The starting point in understanding what happened in Rotherham is to accept that the cross-agency systems in place to protect children and young people there failed.
For those so awfully abused, that is a minimum first step to regaining their faith and confidence. There can be no ifs or buts about this.
Initiating a series of disconnected and overlapping inquiries by various bodies and agencies is not the best start in responding either; there are at least four under way and others are planned. A response that simply seeks to out a small number of ‘guilty’ people then publicly and ritually condemn them is wholly inadequate. It will not help us to begin to fully understand (or get to grips with) the challenging and deep-seated organisational and cultural issues that must be urgently addressed.
We need a co-ordinated and timely analysis of what is and is not working in Rotherham and nationally too.
In ADCS we believe:
1. Central government should arrange the timely collation of all the data and intelligence agencies hold to provide a national picture of how deep rooted the sexual abuse of children and young people is and the many forms it takes, from organised trafficking to peer-on-peer abuse.
2. Local authorities should take the lead in identifying effective practice, supported by Ofsted’s thematic inspections of child sexual exploitation (CSE), to provide national guidance for all public bodies and agencies to follow. In London, for example, local authorities are working with the police and the London Safeguarding Board to do just that.
3. The Department for Education should conduct an urgent national review of local safeguarding children boards. Their role, purpose and function lacks clarity, creates confusion and does not command the full buy-in of all the statutory partners consistently enough - from local authorities, schools, GPs and other health services to the police. The evidence of failing local areas shows clearly in each case that the safeguarding board was not effective. This is an urgent piece of work and it must happen immediately so meaningful reforms can be brought about as soon as possible.
4. We need to think again about how we work together as public agencies to prevent and disrupt attempts to abuse children and young people by looking across the range from preventative interventions to post-event support. We need to learn from victims how we could have done more to offer help earlier and aid recovery.
5. We need to have a national strategy for dealing with perpetrators, particularly in prison. This area is woefully neglected and children and young people will continue to suffer the consequences of this.
6. A national campaign is needed to deal with the deep issue of male culture and attitudes towards women, the casual acceptance of degrading and over-sexualised representations of children and young people, and the insidious and pervasive impact of social and other media in facilitating and normalising the cheapening of sex. This needs to be promoted publicly, in the way we have campaigned against AIDS, racism and homophobia in the past.
This approach may not answer all of the issues, but it is an attempt to respond seriously to the growing and damaging abuse of children and young people in our society rather than await the outcome of a series of pre-election inquiries.
Alan Wood is president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services
Only coordinated analysis will reveal child protection flaws