Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMIC and HMIP jointly inspect South Tyneside MBC with a ‘deep-dive’ focus on Child Sexual Exploitation, writes Clare Jerrom.
Social workers in South Tyneside Council are spending too much time gathering information about children because the quality of contacts with partner agencies varies with the risks not always being identified, an inspection has found.
Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and HMI Probation undertook the first joint inspection of the multi-agency response to abuse and neglect in South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough in February. The inspection included a ‘deep dive’ focus on the response to Child Sexual Exploitation and those missing from home, care or education to address government and public concern about CSE.
The report highlights that the majority of contacts from partner agencies are timely, however, the quality is variable and, in too many cases, risk and need are not adequately identified. The report said that this was seen to be an issue across agencies, including health, police and schools. As a result, too much social work time is spent in gathering key information to inform judgements about the appropriate level of service response.
In other areas around identification and managing risk of harm at the ‘front door’, the report highlights 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.
“Parental consent, where this is required, 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 report urges.
New inspection regime
It was announced in January that the four inspectorates would work together on New Joint Targeted Area Inspections of services for vulnerable children and young people from February. The inspections would jointly assess how local authorities, the police, health, probation and youth offending services are working together in an area to identify, support and protect vulnerable children and young people.
The aim was that the new short inspections would allow inspectorates to be more responsive, targeting specific areas of interest and concern. They would also identify areas for improvement and highlight good practice from which others can learn. Each inspection includes a ‘deep dive’ element, with the first set of joint inspections focusing on children at risk of sexual exploitation and those missing from home, school or care.
Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, Eleanor Schooling said: “The responsibility of safeguarding cannot rest with one agency alone. These new inspections will provide a comprehensive picture of how several agencies work together in an area to ensure children are safe. This is an important step forward for inspection.
Effective preventive work
The first inspection of South Tyneside MBC highlights key strengths and areas for improvement.
The report acknowledged a “clear commitment from leaders across the partnership and from the council to improve outcomes for vulnerable children”.
“A ‘whole council’ approach to tackling Child Sexual Exploitation in South Tyneside is developing and this is promoted through the Local Safeguarding Children Board,” said the report. There has been much preventive work done and raising awareness of CSE across local communities and businesses in South Tyneside. This has resulted in increased notifications to the police from the community, in particular from those working in the night-time economy. For example, 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 also in place to engage with young people and local communities to raise awareness, the report found.
Expert in CSE Craig Barlow told Children First back in January that working with the local community to ‘disrupt’ offenders was a good way of preventing Child Sexual Exploitation. He advocated ‘thinking out of the box’ and authorities working with trading standards agencies where, for example, there is an off licence in the area willing to sell alcohol to under-18s. This means the shop is likely to be a breeding ground for groups of inebriated young people who are vulnerable and prime targets for CSE.
“If you work with trading standards and get the off-licence closed down, you may not get a disclosure as a result, but it makes life more difficult for the perpetrator at that time,” explained Barlow.
In the same way, he highlighted that taxi drivers may have information about vulnerable children being transported to inappropriate venues for the purposes of CSE and urged authorities to engage with taxi drivers to tackle the issue.
Mandatory training in CSE
The report said of South Tyneside: “Analysis of the cohort of victims of child sexual exploitation is informing the partnership’s approach to promoting understanding of child sexual exploitation. For example, the inclusion of licensed premises, security staff, social landlords, fast food outlets and hotels in training and awareness raising demonstrates a real understanding of the mechanisms that are used by perpetrators to engage in exploitative behaviour and the ways in which children may be exposed to risk.”
The “comprehensive approach” to raising awareness, along with mandatory CSE training for all frontline staff had resulted in increasing numbers of children being identified as at risk of CSE, rising from 12 in 2014/15 to 38 in 2015/16.
Barlow told Children First that training is key when it comes to tackling CSE. He explained that social workers and other professionals are often under-confident in dealing with cases of CSE, and while there is no mandatory training on CSE, some local authorities have commissioned training on CSE and made it mandatory, while other areas would love to run courses but just don’t have the resources.
“Practitioners don’t have the confidence to do the self-directed element of investigation. Social workers also feel under-confident in relation to risk assessment and risk assessment skills and how to put together a good plan, drilling down to the nature of context of risk. When you provide social workers with training around this, you can see the relief as they learn how to defend their decision making,” said Barlow.
The inspection report also highlighted other key strengths:
- All schools include child sexual exploitation as part of the Personal, Social, Health and Economic curriculum.
- The vast majority of assessments undertaken within the contact and referral team are thorough and capture the voice and experiences of the child.
- 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 from health and social care.
No joint decision-making
The inspection acknowledged that work has been undertaken by the partnership to reduce the high number of contacts to children’s social care, including partner engagement in reviewing the threshold document, the newly established Multi-agency Allocation Team (MAAT) to enhance the take up of early help, and meetings with the police to review the high number of police notifications. While this work is beginning to have an impact, for example a reduction in the number of police notifications passed to children’s social care, “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 referrals”.
Other areas for improvement included:
- While the police has prioritised CSE and undertaken some analysis of the profile of victims, information gathering and profiling is under-developed.
- Child Sexual Exploitation vulnerability checklists are completed on all children identified as at risk of exploitation. However, across the partnership, and in particular in children’s social care, there is an inconsistent approach to completing the child sexual exploitation checklist.
- 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.
- There is no joint agency decision-making between the police, health and children’s social care at the front door, which leads to delays with service provision.
South Tyneside Council will now prepare its response to tackling the areas of improvement highlighted in the first Joint Targeted Area Inspection.
Barlow’s advice to authorities is to tip the traditional way of working with children on its head. Rather than pushing or waiting for a disclosure from the child and working back from that point, Barlow says that professionals need to take the vulnerable child who could be at risk of CSE, look at what information is available on the child and potential perpetrator already, ascertain any additional information needed and put measures in place to try and protect the child and ‘disrupt’ the offender.
“We have got to change towards a bottoms-up approach working with the evidence to identify what you know and don’t know, so you know the information you need and what questions you need to ask and to who. Using your professional skills you need to take what you are seeing and hearing, the historic and current information concerning who is likely to be targeted, who may be the likely perpetrators and where the gaps may exist in relation to a protective network and use this information to put evidence forward to the courts and to make forward judgements for the child in the short, medium and long-term,” he concluded.