Children in London are being placed at risk because of “fundamental deficiencies” in the way that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) understands and responds to child abuse and sexual exploitation, it has emerged.
The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that none of the borough or specialist teams assessed in the 2016 inspection of child protection services in the MPS was doing a good enough job in protecting children.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr said: “We met many officers and staff in the Met who are dedicated men and women, working hard to prevent children from coming to harm. But we found serious errors of judgment, inconsistency, unacceptable delays and a lack of leadership which meant that children are not being protected properly.
HMIC found that the way borough or specialist teams handled the cases in almost three-quarters of files (278 of the 374 cases) examined by HMIC was found to require improvement or be inadequate. Thirty eight cases had to be referred back to the force, because they represented a continued risk to a child or children.
Inspectors were “extremely concerned” to find that there was no overall strategic lead for child protection at executive level, meaning there is no individual responsible for the child protection work carried out by both the specialist and the borough teams.
The force does not use any sophisticated MPS-wide police and partnership data analysis of child abuse and other related offences and different teams and areas were carrying out their own analyses of demand and trends. Frontline officers were frequently unaware of any analysis undertaken in their boroughs.
The problem was exacerbated by a lack of connection between the MPS IT systems, databases and spreadsheets used to record such analyses and as a result, much of the information on victims, offenders and risk is kept in isolated pockets across the force. This contrasts sharply with the free movement of people (both victims and offenders) around the capital, inspectors warned.
Principal areas of concern HMIC inspectors identified included:
- In 38 cases of missing and absent children, 36 cases were judged as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. Officers and staff need to understand the link between children who regularly go missing and sexual exploitation.
- Of the 38 cases referred back to the Met because they placed a child or children at continued risk, the force had itself assessed one as ‘requires improvement’ and three as ‘inadequate’ and yet had taken no action.
- Of 40 custody cases, 39 resulted in the child being kept in custody, despite the stipulations of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
- HMIC was told that there was a greater focus on reducing crimes identified as priorities by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), such as burglary and vehicle theft, than on child protection.
- Officers and staff often do not properly assess or speak to children at significant risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), meaning these children continue to be at risk of abuse.
- Officers were often unaware of registered sex offenders in their area and there were backlogs in visits to some registered sex offenders, including those who pose a very high risk to children.
- Information on child abuse victims, offenders and risks is too often kept in isolated IT systems across the force and so shared properly neither with partners such as local authorities nor even with fellow officers working in the next borough.
- Some staff in important roles, such as borough CSE officers, have limited awareness and had received no training in CSE.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, said: “Of course, child protection is not the sole preserve of the police, but we found inexcusably poor practice at every stage of a child’s interaction with the police and across the parts of the force we inspected.
“It cannot be sensible that information is held in a fragmentary way across a variety of systems within one force. An offender or a child can pass easily across boroughs and cases often transcend borough boundaries; but the Met’s current set-up means that the police’s knowledge of the risks facing a particular child, or of the nature and extent of child abuse across London, is too often inconsistent and ineffective.
“The Met is a large and complex force but, nevertheless, the importance of the police getting this right and protecting children cannot be overstated,” he added.
HMIC has made a number of recommendations to the MPS, some of which should be implemented immediately and others over the next three to six months.
- The MPS should put in place arrangements which ensure that it has clear governance structures in place to monitor child protection practices, across both borough teams and specialist units.
- The MPS should put in place an action plan to ensure it improves practice in cases of children who go missing from home.
- The MPS should demonstrate the use of a performance framework.
- In conjunction with children’s social care services and other relevant agencies, the MPS should review how it manages the detention of children.
- The MPS should conduct a skills audit.
HMIC will return to the MPS next year to determine whether improvements in the leadership, practice and training of officers and staff have resulted in better protection for children.