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Agenda Item No. 7

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Healthy Living and Social Care Scrutiny Committee: 10th October 2016

 

Report of the Director of Social Services

 

Child Sexual Exploitation

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To advise Scrutiny Committee of the current situation regarding the approach taken to tackling Child Sexual Exploitation in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Recommendations

That Scrutiny Committee:

  1. Accepts the content of the report.

Reasons for the Recommendations

  1. That all elected members are informed about how the Council is carrying out its duties to identify, reduce and eradicate the risk of Child Sexual Exploitation within the local authority area.

Background

  1. The sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18 is illegal under Section 65(1) of the Children Act 2004.
  2. Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves abusive situations, contexts and relationships where they receive 'something' (e.g. affection, gifts, money, food, accommodation, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities.
  3. The main characteristics of CSE can be summed up as follows.
  • Abusers manipulating children and young people into sexual activities.
  • The perpetrator exercises some power over the victim.
  • The perpetrator will often use violence and/or intimidation.
  • The perpetrator exchanges material and/or emotional gifts such as money or affection for sexual favours.
  • The victim is vulnerable in one or more ways.
  • The victim may be unable to see or to acknowledge that she/he is being groomed or abused.
  • The victim may appear to agree to the relationship or to the abusive behaviour.
  1. Because definitions and perceptions of CSE have changed, it is difficult to be certain about the true nature and scale of such abuse in Wales. However, we know that it does happen frequently. It is not limited to any particular geographical area, ethnic or social background. Research by Barnardo's in Wales over the last 10 years shows that there were significantly more known cases of children and young people being sexually exploited in 2013/14 than in 2005. More children and young people are also being identified as being at significant risk of CSE.
  2. Predominantly, CSE has been a hidden issue and relatively few victims were willing to speak out about their abuse. Hence, it is still difficult to gauge the true scale of the problem. Often CSE victims do not realise the abusive nature of their relationship with perpetrators or may feel complicit in the abuse, believing that they are being rewarded in some way. Some are also reluctant to speak out about their abuse for fear of being criminalised or not believed. We know from research that boys are less likely than girls to disclose experiences of CSE, making it more difficult to detect.
  3. The All Wales Child Protection Procedures 2008 identified the risks of Child Sexual Exploitation to children and young people and gave guidance on the process and actions required by professionals in responding to such situations. In 2011, the Welsh Government published statutory guidance, underpinned by a dedicated child sexual exploitation protocol within the All Wales Child Protection Procedures. This approach ensures a standardised, multi-agency response whenever child sexual exploitation is identified; it is based around applying the Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework (SERAF) tool developed by Barnardo's Cymru.

Statutory responsibilities

  1. Following publication of statutory guidance "Safeguarding Children: Working Together under the Children Act 2004", Councils were required to establish Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).
  2. The objectives of an LSCB are to:
  • protect children within its area who are experiencing, or are at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm, and
  • prevent children within its area from becoming at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm.
  1. The Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff established LSCBs in 2006; these merged as one regional LSCB in October 2013. The Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan LSCB brings together senior representatives from each of the main agencies and professions responsible for safeguarding children. In Wales, the statutory responsibility for establishing the LSCB rests with the local Children's Services authority. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 introduced a strengthened, robust and effective partnership approach to safeguarding. The Part 7 Guidance for the Act sets out clear statutory responsibilities for local agencies, including Councils, in relation to safeguarding children (and adults).
  2. The Welsh Government has published the "All-Wales National Action Plan to Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation". It sets out a framework and minimum standards that Safeguarding Children Boards and partner agencies, collectively and individually, should work towards and build on in order to:
  • prevent and protect children and young people from sexual exploitation.
  • provide responsive, appropriate and consistent support to those identified as being subject to or at risk of sexual exploitation.
  • contribute to identifying, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators.
  1. Councils play a crucial, statutory role in safeguarding children, including tackling child sexual exploitation. However, they cannot do this alone. It needs the cooperation of the wider community and partner agencies. Councils can use their links with police, schools, health professionals, and community and faith groups to highlight the signs and ensure people know where to turn if they have concerns. Child sexual exploitation is a difficult and unpleasant subject to discuss but having these conversations is crucial to effective action. Members will be aware of the independent report by Professor Alexis Jay into the handling of CSE by social services and police in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. It is highly critical of "collective failures" of political and officer leadership.
  2. There have been similar concerns expressed about other places such as Derby, Oxford, Bristol, Telford and Peterborough. These all demonstrate the key role performed by the Leader of the Council, the lead Member for Children's Services, scrutiny committees and all councillors in questioning and challenging responses to CSE in their local area. Subsequently, the LGA produced a resource pack for councils on good practice in tackling CSE. The Social Services Improvement Agency in Wales has recently issued three workbooks to support elected members in understanding various aspects of safeguarding - Safeguarding Adults, Corporate Parenting and Child Sexual Exploitation. Child Sexual Exploitation - It Can and Does Happen Here can be found on the following link http://www.ssiacymru.org.uk/resource/160505-cse.pdf
  3. In December 2015, the Welsh Government published an education resource pack to help safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation. It includes tools to help education practitioners to talk openly to children and young people about the dangers of sexual exploitation and risky behaviours that might put young people in harm's way.
  4. In March 2016, the Minister for Health and Social Services issued a written statement regarding CSE and an All Wales National Action Plan. It was stressed that: "The Welsh Government is clear that child sexual exploitation is a crime, which requires coordinated action by all safeguarding partners. Tackling this form of child abuse is a priority for this government."

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. To date, there has been only one major case in the Vale of Glamorgan where multiple abuse was suspected. It involved a significant number of alleged victims, most of whom were resident in other local authority areas and all of whom are now adults. The perpetrator is already in prison, having been convicted of similar offences. The investigation has been conducted jointly and all the agencies have worked together very well in what has been a large-scale operation. Children potentially at risk and those who may have been abused are safe. The LSCB is currently carrying out a Child Practice Review to see what lessons can be learned. Two senior managers from the Vale of Glamorgan are currently members of the Child Practice Review Panel. The findings of the review will be shared with the LSCB during the autumn.
  2. Additionally, the LSCB and the South Wales Police are co-ordinating investigative and safeguarding work in another major operation which spans a number of local authorities. This work is progressing very well but needs to remain confidential at present. The alleged perpetrator in this case is also in custody.
  3. On the evidence currently available, most children who have been the subject of CSE strategy meetings since we started collecting local data have not been victims of organised abuse. We cannot be at all complacent and considerable efforts are being made to tackle CSE in our area. The Cardiff and Vale LSCB has established a sub-group, led by the South Wales Police and including representatives from the NHS, probation and social services, to address operational issues. The Director of Social Services represents ADSS Cymru on the pan-Wales group established by the Children's Commissioner, which is looking at areas requiring national policy and leadership.
  4. At a local level, we comply fully with the All Wales Child Protection Procedures in addressing cases of suspected CSE. Where children/young people are considered to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, an assessment of risk using the SERAF tool is undertaken. Assessments with risk scores under 11 are discussed with the Principal Officer working in this Council and preventative measures are considered. Risk scores of 11 and upwards progress to a CSE multi-agency strategy meeting. Cases which are seen to indicate 'significant risk' are referred automatically to the Directorate's Principal Officer in Protection and Policy who convenes and chairs a multi-agency strategy meeting under the All Wales Child Protection Procedures.
  5. To ensure that we are giving due consideration to children or young people about whom there are concerns but where there is not a 'significant risk' score on SERAF, we now have in place a process whereby any agency or professional body may refer a case for consideration about whether there are agreed CSE concerns. If this is the case, the ensuing assessment will consider these issues and the case is referred to the Principal Officer in Protection and Policy who considers the level of intervention required. This might range from the provision of support services to proceeding with a strategy meeting involving relevant professionals. In addition, the new processes allow us to capture more effectively data about the number of children where there are sexual exploitation concerns.
  6. There have been 25 initial CSE strategy meetings between April 2015 and March 2016, relating to 32 children. There were 35 review meetings for children already known to be potential victims of CSE with ongoing work identified; some of these reviews would relate to the 25 new referrals. The response to each young person has included:
  • consideration of any criminal matters by South Wales Police;
  • assessment;
  • consideration of the need to use child protection procedures; and
  • support to be provided by social services and voluntary organisations as these are regarded as children in need.

Where ongoing concerns have been identified, review strategy meetings take place for each young person. Most alleged victims are aged 14-16 and they share common characteristics such as poor attendance at school, low self-esteem, self-harm/suicidal thoughts and inappropriate use of the internet and mobile phones. Suspects are usually male and aged 19-40.

  1. Since February 2015, the NSPCC have been providing a service to the Vale of Glamorgan in respect of children and young people who are at risk of CSE or where there are current concerns that they are being exploited. The NSPCC model allows preventative work to be undertaken. The low-level risk cases assessments by their social work staff identify the best level of intervention for those currently suspected of being exploited and for those young people who are now able to recognise exploitative relationships. This service has already been offered where appropriate to the young people who have been the subject of a CSE strategy meeting and those children whose SERAF score identified low-level risk.
  2. The South Wales Police now have a Detective Sergeant and two Detective Constables dealing specifically with children and young people who are at risk of CSE. In this role, the officers attend all the CSE strategy meetings in the Vale and Bridgend (both areas being part of the same Basic Command Unit).
  3. The information meetings established in May 2015 have now been expanded and these are now referred to as the CSE Task Force meetings. Those in attendance are the Detective Superintendent, Vale Safeguarding staff, Education, the Practitioner Manager for the Social Services Duty Team, a Youth Service representative, a Youth Offending Team representative, the Looked After Children Nurse, the Safeguarding Nurse, a representative of the 15 Plus Team in Children's Services and a Licensing Officer, if there are relevant concerns. The meetings take place every other month here in the Vale and on a monthly basis in the Bridgend area (because of the higher numbers of children identified.
  4. CSE is an area where significant developments are happening at pace. The Police have developed a sophisticated data base/problem profile which pinpoints links between children at risk and suspected perpetrators of abuse across the Force's area. This real-time intelligence allows all agencies to target work to protect potential victims, to investigate criminal acts and to disrupt the activity of perpetrators. The strategy meetings are an effective means for the Police to gather both formal and 'soft' intelligence on perpetrators within the area, thus ensuring that local information about individuals, activities and locations are shared and monitored. Early information from the system indicates that CSE issues occur more often in adjoining local authority areas and that, outside the Vale, there is some association with specific geographical locations or groups.
  5. The South Wales Police have received a grant enabling them to employ workers from Barnardo's to 'de-brief' children and young people who have been missing. The workers will look to establish where the children and young people have been and with whom they have been associating. The worker based with the police in Cowbridge has also undertaken sessional work with identified young people for up to 6 sessions.
  6. One of the challenges for professionals working with children and young people who are most vulnerable is helping them to acknowledge that they are at risk of being exploited. Schools in the area are delivered a programme to children which is designed to raise awareness, especially regarding on-line abuse which involves their peers.
  7. The LSCB has been working to produce a new CSE strategy which will consolidate emerging best practice. Both local authorities have decided to develop separate strategies, to reflect differences in referral processes, while sharing their knowledge and experience. Cardiff has recently published their strategy and the Vale of Glamorgan CSE strategy is nearing completion.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. The growing volume of work in this area has been managed to date by using existing resources, sharing responsibilities across relevant organisations (including local authorities) and obtaining some grant funding. However, it should be noted that any major investigations are very resource-intensive and cannot be predicted.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. There are no implications for sustainability and climate change within this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. The duties of the local authority to ensure that children are properly safeguarded and protected from harm are set out within the legislative framework. Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 imposes a duty on a local authority to make arrangements for ensuring that their education functions are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. Section 28 of the Children Act 2004 imposes a duty on local authorities to make arrangements for ensuring that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In fulfilling its responsibilities, the local authority should have effective quality assurance systems in place to ensure that the necessary checks and balances are in place to safeguard and protect children.
  2. The Wales Interim Policy and Procedures for the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Abuse is intended to guide the safeguarding work of all those concerned with the welfare of vulnerable adults. These Procedures are based on certain principles of the European convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. The provision of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 provide a new statutory framework for the protection of adults at risk.
  3. The Welsh Government Guidance, Safeguarding Children; Working together under the Children Act 2004, has been issued in accordance with the Children Act 2004. Under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, it provides the working basis for the All Wales Child Protection Procedures, which reflect the values and principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Welsh Government developed these values and principles in Children and Young People: Rights to Action 2004, and adopted core aims and outcomes through which it is committed to work with all children and young people. The key outcome for improving the well-being of children includes the requirement that children live in a safe environment and be protected from harm. The All Wales Child Protection Procedures take account of various legislation, guidance, research and reports.
  4. Implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 in April 2016 created a duty on all local authority staff and members and relevant partners to report any actual or suspected incidents of abuse or harm. Work is also progressing within Welsh Government to undertake a full review of The Welsh Government Guidance, Safeguarding Children; Working together under the Children Act 2004 and The Wales Interim Policy and Procedures for the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Abuse to comply with all Safeguarding duties within the new Act.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. Some crime and disorder issues could be highlighted as a result of possible CSE activity within the authority but there are no current implications.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. There are no Equal Opportunity implications within this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. The work outlined in this report addresses the following corporate objectives outlined in the Corporate Plan 2016-2020:

         Wellbeing Outcome 4: An Active and Healthy Vale

         Objective 8: Safeguarding those who are vulnerable and promote independent living.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. This is an issue which affects all areas of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Healthy Living and Social Care

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Suzanne Clifton, Interim Head of Service, Business Management and Innovation

Officers Consulted

Alys Jones - Operational Manager, Safeguarding and Performance

Responsible Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services