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Abuse inquiry experts facing MPs

Experts involved in the Government's troubled child sexual abuse inquiry will appear before MPs today while councils hold a summit looking at how to protect youngsters.

The inquiry set up by Home Secretary Theresa May has stalled following the resignations of the two people appointed to chair it and uncertainty about how it will be granted extra powers.

Two members of the inquiry panel and the body's expert adviser Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the damning report on sexual exploitation in Rotherham, will appear before the home affairs select committee.

Mrs May revealed in a letter last month that she was considering standing down the panel in favour of a royal commission or a new inquiry on statutory terms.

As well as Prof Jay, the MPs will hear from panel members D rusilla Sharpling and Professor Jenny Pearce as part of their investigation into the inquiry, which is without a chairman following the resignations of Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf after each became entangled in allegations of conflict of interest.

Meanwhile the Local Government Association (LGA) is holding a high-level summit to take stock of issues highlighted over the past few months, review progress in tackling historic weaknesses and determine what further action is required to protect children in future.

The body, which represents councils in England and Wales, claimed that work already being done to tackle child abuse and neglect was being overlooked by official inspections.

Current Ofsted arrangements for the inspection of children's services are too narrow, taking a limited view of council performance and failing to assess the contribution of agencies such as the health service and the police, the LGA said.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Keeping children safe is the most important thing that councils do, but we know we cannot do it alone.

"Protecting children does not fall only to councils, but to the police, health services, schools and local groups. Inspections must reflect this. It is not fair to the children we are working to protect that Ofsted inspections only focus on council children's services, failing to properly assess the essential work done by other organisations.

"Today's local government summit on child sexual exploitation brings together council leaders with police, the NHS and children's charities. We all recognise that it is only by working together to improve the way we protect children in the future that this evil crime can be eradicated and victims given the confidence to come forward.

"We need scrutiny processes to adopt the same approach, so every organisation involved in child protection is examined during an inspection. Councils are committed to this joint work; we need inspection processes to adapt so nothing falls through the cracks."

Speakers at the LGA summit include local government minister Kris Hopkins, deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz and Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on child abuse.

Campaigning MP John Mann criticised the line-up, claiming victims were being excluded from the platform at the LGA "talking shop" in Westminster.

The Bassetlaw Labour MP said: " There has been a shameful lack of support for the survivors of child abuse. I met with a constituent last week for example who was refused support by local mental health services.

"It doesn't appear that a single representative of survivors' groups will actually be speaking at the meeting ... in London and unless they are members of the LGA it will cost them over £345 to even attend."

Responding to Mr Mann's criticism a LGA spokesman said: "Child sexual exploitation is a terrible and complex crime which can ruin the lives of young children and it is vital we can all recognise the signs so we can stamp it out.

"This is a hugely important summit, with representatives from local government, police, charities which support victims, social workers, health figures and central government attending.

"Supporting victims of child sexual exploitation, learning what works in the fight against this terrible crime and preventing more children from becoming victims are at the heart of our work.

"What we need is a concerted effort across government and society as a whole to stand up and take responsibility for child sexual exploitation so we can all work together to stamp out this vile crime and give victims the courage to come forward."

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Ofsted shares the LGA's commitment to protecting children and agrees with the need for an inspection approach that takes into account all of the different services involved.

"At the same time it is important that inspectors with the right knowledge and experience take the lead in their own areas.

"We are working very closely with the Care Quality Commission and the criminal justice inspectorates to evaluate the recent pilot integrated inspections.

"Maximising the collaboration between inspectorates remains at the heart of how we believe we can continue to support improvement in the sector and contribute to sharing the best practice across all the agencies seeking to protect children from sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse and neglect."


From Belfast Telegraph