Everyone’s Business: Scrutiny Review of Multi-Agency Working Against Child Sexual Exploitation
Report of Telford & Wrekin Council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee
Child Sexual Exploitation is certainly not a new phenomenon. Over recent years, however, there has been a significant shift in the level of professional understanding of this so called ‘hidden’ crime. The Barnardo’s report “Puppet on a string: the urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation” published in January 2011 emphasised that this appalling form of child abuse is more prevalent than most people could ever imagine. A series of high profile investigations and criminal trials in Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby and Oxfordshire also hit the national headlines, bringing this atrocious form of abuse out of the shadows and into the public consciousness.
Professor Alexis Jay’s 2014 report into the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham was particularly damning. The catalogue of abuse and abject failings across agencies which she exposed was shocking and these criticisms still reverberate across the sphere of child protection work. The report by Louise Casey, BE following her Independent Inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Ann Coffey MP’s report into the extent of abuse in Greater Manchester followed. These reports added further criticisms of the child protection system and made recommendations for the government, local authorities and other agencies to consider and learn from.
However, before the Rotherham, Rochdale, and Oxfordshire cases hit the headlines, there was a significant investigation in Telford about the exploitation and trafficking of young girls. This local investigation began when youth workers became concerned about the activities of young girls with older men and the lack of information which the young girls would share. These concerns resulted in the development of a project to work with any young person who professionals had concerns about relating to the potential for what is now recognised as CSE. This became known as the CATE Project (Children at Abused Through Exploitation). Over a period of time, CATE practitioners worked with a number of young girls to gradually win their trust and passed on any child protection information to the Police and Social Care. The joint working between the West Mercia Police and the local authority culminated in Operation Chalice which led to the successful prosecution of nine men in 2012. After an eight week trial, 7 men were jailed for a total of 49 years.
The Council’s Director for Children and Family Services and the Senior Investigating Officer issued statements in response to the trial. The case was also the subject of a hard-hitting Channel 4 documentary, “The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Gangs”.Our Review has to a large extent focused on the local learning of these CSE experiences and the subsequent creation of a robust and active framework of strategic and operational management developed through a partnership approach with all relevant agencies, co-ordinated by the Local Safeguarding Children Board. However, we have also considered how the local approach has incorporated national lessons learnt and adopted recommendations made by national bodies where appropriate.