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Youth offending teams failing to protect at-risk girls from exploitation

Many girls who offend are being sexually exploited and youth offending teams are failing to provide protection for them, inspectors warned yesterday.

The finding comes is a joint report by HM Inspectorate of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Care and Social Service Inspectorate Wales.

The inspectors said they were “extremely concerned” to find that many girls were at risk of sexual exploitation.

“Many had experienced situations and circumstances which they were struggling to understand and come to terms with,” said Paul McDowell, the chief inspector of probation. “These individuals are children and … subject to vulnerabilities. They are entitled to the rights and protection a child should receive. Unfortunately in too many cases this protection was absent, and staff were often ill-prepared to deal with, or unaware of the problem of actual or potential sexual exploitation.”

The report found that youth offending teams and staff in secure establishments were working hard with girls who commit criminal offences to reduce reoffending and reduce the risk the girls posed.

However, many of those girls had potentially been exposed to sexual exploitation in the community and staff needed to be better equipped to deal with it.

The inspectors said that in each of the six youth offending team areas they visited they found cases of girls who were at risk of exploitation or who were being exploited.

Five of the six teams had a system in place to identify the risk, but some case managers found identifying sexual exploitation difficult and complex.

This was made evident in one area where a group of at-risk girls were barred from using public transport even though it would have allowed them to travel home safely at night.

Inspectors said they were particularly concerned to find that in two of the inspected youth offending team areas, action was not taken to protect at-risk girls, even though their case managers had suspicions of exploitation. They say they lacked support from the police, social care and their own managers and were blocked from responding by the need for a disclosure of abuse from the girls themselves before they could launch an investigation.

The report makes a number of recommendations to youth offending team management boards, youth offending team managers, local authority children’s services and police forces.

These included ensuring effective liaison between youth offending teams and other agencies working to safeguard girls at risk of sexual exploitation and regular monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of this cooperation.

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