every opportunity. 

“The depressing list of abuse scandals in recent years has left the nation shocked and stunned. But now we must have positive action to make sure children are properly protected and, hopefully, today’s government announcements will start to swing the odds in favour of the victims, not the offenders. 

“When we have children just out of primary school being targeted and groomed by predatory gangs of men we know the time for hand-wringing has long gone. There have been enough warnings that we are not doing enough to keep children safe. Now it’s time to act.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com 

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