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Rotherham – the report and responses

The independent review into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, commissioned Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and carried out by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, highlights a variety of historic and serious child protection failings within the authority and other agencies which led to young people not being protected in the past.

The review concluded that at least 1400 children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013. It believes this to be a conservative estimate of the true scale of the problem. The review was unable to assess the numbers of other children who may have been at risk of exploitation, or those who were exploited but not known to any agency.

The review points to serious failings, both within and between all organisations involved. These are mainly attributed to senior managers in child protection services and elected members within the local authority and senior police officers, not to frontline social or youth workers who are acknowledged in the report to have raised repeatedly serious concerns about the nature and extent of child abuse.

In summary, these failings include:

Of the victims the report states:

"In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators."

The report continues:

"Over the first twelve years covered by this Inquiry, the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham.

"... Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and
2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This has led to suggestions of cover up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.

"Seminars for elected members and senior officers in 2004-05 presented the abuse in the most explicit terms. After these events, nobody could say 'we didn't know'. In 2005, the present Council Leader chaired a group to take forward the issues, but there is no record of its meetings or conclusions, apart from one minute."

The report is here.

Rotherham MBC's response
The chief executive of Rotherham MBC, Martin Kimber, has apologised to the young people who were let down by services, and has accepted the report and its recommendations in their entirety. He said:

"The report confirms that our services have improved significantly over the last five years and are stronger today than ever before.  This is important because it allows me to reassure young people and families that should anyone raise concerns we will take them seriously and provide them with the support they need.

"However, that must not overshadow – and certainly does not excuse – the finding that for a significant amount of time the council and its partners could and should have done more to protect young people from what must be one of the most horrific forms of abuse imaginable.

"The report recognises that today we have a well-trained, hard-working and conscientious workforce which is passionate about protecting young people and improving services.

"It is clear that services are stronger and better co-ordinated now than ever before.  They are not perfect, but they are fit for purpose, are significantly improved and continue to improve through close multi-agency working.

"The report contains 15 recommendations [set out in chapter 14 of the report and supplementing recommendations made in earlier reviews and reports], all of which are intended to secure further improvements in our services.  The delivery of these improvements will be swift and effective, and where they require a response from several agencies we will work with our partners.

"In terms of our organisational culture the report indicates that the organisation is different today from that which was perceived for much of the period under review: issues of bullying have been addressed and it no longer shapes the atmosphere in which the Council conducts business."

Children's Commissioner for England
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said:

"The number of identified child victims is largely consistent with the findings of our own national Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups which provided the most accurate and comprehensive figures to date of the scale of this form of abuse. On the basis of evidence available to us, we found that 2,409 children across England were sexually exploited in the 14 months between August 2010 and October 2011. We considered that a further 16,500 children from across England were at high risk of child sexual exploitation during the 12 months from April 2010 to March 2011 because they displayed three of more of the behavioural signs indicating they were so. We said then and continue to do so now, these figures do not paint the full picture of the true scale of exploitation, as they were based on available evidence and many victims are not identified by the agencies responsible for their protection.

"The accounts of sexual exploitation we heard during our inquiry appalled us. We uncovered shocking evidence of the abduction, trafficking and rape of children and young people throughout England.

"The pattern of abuse in Rotherham, where the majority of perpetrators are described as 'Asian' men, is one of the patterns we uncovered during our Inquiry. We also found that focusing on a single pattern of abuse can lead to professionals failing to identify victims and perpetrators of other ethnicities. It is imperative that professionals identify victims by looking for the warning signs linked to child sexual exploitation, and that all of those abusing children are proactively investigated, regardless of their ethnicity. We remain concerned that council staff were unable to raise concerns about the perpetrators in Rotherham.

"We commend the Council for commissioning an independent inquiry, accepting its findings and agreeing to put in place urgent measures to improve responses to the issue at a local level. We would like to emphasise that we do not believe that previous failings to identify and respond to child sexual exploitation are unique to Rotherham - it is vital that local authorities throughout England take note of the lessons learned and ensure that the best possible structures and processes are in place for identifying and protecting children at risk of sexual exploitation."

British Association of Social Workers
The BASW stated:

"The report highlights complex system issues including: children, young people and professionals not being listened to, a lack of financial investment in children's services, inadequate training for professionals, inconsistent findings from inspections, poor data and information systems. There is also a need to address the ethnic dimensions highlighted in the report.

"Child sexual exploitation is an incredibly complex safeguarding issue, the bottom line is that children and young people must be listened to, believed and protected. There will be a need for long term therapeutic help for victims and some social workers are well placed to provide this ongoing support.

"Local Authorities services are being systematically starved of resources and planned privatisation of services makes it hard to see how the society wide nature of this exploitation can be tackled in the future."

The Children's Society
In response to Rotherham Borough Council's report on child abuse, Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, said:

"This report yet again underlines the systemic failings that leave children at risk. We know from our work with hundreds of child victims of abuse and exploitation that far too many are still being let down by the very professionals who are supposed to be protecting them. Children need to be listened to and taken seriously. It is inexcusable that yet again, vulnerable children have been failed.

"Keeping children safe from this horrific abuse is no single body or person's responsibility — we are all responsible. Warning signs need to be taken seriously at the earliest possible stage. There needs to be adequate training for all staff working with children in schools and in the community. It is particularly critical that agencies work together more effectively to protect all children and make sure they are safe from the perpetrators of these brutal crimes.

"Adequate resources must be put in place to protect all children regardless of the challenges caused by strained budgets – you cannot put a price on children's safety.

"Action needs to be taken urgently to make sure the UK has the most robust child protection system in place to support the victims of child abuse and stop this crime from happening in the first place."