Child abuse report blasts failings
The most vulnerable children in society are at risk of sexual exploitation due to unacceptable failings by social services, health workers and police, according to a damning report by the education watchdog.
Ofsted said local authorities have been "too slow" to face up to their responsibilities in preventing child sexual exploitation while those designed to protect young people had failed to share information with others.
Arrangements to tackle sexual exploitation at a local level were described as "underdeveloped", while leadership was criticised as being "frequently lacking".
Debbie Jones, Ofsted's national director for social care, said: "Child sexual exploitation has a devastating effect on children, young people and whole communities.
"It cannot be acceptable that local authorities and their partners are still failing to grasp and deal with it effectively.
"While we have found examples of excellent frontline practice, it is clear that some areas have moved faster, further and more effectively than others.
"Local Safeguarding Children's Board members, in particular, must step up to be the driving force in prevention, making full use of the range of policing and other powers available to them to disrupt child sexual exploitation.
"It is not enough to simply wait for the next scandal to happen. We are calling on all local authorities and their partners to ensure that they have a comprehensive multi-agency strategy and action plan in place to tackle child sexual exploitation."
The investigation comes against a backdrop of allegations, convictions and resignations connected to organised child abuse and exploitation in locations including Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Telford over a sustained period.
Today's report - The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn't happen here, could it? - draws on evidence from eight local authorities and from the views of children and young people, parents, carers, practitioners and managers.
According to the report, senior leaders "must show political and moral courage" in tackling the problem, where victims are often white-British girls and the perpetrators are men of Asian heritage.
"They must never allow misguided fears about offending cultural sensitivities to get in the way of confronting child sexual exploitation wherever it occurs," it adds.
It said that most authorities are "only now starting to get a handle on the extent to which child sexual exploitation is happening in their area".
It added: "Some areas have not made use of the full range of powers available to them to disrupt and prosecute perpetrators.
"In areas where there have been high-profile criminal investigations, the experience has galvanised the local authorities and their partners into trying to ensure that past failings are never repeated. Such resolution was not apparent in other local authorities."
NSPCC spokesman Jon Brown said: "The warning lights have been flashing for some time now with regard to child sexual exploitation, so it is worrying that some local authorities are lagging behind in the fight against this despicable crime.
"Although some areas have responded well, there is still a long way to go. As both this report and the Communities and Local Government Committee report released yesterday show, this is a widespread problem that affects the whole country and should be treated as such."
In August, P rofessor Alexis Jay's report into child exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 detailed ''utterly appalling'' 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''.
She said: ''They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.''
The investigation found girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.
It triggered the immediate resignation of council leader Roger Stone. He was followed by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright and Joyce Thacker, head of children's services at Rotherham Council, while council chief executive Martin Kimber is due to stand down next month.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission last night said it would investigate 10 South Yorkshire police officers over their handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
Today's findings come a day after Ofsted was criticised for its role in the Rotherham abuse scandal.
MPs described organised child abuse as "widespread" and condemned the watchdog for failing to lift the lid on the South Yorkshire council's inability to tackle the exploitation of children.
The report warned Ofsted faces serious questions about its ineffective regime and said it will now be called to give evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee .
The spotlight first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
Umar Razaq, 24, Razwan Razaq, 30, Zafran Ramzan, 21, Adil Hussain, 20, and Mohsin Khan, 21, were found guilty at Sheffield Crown Court of a string of sexually-related offences against girls aged between 12 and 16, including rape.
Their sentences totalled more than 32 years.
Nine Asian men who groomed white girls as young as 13 in Rochdale with drink and drugs were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court in May 2012.
Judge Gerald Clifton told the defendants one of the reasons they targeted their victims was because they were not part of their community or religion.
Later that year, documents emerged which allegedly showed agencies in Rotherham were aware of allegations of widespread targeted abuse of teenage girls in the town by groups of Asian men.
In June 2013, members of a sadistic paedophile ring in Oxford were jailed at the Old Bailey.
Brothers Akhtar Dogar, 32, and Anjum Dogar, 31, and Mohammed Karrar, 38, and Bassam Karrar, 34, were handed life terms alongside Kamar Jamil, 27, while two others, Zeeshan Ahmed, 28, and Assad Hussain, 32, were both jailed for seven years.
David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said the report made for "uncomfortable reading".
He said: "Councils across the country will now be reflecting on its implications and asking questions of their staff to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect each and every child.
"The exploitation of children for sexual or any other abuse has no place in society. There are lessons in this report for every community and we must all work together to stamp out this awful crime."
Sir Tony Hawkhead, of charity Action for Children, described the report as "distressing".
He said: "The tragedy is that so many cases could be avoided, if the right support had been in place at an early stage, anticipating the dangers."
Anne Longfield, 4Children chief executive, said child sexual exploitation "shatters lives", adding: "But perhaps the most shocking fact is that the scale and extent of it across the UK remains unknown. It is clear that the agencies which are supposed to keep children safe are still too often failing to protect them."
She said the charity reaffirms its previous call for a time limited inquiry, led by the Prime Minister, into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and elsewhere, "recognising the scale and importance of the issue".
Ms Longfield said we need "a clear responsibility on all agencies, including Ofsted, to work together, share information and listen to children", a dding: "In light of the systemic failures in Rotherham there is a clear need for a more rigorous Ofsted inspection regime to ensure that child sexual exploitation never again remains unnoticed."