Significant failings by police and health workers have undermined multi-agency efforts to tackle child sexual exploitation, a report has found.
The joint report by the Care Quality Commission, Ofsted and the probation and police inspectorates, following ‘deep dive’ inspections in five areas, said not all NHS staff had the skills needed to identify potential problems.
It added that even when some health professionals were given the tools and checklists to identify risk they did not always use them.
The report cited one example of a 13-year-old girl being described as having “multiple sexual partners” by a health worker and warned this “inappropriate language” reflected an inability to recognise that the child was being sexually exploited.
The report also said the police service needs to improve its response, with “unacceptable variation” in performance resulting in children waiting too long to get support.
It said police risk assessments of missing children were “inconsistent” and multi-agency child protection procedures were not implemented effectively.
The report also highlighted a failure by police to jointly investigate reports of child sexual exploitation with social services.
It also found wide variations in responses to children and families by professionals across agencies, with engagement hampered by poor quality assessments and planning.
There were also a small number of cases where inappropriate language by professionals about promiscuity and consent could have led a child to believe they were being held responsible for abuse.
The report only highlighted one failing directly involving local authority children’s services.
It said ineffective management in Liverpool City Council’s children’s services led to statutory child protection enquiries not being consistently undertaken by staff or jointly investigated by the police.
The report said senior police and NHS staff must “maintain a grip” on child sexual exploitation.
It added: “Tackling child sexual exploitation is not just an issue for local authorities, and health and the police must ensure a sufficiently senior person leads this work.”
The other areas inspected were Croydon, Central Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire and South Tyneside.