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Police criticised over poor response to West Midlands child abuse cases

Police criticised over poor response to West Midlands child abuse cases

🕔28.Oct 2014

West Midlands Police has been criticised for failing to protect children at risk of sexual exploitation and told to take immediate action to address shortcomings.

A study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found a mixed performance by child protection teams, with some instances of good work but also examples of “a general lack of understanding of the extent of child sexual exploitation and inconsistent practice”.

Incidents that concerned HMIC included:

  • Care home staff called 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, her location was not immediately sought. When she returned home at 6 o’clock the following morning, police did not check on her welfare or seek information about risk or exploitation.
  • A passer-by saw a man hitting a small child in a car. It was graded as a priority incident, but no officer was available to attend. Several hours later, control room staff recorded that the incident had passed and downgraded the call to ‘routine’ but checks were not made to justify this, nor was there a check on the child’s safety.
  • A 14-year-old boy coerced a 14-year-old girl to pose for sexually explicit photographs. Without her knowledge he distributed the images via social media, causing her serious emotional harm. Nobody took responsibility for this investigation for far too long. As a consequence, no action was taken to protect or help the girl, or to consider the continuing risk from the boy.

In another case, supervisors recorded that a 13-year-old girl who frequently went missing was making ‘a lifestyle choice’, although it was clear from police systems that she was being, or was at high risk of being, sexually exploited.

Inspectors assessed the handling of nine of the 11 cases of children missing from home as inadequate. In each of these cases, officers failed to gather further information and as a result there was poor assessment of the overall risk.

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.”

HMIC said positive aspects of the West Midlands inspection included:

  • A strong commitment from the leadership team to child protection, with a clear plan for developing their child protection services;
  • Child abuse investigation staff were knowledgeable, committed and dedicated to providing good outcomes for children;
  • Good relationships with partner agencies and local safeguarding children boards as well as a series of mandatory training packages for officers and staff.

However, inspectors were concerned to find:

  • A weak response to difficult, complex or prolonged child protection cases.
  • Heavy workloads meant child abuse investigation teams were unable to manage their investigations effectively.
  • A general lack of understanding of the extent of child sexual exploitation and inconsistent practice across the force area;
  • Officers did not always understand when to refer child protection issues to other agencies or how to do it, and children were being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight.

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