Inspectorates inspect multi-agency response to CSE and missing children at South Tyneside
Too much social work time is spent gathering key information about children at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation due to the quality of referrals from partner agencies, an inspection has found.
The first joint inspection of the multi-agency response to abuse and neglect in South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation and Constabulary highlighted that while the majority of contacts from partner agencies are timely, the quality is variable
“This was seen to be an issue across agencies, including health, police and schools,” said the report. “This means that too much social work time is spent in gathering key information to inform judgements about the appropriate level of service response.”
The report also highlighted that it is not clearly and consistently recorded that, where parental consent is required for a referral to children’s social care, it has been sought by the agencies making the referral, such as health, schools and voluntary agencies.
In addition, when children are referred for early help, it is not recorded by children’s social care whether parental views and agreement for early help interventions have been provided.
The inspectorates, which carried out a ‘deep dive’ focus on the response to child sexual exploitation and those missing from home, care or education, in the new joint inspections said that where parental consent is required, it needs to be more clearly identified at the point of initial contact by the referring agency and needs to be confirmed by social care if the information is passed on to the Multi-agency Allocation Team.
The inspection identified a number of strengths across the partnership in relation to raising awareness in the community about the risks of child sexual exploitation, leading to increasing identification of those at risk and effective responses to children when risks are first identified.
Increasing numbers of children have been identified as at risk of CSE from 12 in 2014/15 to 38 in 2015/16.
Key strengths identified at South Tyneside included:
- There is a clear commitment from leaders across the partnership and from the council to improve outcomes for vulnerable children.
- Awareness raising in the community meant that 94% of taxi drivers in South Tyneside have undertaken training on child sexual exploitation, and this is now a condition of their receiving a licence. As a result, between 2014 and 2015, there was a 53% increase in calls related to child sexual exploitation from taxi drivers to the police.
- Effective work is in place to engage with young people and local communities to raise awareness.
- The Missing and Sexual Exploitation and Trafficked multi-agency meeting is very effective in ensuring that overarching strategic information is shared.
- There is evidence of police leaders driving a culture of continual improvement to enhance decision making and ensure delivery of appropriate protective responses to victims.
- When young people present at the emergency department of South Tyneside District Hospital with alcohol misuse problems and/or issues of self-harm, there is appropriate support provided through effective partnership working between health, the Matrix team (Young People’s substance misuse service) and children’s social care.
Areas for improvement included:
- There is a lack of effective management oversight within health services to ensure that all health professionals effectively and routinely assess risks to children.
- Further work is needed to ensure that all agencies, including health and schools, understand the pathways for early help referrals and consistently apply appropriate thresholds for referral to reduce the high number of contacts to children’s social care.
- There is no joint agency decision-making between the police, health and children’s social care at the front door, which leads to potential delays in service provision.
- Until January 2016, the police had not distinguished between children missing and those who are absent, therefore all children have been categorised as missing, including those who are late returning home. This means that the partnership has not previously had a coherent list of those children most at risk in order to analyse systematically the needs of children who go missing.
- Response to child sexual exploitation by partners, including children’s social care, the youth justice service, and health is characterised by a reactive approach to risk and need, which means that some young people are not being fully supported to sustain changes and improve outcomes in the longer term.
- There is a lack of clarity amongst social workers and health practitioners about the role of the Missing and Sexual Exploitation and Trafficked (MSET) group and inconsistent practice to ensure that outcomes from the MSET meetings are shared across all agencies.
South Tyneside Council will respond with proposed action following the inspection.