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Prevention of child sexual exploitation needs higher priority: Ofsted

Problem not understood by many local authorities

Local authorities have been too slow to face up to their responsibilities to prevent child sexual exploitation, according to a new Ofsted report.

Published as Birmingham City Council obtained civil injunctions against suspected exploiters of young girls, in this, the first ever in-depth survey into how local authorities are dealing with the sexual exploitation of children, Ofsted finds that the risk of exploitation is still not well understood in many areas.

The report The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn't happen here, could it? was commissioned by Ofsted's Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to build a clearer picture of how well local authorities and partners are working to prevent child sexual exploitation in their area, to offer protection to its victims, and to pursue and prosecute its abusers.

The report includes the views of more than 150 young people, inspection evidence and case examination from eight local authorities, 36 children's homes inspections, and evidence from Ofsted's wider body of published inspection reports. Inspectors also spoke to over 200 professionals including elected members, Local Safeguarding Children's Board (LSCB) members, plus local authority and partner agency staff.

Inspectors found that local arrangements to tackle sexual exploitation are oftenThe Children's Society underdeveloped, and leadership frequently lacking. Some areas have only begun to address the issue strategically within the last 12 months, despite statutory guidance being issued more than five years ago.

Responding to Ofsted's report, Lily Caprani, Director of Strategy and Policy at , said:

'Ofsted's findings are alarming. There is no excuse that, in the wake of Rotherham, the authorities are still failing to take the action needed to keep children safe.

'It is unacceptable that anybody involved in protecting children's welfare — councils, local safeguarding children's boards, police, social services or other professionals — is still failing to do everything possible to protect vulnerable children from abuse.

'It is critical that everyone involved in child protection works together effectively to make sure children are safe from the perpetrators of these brutal crimes. As the report shows, the government needs to collect data nationally to expose the true scale of abuse and the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions. It is also vital that councils improve how they identify children at risk, including recognising the link between a child going missing and being abused.

'Tackling child abuse must be a top priority at every level. Ofsted must make sure it is tough enough in how it directs local councils to do their job in protecting children. Children must to be listened to, given the support they need to recover and be directly involved in how to fight this horrific crime.'

The report is here.