I submitted this letter last weekend, before a number of arrests were made in Aylesbury, Buckingham and nearby. I mention this fact as the germane content of the letter is coincidental with emerging events locally (Eight men charged with child sexual exploitation)
Nobody will have failed to have been horrified by the stories of child sexual exploitation (CSE) emerging from Rotherham. Last week you reported that Cllr Angela McPherson, the Bucks County Council Cabinet member for children’s services, said that “No council can ever say …that everything is watertight but we are really confident that we have robust [CSE] procedures in place”. I would like to debate this assertion a little and ask the councillor some questions.
Reference Keith Levett’s letter last week, I have spent some more ‘inordinate amount of effort’ reading through the latest Rotherham report in order to extract any learning points that we might usefully apply to our own County. (You can follow my live tweeting of my reading of the report by following #LTRR)
(And just for the record: Mr Levett & I clearly agree on the need to hold the top level political leadership to account for failings in care of vulnerable children. That is what my ‘tedious’ letter was trying to say!)
But to return to CSE, here are some significant findings from the Rotherham report that I think need to be taken on considered in the context of our County.
The Rotherham report highlights the work of a youth worker based service called ‘Risky Business’ which successfully built trusting relationships with some very damaged and scared young women & girls. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that without this voluntary organisation (funded by the public purse), many of the horrific crimes in Rotherham would have gone unnoticed and unreported. Question number one to Cllr McPherson is: does the County Council fund outreach youth work sufficiently to enable intimidated young women to speak up, many of whom distrust the standard statutory services?
There is much evidence to suggest that there has been significant under reporting of CSE, particularly from the British-Asian communities in Rotherham. Asian girls, fearing personal and family stigma appear to be much less inclined to come forward with their concerns. The report challenges Rotherham not just to speak with the elder males of the local Asian communities but also younger women and girls. Question number two: does the County Council have excellent channels of communication with all members of the local Asian communities, not just a few older men?
I would also argue that the inquiry into Rotherham exposed a focus on massaging the figures to present a positive appearance that everything was OK. This was often done to the detriment of a real & honest focus on the people at risk. There are several instances of where senior managers and politicians were found to be in denial of the evidence that was being presented to them by frontline staff. Question number three: how confident is the Cabinet member that she is privy to the unvarnished experience and concerns of frontline social workers, youth workers and teachers?
Many of the victims of CSE in Rotherham were girls being looked after by the Council. (This was, I believe, a feature of the crimes that were committed down the road in Oxford as well.) It seems that being ‘in care’ in fact led to some of the girls being at greater risk from harm. This risk was multiplied when the girls were placed out of the area away from their wider family & social networks, leaving them vulnerable to the attentions of attentive, but predatory, older men. Buckinghamshire has a high proportion of looked after children being placed out of county. Question number four: what plans and arrangements are in place to bring more looked after children back to the county and provide adequate support to all looked-after children to help ensure that they are not at risk?
There is much more, but I would not wish this letter to go on too much either, no matter how important is the subject. I would end with a quote from the report:
“The combined effect of changes to local authority funding in England has been a dramatic reduction in resources available to Rotherham and neighbouring Councils. By 2016, Rotherham will have lost 33% of its spending power in real terms compared to 2010/11. The comparison for the whole of England is a reduction of 20%, and for a Council like Buckinghamshire, only 4.5% reduction.”
Be thankful that you live in Bucks and not Rotherham which (perhaps you can deduce why…) appears to be subject to cuts seven times worse that what is happening to this county.