Force ordered over child protection
A police force has been told it needs to improve child protection practices after a report found it had not resolved problems highlighted in earlier reviews.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that West Yorkshire Police had inconsistencies across the force area, particularly in its approach towards child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases.
But the force was praised for its commitment to improving child protection services to provide the best outcomes for children.
The inspection, carried out in August, is part of a rolling programme of child protection inspections of all police forces in England and Wales.
Inspectors in West Yorkshire were concerned to find weak responses and delays in investigations in difficult, complex or prolonged cases; poor recording on police systems; children being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight; and a lack of a force-wide understanding of the demand generated by child protection issues.
The report found the standard of CSE investigations was mixed.
Out of 15 CSE cases examined, inspectors found nine to be inadequate, including a case involving a 15-year-old girl who told her teacher she had been coerced into sending indecent photographs of herself to older men and felt pressurised to meet them in a hotel.
The investigation found that delays, including two months for a discussion to take place and three months to submit her mobile phone for analysis, meant that the girl, or other children, was not sufficiently protected from the men.
The report added: "Overall, inspectors were concerned about the standard of the CSE investigations they examined, particularly as all police districts had specialist CSE teams."
The report recommends that West Yorkshire Police immediately carries out a review, with children's social care services and other agencies, to ensure police are fulfilling their child protection responsibilities.
The inspection also recommends that the force improves highlighted issues within three months.
The report said: "HMIC is concerned that some of the findings from this child protection inspection - for example, poor recording of information and attendance at initial child protection case conferences - are areas that have previously been identified through serious case reviews as requiring improvement.
"Many of the problems remain and the force needs to demonstrate that it has learned from, and acted upon, failures to protect children."
It added: "We recommend that, within six months, West Yorkshire Police develops a force-wide good practice regime that builds on these recommendations and improves its response to child protection issues, so that no child receives a poor service by reason of the place where they live."
The inspection found examples of good practice across the force, including a clear commitment to improving child protection services; knowledgeable and committed staff who are dedicated to providing the best outcomes for the child; officers who responded quickly to clear and specific concerns about the immediate safety of children; and good relationships with partner agencies and local safeguarding children boards.
Mike Cunningham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: "West Yorkshire Police is clearly committed to improving child protection services and its staff are dedicated and knowledgeable individuals, working to provide the best outcomes for the children of West Yorkshire.
"However there is more work to be done, particularly on the more difficult cases, to ensure that delays are reduced wherever possible and that instances of children being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight are tackled.
"I encourage West Yorkshire Police to act on our recommendations as a matter of urgency, and have asked that within six weeks it provides us with an action plan to demonstrate how it will take forward these recommendations."