Children in Bucks have been failed by the county council and other agencies when it comes to being kept safe from sexual abuse - a safeguarding report has found.
Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board released a serious case review this week after a series of failures from Buckinghamshire County Council to keep children in their care safe from abuse.
The report catalogs instances of child sexual exploitation across Buckinghamshire stretching back to 1998 and begins with a poem written by a local girl who committed suicide after suffering at the hand of abusers.
It reads: “I can’t wait until the day this all ends. Is there something I can’t see? Because it seems everyone’s happy apart from me. I feel like life’s a waste of time. I can’t wait until it is the end of me.”
The review has found that stronger engagement around exploitation is needed with all local communities in Buckinghamshire and has recommended that a strategy is developed to achieve this, including engagement with perpetrators and their families.
It states that information sharing needs to be improved to ensure that anyone working with children knows when and how to report any concerns they have around child sexual exploitation.
This will help ensure those who are at risk of, or who have been victims of, sexual exploitation receive support as early as possible.
Since 1998, there have been over ten Thames Valley Police operations across the county involving up to 100 children and young people. But many believe that this figure is the tip of the iceberg.
In 2015 an Old Bailey Court heard how two young girls from Aylesbury were failed by the council when a number of opportunities to stop the abuse they were suffering were missed.
Six men were subsequently convicted of crimes against one or both of the girls.
Because of the large number of cases across Buckinghamshire, the Local Safeguarding Children Board asked for evidence to verify that the appropriate processes, interventions and expertise are now in place within the local area to ensure that young people are getting the appropriate care.
One issue in a number of CSE cases was taxi services and the report said drivers “picked young people up from schools and children’s homes and some were directly involved in the abuse of the young people”.
One section of the report entitled ‘The voice of those affected’ is split into personal experiences of those who suffered at the hands of abusers. It makes for poignant reading.
One victim - named in the report as ‘Esme’ said: “Dad started to gte stricter and said I couldn’t go out.
“My boyfriend was saying he’d kill himself if I didn’t go out. I thought if I wasn’t here anymore it would all stop. Whoever found me me by the bus stop called the ambulance.
“I had walked as far away as I could after taking the tablets, hoping that no one would find me but I was found.
“When the ambulance came, I told them that I’d taken too many tablets; they said I was silly and took me to hospital. Then I said nothing. I was trying to tell them something. I took two boxes of paracetomol for a headache. Surely they should have asked about that?”
In the case of one girl ‘Ashleigh’ her school referred her to Children’s Social Care, but having interviewed her mother, they decided that the house was clean and safe so took no further action.
She was seen by a social worker at school who who told her to ‘stay in school, get educated and behave.’ Then a friend reported what was happening to ‘Ashleigh’ to the police and they said there was not enough evidence so they took no further action. She was referred to a councillor but the councillor’s reaction to what ‘Ashleigh’ was telling them (upset and shock) made her feel ashamed and unable to continue with sessions.
Following their review, the BSCB has made 14 recommendations for areas which can be strengthened, including developing a broader awareness of CSE, more effective information-sharing and the introduction of a national database of all licensed drivers.
The report reads: “The experiences of young people and their families show unmistakably that in the past agencies were not equipped to provide adequate advice, information or support to young people and their families.
“Some young people’s experience of services was shockingly inadequate.
“Some asked for help and were not heard whilst others were not believed.”
There are however, some positives to come of the report and there is strong evidence of improvement.
Fran Gosling-Thomas, Chair of Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board, welcomed the publication of the report.
She said: “The board proactively commissioned this review because we wanted to confirm that the right processes are in place in Buckinghamshire to tackle CSE in all its forms, and to understand what areas of work need to be looked at more closely.”
“We know that in the past agencies were not providing the help and support that young people needed, and we now know that this shortfall in support also existed within other local authorities.
“The review has identified some areas of work where we can improve and we have formulated a detailed action plan to ensure the learning from the review is followed through.
“Crucially though, the review shows that work carried out in Buckinghamshire to combat exploitation now is effective and multi-agency working has really embedded in the last three years.”
Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board has now developed “long-overdue” a strategy for tackling child sexual exploitation.
Helen Fortgang, of Barnardo’s R U Safe, said CSE has detrimental effects on victims and their families.
“The impact can be really long-lasting. If this is a young person’s first experience with a relationship, that could become their benchmark for future relationships.
“It can affect their relationships in the future, their family and friends, they may be challenging – which is only them working through something they’re not comfortable with.
“It’s broken whole families apart because of parents not understanding the pressure and fear their child is feeling.”
David Johnston, Director of Children’s Services at the County Council who is due to retire this month, said:
“It’s important to remember that some children find it very difficult to speak about their experiences or their feelings because they might be ashamed, they might be afraid.
“That poem is a really powerful indication of the depth and feeling that that young person had.”
A section of the report is dedicated to highlighting the previous failings of the institution, such as:
Gaps in the ‘missing children and young people strategy, Inadequate ‘return interviews’ for children and young people who had gone missing. A lack of any co-ordination of information between agencies, and no multi-agency oversight of the work by the Area Child Protection Committee.
Detective Chief Inspector Kelly Glister, of Thames Valley Police, said:
“I hope that it would give confidence to victims, young people or adults, now to come forward.
“I think if people read and see the good results of previous operations that they would feel confident to come forward.”
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Worrying gaps in the provision of services in Buckinghamshire have been improved over time and this review highlights the positive change that has been made.
“It is clear that some vulnerable young victims of child sexual exploitation have been let down by inadequate services in the past and it’s now crucial that each of this review’s recommendations are swiftly adopted.
“Child sexual exploitation is all too often a hidden crime and, increasingly, young people are being groomed by abusers on the internet, so parents and carers need to be vigilant about the relationships their child is forming on and offline.
“We all have a duty to look out for a child’s welfare and adults with concerns can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 500 1111.”
Child sexual exploitation is defined as: “Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18, involves exploitattice situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g food accomadation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them sexual activities.”
If you are concerned for the welfare of a child or young person in Buckinghamshire go to www.barnardos.org.uk/rusafebucks.htm or call 01494 461112
For transparency, a copy of the report is avaliable here: http://www.bucks-lscb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Serious_Case_Reviews/CSE-Serious-Case-R