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West Midlands Police given six weeks to improve child protection

West Midlands Police has six weeks to improve child protection after an inspection from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found staff had a “general lack of understanding” about the extent of child sexual exploitation.

Inspectors said the force had a weak response to complex or prolonged child protection cases and that officers did not always understand when to refer child protection issues to other agencies or how to do it. The report from HMIC also said heavy workloads meant staff in child abuse investigation teams were unable to manage their investigations effectively.

Out of nine cases of child sexual exploitation examined by inspectors, five were found to have been handled inadequately.

The report said: “Signs of risk were missed, lines of enquiries were either not followed up or took too long, and there were failures to respond to information and intelligence and to pursue offenders.”

In one case, a 17-year-old girl revealed that she did not want to return home because she was being approached by older men for sex.

The report said: “Information gathered from her and sent to the force’s intelligence unit indicated that the men may still be having sex with, and sometimes raping, younger girls. No follow-up action took place and she was not spoken to by police because she had turned 18.”

Cases involving children missing from home were also handled poorly, with nine out of eleven cases examined found to have been dealt with inadequately by inspectors.

The report says that in once case care home staff called the police when a 15-year-old girl left the home at night, in her pyjamas, and got into a car with an older man.

Although the girl was known to be at risk of sexual exploitation, police did not immediately investigate her location. When she returned home the following morning, it says that police did not check on her welfare or seek information about risk or exploitation.

The report continued: “Some of the attitudes officers held towards potential victims of child sexual exploitation or children who ran away were unacceptable and resulted in poor decision making.

“Staff need to understand that children do not make a ‘lifestyle choice’ to be abused, particularly those who are more vulnerable because of the neglect they have already suffered in their life.”

However the report does detail several positives from the inspection. Inspectors found that force leadership team had a strong commitment and clear action plan for child protection and that the force has good relationships with partner agencies and local safeguarding children boards. The report also praised staff responsible for managing child abuse investigations as “knowledgeable, committed and dedicated to providing good outcomes for children”.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Dru Sharpling said: “I am pleased to see the clear commitment to protecting children shown by both the leaders and the dedicated staff within West Midlands Police.

“Despite this, our inspection found areas of concern that meant children were not receiving the service they deserve. In particular the force needs to improve both its approach to the more complex child protection cases and a better understanding of the extent of child sexual exploitation in the West Midlands.

“I would like to encourage West Midlands Police to address our concerns immediately, and have asked that within six weeks it provides us with an action plan to demonstrate how it will act upon these recommendations.”

West Midlands Police welcomed the report, saying it would carefully consider the recommendations.

Assistant chief constable Carl Foulkes, who oversees child protection, said: “Child protection is a priority for the force and I am passionate about providing the best service we can.

“I want West Midlands Police to be the best in country - dealing with vulnerable children with professionalism and compassion.

“Our Public Protection Unit has been doubled in strength to some 800 officers and staff. That means around 10% of the entire force are engaged in the fight. That displays our level of commitment.

“It’s unfortunate that the HMIC inspection came just two days into new arrangements so do not reflect our exciting changes as there was so little time for them to be in place."

(Image: c. West Midlands Police)

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