Somerset County Council is highlighting improvements to the way Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is tackled following the publication of a report today.
The Serious Case Review report has been published by the Somerset Safeguarding Children Board (SSCB). It follows an investigation into offences that took place between 2010 and 2014, resulting in the conviction of two men for sexual offences against six victims aged between 14 and 15 and a seventh victim aged 18.
The council welcomes the report which has lessons learned for all agencies and hope it will raise public awareness of this form of child abuse. CSE is a type of sexual abuse. It is when someone takes advantage of anyone under the age of 18 sexually, for their own or other people’s benefit or enjoyment. This frequently involves using threats, bribes, violence, humiliation, or emotional blackmail.
Since the time of the offences, considerable work has been undertaken to improve the way that all organisations work to identify and respond to incidents of CSE.
Within the County Council this has been part of the wider improvements within Children’s Social Care which have included a 20 per cent increase in social work workforce leading to reduced caseloads, a permanent leadership team, improved practice, more management capacity and supervision, and better processes for responding quickly when a child goes missing from care.
Frances Nicholson, Cabinet member for Children and Families at Somerset County Council, said: “I’d like to thank the young victims involved for their bravery in stepping forward to speak out about what has happened to them. If not for them these crimes may have gone unnoticed for some time.
“This report makes very difficult reading and will bring home the uncomfortable truth that this form of child abuse – like all other forms – takes place everywhere, including Somerset.
“It is clear that all the agencies had lessons to learn and that the system as a whole did not respond well enough to protect and support these young people. The report covers a period several years ago and this issue is now much better understood and considerable improvements have been made in the way agencies respond together.
“No-one can rule out CSE happening in this county, but we can say that the system is much better placed to prevent it where possible and respond to it quickly and effectively when it is identified”.
The response to CSE in Somerset is coordinated by the SSCB, which is made up of representatives from all the organisations involved in safeguarding children, including the police, children’s services and health.
Improvements have been made by all agencies, those relating to the Council’s Children’s Services include:
- A new regional CSE support services was launched in October, jointly commissioned with the Avon & Somerset Police & Crime Commissioner
- CSE training from Barnardos has been made available to all professionals – more than 1,000 staff (including social workers and school staff) have completed it face-to-face and a further 500 online
- Around 170 professionals attended two conferences on the subject.
- School safeguarding leads are provided with guidance and best practice around CSE
- All educations advisors are asked to have an identified CSE and collect data on what safeguarding training has been carried out, including around CSE, which is monitored in an annual audit
- Schools have been helped to develop their PSHE and healthy relationships education, with a specific CSE programme available to all secondary schools
Cllr Nicholson added: “Everyone can play a role in tackling CSE and I would encourage everyone to find out more about the issue and what to do if they have any concerns”.
Improvement work in the County Council’s children’s services has been supported by Essex County Council and involved regular monitoring visits from Ofsted. The visits have confirmed that progress is being made and in January the Minister of state referred to ‘significant’ and ‘tangible’ improvements.
If you know or suspect a child is in immediate danger, you should dial 999 straight away. If you suspect a child might be at risk or you need some advice about CSE, you can telephone Children’s Social Care 0300 123 2224.
The full Serious Case Review report can be found on the SSCB website www.sscb.safeguardingsomerset.org.uk/working-with-children/serious-case-reviews