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Progress made on tackling CSE but frontline practice ‘still needs to improve’

Initiatives to help children at risk of sexual exploitation need more commitment from local services to ensure they are implemented across the frontline, according to a new report.

The report, from Ofsted, the CQC, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation, is based on ‘deep dive inspections’ of child sexual exploitation (CSE) services in five areas – Croydon, Oxfordshire, Liverpool, South Tyneside and Central Bedfordshire.

It said that while all five areas had developed strategies for tackling CSE following revelations of mass exploitation in Rotherham, its impact on frontline practice was too variable.

“It is crucial that local areas translate this strategic commitment into effective frontline practice,” the report said. It found that in some cases, children had too many professionals involved with them without proper co-ordination or assessments which focused on the child’s needs.

In a small number of cases, professionals still did not understand CSE and risked suggesting that they blamed the children for the abuse.

The report also found problems with healthcare staff failing to identify CSE, even after they had been given the tools to do so, and children not being able to access sexual health services.

There were also failures to respond when children went missing, and in a small number of places, there were significant delays in police responses to reports of CSE.

Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted national director for social care, said: “Helping victims of child sexual exploitation is a very tough task. We should be optimistic that this is a task that can be done effectively. Our inspections have found that when key frontline staff are well-trained, take their responsibilities seriously, work closely together and, possibly most importantly, have the time to build relationships with children, the issues can be dealt with sensitively and successfully.

“Practice needs to improve. Local authorities, police and health services need to gain a better understanding of why children run away from home. We need to understand why the current system of return home interviews is not working if we really want to help children who go missing.”

However, the report found a number of areas of good practice, including initiatives to raise awareness of the issue in communities and schools.

The report flagged a number of key areas for services. It said that local authority, police, health services and other key services should share information, including gaining a better understanding of why children go missing.

Furthermore, the report recommended ensuring that social workers and health professionals have the time to build trust with children.

Responding to the report, Matthew Reed, CEO of The Children’s Society, said: “Overall, as Ofsted acknowledges, improvements are being made and strategies drawn up to tackle the sexual exploitation of children. But we know from our work with vulnerable young people across the country that many are still being let down.

“Children who go missing are still experiencing poor or patchy responses from police and other professionals. Too many services are failing to properly assess the risks that young people face, or to share important local knowledge about places and people who pose risks to vulnerable children.”

Ofsted is due to complete an inspection of all council children’s services by the end of next year. It is considering introducing a new model of children’s social care inspection, which it said would maintain a “clear and unrelenting focus” on helping vulnerable children.

The government is also planning to introduce a new accreditation and regulation system for social workers.

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