“Shockingly inadequate” attempts to tackle child sexual abuse across Buckinghamshire have been revealed in a damning report which has highlighted significant failings – including ignoring pleas for help from vulnerable young victims.
A serious case review into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the county between 1998 and 2016 was carried out by the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB), with victims, survivors and families, as well as agencies, speaking about their experiences.
The independent review found that in the past, agencies were “not equipped” to provide “adequate” advice, information or support to young people and their families, while issues around the lack of help for ethnic minorities and concerns around taxi drivers have also been highlighted.
The report went on to say that some young people who asked for help were “not heard”, and others were not believed, while some described being abused in care.
Speaking at a press conference at Bucks County Council this week, BSCB chairman Fran Gosling-Thomas said that in the past, the focus had been on “wayward” children and on their behaviour, rather than on perpetrators and the process of grooming.
She said: “The focus was very much on the young people being the problem, rather than actually a recognition of the fact that child sexual exploitation can be far more invidious and organised than hitherto thought.
“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.”
According to the report, since 1998, around 100 children and young people have been identified as victims during more than 10 police operations across the county, of which seven took place after 2012.
The report also found that there were “tensions” between police and communities, with people saying they felt that victims from ethnic minority groups were not taken “as seriously” as white victims, and this deterred them from coming forward to report the crime.
DCI Kelly Glister, of Thames Valley Police’s PVP investigation Bucks team, said that she wanted all victims, regardless of ethnicity, have the “confidence” to report CSE to authorities.
She said: “I can only emphasise that any victim that did come forward would be listened to.
“It is very difficult with hard to reach communities because trying to breed that trust and confidence in them to come forward in the first place – I don’t know why there is a barrier there.
“We work very, very hard within community hubs, centres and youth groups to start to build a relationship with our neighbourhood teams and break down those barriers.”
The report said issues around taxi drivers have been highlighted in a number of child sexual exploitation cases, saying it was “clear” that some taxi drivers who picked up children from schools and children’s homes were “directly involved” in the abuse of the young people.
It insisted, however, that licensing teams in Bucks were now “much more aware” of CSE and have worked to address some of the concerns they have identified.
Ms Gosling-Thomas added: “I would like to thank the young people and adults who talked with us for this review so that their voices could be heard, and I commend their courage and bravery in re-living the distressing experiences of the past.
“The board and its partners will do everything in their power to prevent exploitation in all its forms and protect all children and young people in Buckinghamshire, both now and into the future.”
The full report can be seen at www.bucks-lscb.org.uk/serious-case-review/serious-case-review-into-child-sexual-exploitation-in-buckinghamshire-1998-2016/.
If you are concerned about a young person you should contact the First Response team (children’s social care) on 0845 460 0001 or email: email@example.com.
If you think a child or young person is in immediate danger call 999. Alternatively contact your local police on 101 who will have a dedicated team you can talk to about child sexual exploitation.
Buckinghamshire also has a countywide R-U-Safe? service for young people run by Barnardo’s, which is able to offer advice and support to any young person worried about these issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, text 07546 075 638 or visit www.barnardos.org.uk/rusafebucks.
ChildLine also offers support directly to children and young people – contact them on 0800 11 11 or visit their website www.childline.org.uk.