Organised child sexual exploitation (CSE) is widespread across England and local authorities need to ensure they fully investigate concerns when they arise, a report by MPs has concluded.
The communities and local government committee report also questioned Ofsted’s ability to identify problems around CSE through the children’s services inspection process and whether councillors were sufficiently trained to properly challenge senior officers about the extent of safeguarding concerns.
The report was carried out to investigate accountability and governance issues for local government that arose from the Jay Report into CSE in Rotherham, published in August.
The committee said that after reviewing the evidence gathered by the Jay Report and hearing testimony from witnesses, it concluded that Rotherham “was not an outlier, and that there is a widespread problem of organised CSE in England”.
The report adds: “It follows that other authorities not only need to review their own arrangements in the light of the Jay Report but also the government needs to ensure that guidance and benchmarks are in place to ensure these reviews are effective and children are identified and protected.”
It also warned authorities not to hold off carrying out their own investigations into credible allegations or suspicions of organised CSE “because of the consequences of the publication of the Jay Report“.
The Rotherham Council-commissioned Jay Report estimated that between 1997 and 2013, 1,400 children and young people had been subject to organised sexual abuse, and criticised how local agencies handled concerns raised. Following publication, an independent child protection commissioner was appointed in Rotherham, an inspection of the council headed by troubled families tsarLouise Casey was launched, and the director of children’s services Joyce Thacker resigned.
Despite Thacker’s departure, the committee said the lack of action over a long timeframe meant others who previously held children’s services responsibilities but have since moved to other authorities or retired “have serious questions to answer for their conduct”.
Rotherham Council is undertaking an independent review of practice and staffing issues raised by the Jay Report. Where issues arise relating to staff no longer at the authority, the review will consider whether these should be referred to the person’s new employer and the appropriate professional bodies.
“It is our intention to review the outcome of this process,” the report adds.
The MPs said the Jay Report raised “serious questions” about the performance of Ofsted after it judged Rotherham children’s services to be “adequate” in 2012. It said it will be calling Ofsted to give evidence on its scrutiny of children’s services in Rotherham.
In addition, it criticises the failure of internal reports on the CSE risks in Rotherham to clarify the scale of the problem. It also says these should have been challenged by councillors as concerns had arisen over a number of years about CSE in the town.
“The quality of the reports from senior officers and the apparent lack of challenge by councillors raises a serious question about the adequacy of skills and training of executive councillors,” it adds.