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Archive for Rotherham

IICSA CSE Inquiry – Switalskis closing comments

 

On behalf of the charity  PACE UK

‘Parents Against Child Exploitation’

Represented by Switalskis

 

  1. We act for the charity Parents Against Child Exploitation. Gill Gibbons, CEO of PACE,  gave oral evidence before you on Day 10. We also supported the witness CS-A12 who gave oral evidence on Day 2. She was particularly brave to do so.

Salient features of evidence

Paucity & quality of data compared to reported experiences

  1. The gap between the reality of abused children’s experiences in recent years and the bureaucratic response by statutory services is probably vast. We frankly do not know because the data is so poor. It is plagued with poor collection, definitional problems and diversity of approach across the country. If you accepted the overall tenor of the police evidence you would think there was little evidence of organised networks – however defined – in the six regions and even less CSE that is accompanied by serious threats of violence.
  2. This is not the experience of sexually abused children and those having to confront CSEN at the frontline in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford.
  3. It is at the frontline we suggest that further resources need to be concentrated with a particular recognition of the role of:
    1. Parents;
    2. Schools;
    3. Third party non-statutory organisations like the Angelou Centre, Apna Haq and youth centres.
  4. They are the ones best placed to spot CSE early. They are the ones to whom a child is most likely to confide. They are the ones who can cut across cultural difficulties, because they are in the same culture. They are the ones who are best-placed to influence and curb their child’s access to perpetrators fast. They are the ones who are best able to provide key forensic information to the authorities to disrupt the activities of perpetrators.
  5. The State already has great powers to confront Child Sexual Exploitation. They include:
    1. Taking children into care; but too often out of their home area;
    2. Placing them in secure accommodation; but too often it is an unregulated bed-sit;
    3. Detection and prosecution of offenders who have already committed terrible crimes; but the process is brutal for victims.
  6. These are blunt, expensive, impersonal instruments. When exercised, it is already an explicit admission of failure. For children who have already been traumatised, it represents further trauma and, too often, no end to what they have suffered. They may end up separated from their parents, stigmatised, and exposed to further abuse. Children’s homes, we know, are targets for organised perpetrators. You heard from parent CS-A2 about her bruising experiences with the police and social services. PACE’s own report from Nov 2019 shows a slow poor response typical[1] . It reminds us of Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”[2] Far from helping parents, parents were treated like the enemy[3].
  7. If ‘Exchange’ is the key distinguishing feature of CSE[4] then it should be supported parents who are providing that exchange, not abusers, not cold institutions.

Nature of the Problem

Not new

  1. What you have heard differs little, except in its graphic detail, from adult predation on children described by Dickens in Oliver Twist in 1837, before the first national police force. We are so much richer. We have a national police force. We have extensive social services. We think ourselves so much more enlightened. And yet, we heard from CS-A12 her recent experiences:
    1. “I was called a liar, a rebellious, out-of-control, teen and told I was the problem.” Day [2/p.9].
    2. When she was placed in care, it turned out to be just as dangerous as at home. “It has high rape, child abuse, drugs, violence; everything as high as it can be. There was often instances that we witnessed from the care home of violence out on the streets from gang members beating each other up, fighting, throwing each other out of windows, tying a guy to the back of the car and dragging him down the road over drug money, and this is a care home that was specialised in people aged between 12 and 18, all having to witness instances like that”. [Day 2/p.a13]
    3. Staff knew what was happening. One was even suspended for trying to prevent her ‘ending up dead in a ditch’. [Day 2/11] It was happening in plain sight. The police picked her up in the company of her abusers and called her a child prostitute, [Day 2/22]. Staff called the police to arrest her for minor criminal damage even though she was virtually comatose after having her drink spiked [Day 8/31]. “If I ever lashed out or got upset I was either restrained, arrested or prosecuted [Day 2/38].
    4. The only physical contact allowed was physical restraint. Self-harming. Isolated. Unloved. Hardly surprising CS-A12 became increasingly dependent on her abusers [Day 2/18].  Even when she finally came to give evidence against them ‘I had such conflicting feelings because to a certain degree I loved these men…..they were my family…’ [Day 2/20-21].
    5. Pregnant at 15 by a 17 year old in the same care home. Going to dangerous clubs at the same age without checks on her ID. [Day 2/33]. Her own child, when it came, taken away from her. At age 18 a realisation that she “ was 18 years old, going through family court with my daughter, had liver cirrhosis and had nothing to my name, and no-one actually cared about me.” She had to sort out her life, largely on her own.
    6. When finally the police prosecuted her abusers, she had to endure an awful trial experience. From first contact with the police to trial was 5 years. The trial was meant to be 8 weeks. Defence tactics meant it overran. There was delay for another year.

Across the country, scale

  1. That basic story is repeated with cruelly intricate variations across the country. Perhaps 40,000 children where CSE is a notable concern, according to a report in 2016 by Sheffield University [citation required]. Each generation of children must run the CSE gauntlet. It blights the children, their parents and their wider family. “The offending is such that online child sexual abuse and exploitation is recognised by the UK government to be “National threat”, with reports about the volume, severity and complexity of the online threat being made to the National Security Council.”[5]

Plain sight

  1. You will have read John Wedger’s statement[6]. A police officer in the Metropolitan Police for 23 years who specialised in child abuse investigations and retired only 3 years ago. He gave his view:

“…that awareness of child sexual exploitation by the Metropolitan Police and local authorities has always been very high. Partly as much of the abuse is fairly easy to detect (as I demonstrate in relation to Haringey, in my statement), but also because the abuse is frequently and repeatedly reported. At times those reports are made to, or via, social services, but also they are made to the police directly. The sexual exploitation of children in London is therefore very much in plain sight, as far as policing is concerned. The same is true nationally.”[7]

“When [statutory services] become aware that abuse might be taking place, there is an almost institutional unwillingness to adequately investigate. Indeed the pervasive response is ‘not to notice’.

“The reasons for this are obvious: it is deeply uncomfortable to face the issue, it may expose past or present failings in child protection; the victims are often difficult and challenging people to work with who not only fail to see themselves as victims but also reject, often aggressively, offers of help from statutory authorities that they profoundly (and understandably) distrust.”[8]

  1. That chimes very readily with parents reflections collected by PACE in their November 2019 report, “I felt as if the social worker was a puppet of Social Care management who were looking to do as little as possible, save funds and wait it out until my child was an adult and it was no longer their problem.”[9]

Speed & technology

  1. The speed with which a child falls under the coercive control of a sexual predator is alarming. The main reason for that is internet technology. You reported in Internet strand that:

‘99 percent of 12-15 year olds spend 20 ½ hours online per week…..and 83 percent had their own smartphone.’

‘The internet is also used to groom children. Grooming includes building a relationship with a child in order to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. This can include forcing, manipulating or enticing a child to engage in sexual activity, either with themselves or with other children. These acts are then often live streamed and images taken of the footage. The move from establishing online contact with a child to meeting them in person and physically sexually abusing them can happen quickly.’[10]

  1. The importance to the perpetrator of mobile phone technology in particular is evidenced by the number of perpetrators who give children mobile phones[11]. It is good grooming. The child is delighted with a phone; it enables the abuser to continue grooming remotely; and to arrange clandestine meetings. All on a ‘private’ phone.
  2. Such is the speed by which a child moves from innocence to degradation, it does not make sense to talk of risk of harm. Either a child is being abused, or they are not. Once involved in CSE, it is so much harder to get the child back. They are often criminalised, drugged and in thrall to their abusers.
  3. CSEN is an old problem. But it has been super-charged by modern technology.

Dynamic, fast changing

  1. We know that organised networks of child sexual exploiters are difficult to define in ways which are meaningful to both academic analysts and the police. While perpetrators may appear to come from a homogeneous ethnic group in one locality, it will be different in another. The experience of criminal gangs  and CSE in Tower Hamlets, for example, is quite different from the experience of neighbouring Hackney[12]. A single child can experience a multiplicity of different types of exploitation. It is inevitable that where the police adopt one disruption tactic, a new model of exploitation will emerge as perpetrators change their methods.

Importance of parents, schools and third-party

  1. It is with that raw experience of CSE – the speed, the use of modern technology, it’s shape-shifting nature   and  – apparently in plain sight of those charged in law with caring for children, – that we have at times doubted the efficacy of:
    1. Academic debate on the precise definition of CSE and organised networks;
    2. Glossaries of acceptable and unacceptable use of language by professionals that appear to have been unread and unimplemented; in one case the policy document suggests alternative language that entirely removes the important element of drugs in the abuse[13]. There needs to more than just cosmetic changes in the attitude of professionals working with CSE.
    3. Public wrangling between the police and CPS about who is responsible for the low prosecution of reported sex offences;
    4. Aspirational policy documents rendered meaningless because there is no way of measuring outcome because no one has agreed the definitions.
  2. The goal, you might think, is a simple one. Every parent, however troubled, would agree. Their child should not be drugged, raped and beaten by known predators in plain sight of the authorities. That is the essence of the Relational Safeguarding model adopted by PACE, an approach “that assumes that parents and carers want to have the capacity to protect their child, unless there is evidence to the contrary.”[14]
  3. The goal is emphatically not for national institutions to signal their virtue and good intent while achieving little.

Recommendations

  1. We make these suggestions about practical steps to prevent child sexual exploitation by networks.
    1. Parents first.
      1. There needs to be a rolling national campaign of information and advice to parents about CSEN and the resources available to provide support to parents, consistent with the government’s categorization of CSEN as a national security threat.
      2. Those resources should include independent, non-statutory bodies who can liaise with statutory bodies.
      3. We would support the provision in each local authority area of Specialist, independent, family support, similar to the role of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors as currently successfully deployed in Rotherham. If the parent is the true expert about their child, it doesn’t follow that they are experts on navigating complex statutory provision in relation to CSE.
      4. Advice to parents should include:
        1. The particular dangers of unfettered access to mobile phones and the internet.
        2. How to monitor and restrict use of a mobile phone by a child.
        3. Information about the different risks and presentation of CSE against girls and boys and those with a disability.
    2. Mobile phones and internet
      1. We would urge you to revisit the evidence and conclusions you reached in the Internet strand of this investigation.
      2. Consideration if there should be a minimum age for use of mobile phones by children. You recommended the government should require age verification technology for the use of social media platforms. We would ask you to consider if this should be extended to the use of mobile devices. We heard evidence of vulnerability up to the age of 18 and suggest this age restriction should accord with this evidence.
      3. Whether the technology companies could do more to empower parents to monitor their children’s use of mobile phones.
    3. Allocation of resources – prevention is better than cure

We heard extensive evidence of failures to respond quickly to missing person reports and cries for help from parents. We heard evidence of missed opportunities to disrupt perpetrators, all caused by mis-targeting of resources. The current structure of Local authorities looking at the child and family whilst police consider evidence gathering means opportunities for disruption and intense early work with the family are missed. Current resource allocation is failing. A “flying squad” of “CSE busters” with a blend of other organisations such as PACE to simultaneously work with the family and with the powers of the police to disrupt perpetrators early would more effectively prevent children falling into CSEN.

    1. Definition

The national adoption of an agreed definition of CSEN. This should be broad, similar to that proposed in this Inquiry. Whether it is precisely right or wrong is less important than having a definition that can be used to capture and monitor progress.

The law

  1. The case of Poole v CN [2019] UKSC 25 has cast doubt on whether survivors of CSE can take action against local authorities when they are abused resulting from negligent social work. Indeed this legal decision weakens the  obligation on social worker managers to follow guidance. They now know failure doesn’t lead to (expensive) sanction through the courts. This decision needs to be rectified immediately by legislation. IICSA is able to make this recommendation to the government.
  2. All of these proposals, we accept, have cost implications. But they are nothing relative to the costs of harm that will be avoided as a result. The majority of sexually exploited children live at home[15]. That is where it starts. That is the first place to stop it.

WILLIAM CHAPMAN

DAVID GREENWOOD

29 OCTOBER 2020

 

 

 

[1] INQ005169_010

[2] 12 August 1986, here

[3] “I wasn’t listened to. I was the enemy.” INQ005169_013

[4] §11, w/s Dr Hallett, INQ006087_005

[5] The Internet Investigation Report, page 9

[6] INQ004929

[7] INQ004929_004, §10

[8] INQ004929_003, §423-424

[9] INQ005169_018

[10] Internet Investigation Report, p.8; Rapid Evidence Assessment: Behaviour and Characteristics of Perpetrators of Online-facilitated Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation p45; INQ004149_006

[11] E.g. CS-F237

[12] Day 7, page 123

[13] Evidence of Mr Minns (Warwickshire), Day 5 page 82. Policy document WCC000174_004.

[14] INQ006275

[15]  §13, w/s Gill Gibbons, INQ005228_003

Switalskis Opening statement to IICSA Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation

 

 

THE INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

_______________________________________________________________

 

Opening on behalf of PACE

_______________________________________________________________

 

 

  1. I represent a third sector organisation called PACE UK “Parents Against Child Exploitation”. It is a charity whose main aims are:

 

  • To enable parents and carers to safeguard and stop their children being exploited.
  • To provide evidence and specialist advice to demonstrate to councils and the police that parents and carers have an essential role in safeguarding.
  • PACE works with parents and partners to disrupt and bring perpetrators to justice.
  • PACE influences national and local policy and practice to reflect the active safeguarding role of parents and the impact on families of child exploitation.
  • PACE sustains long term change by training partners in the active role of parents and carers safeguarding their children.
  • PACE advocates that parents are a major part of the solution and should be central to the system of tackling exploitation.
  • PACE recognises that just as every child is unique, every family’s situation requires an individual response. Consequently PACE offers one-to-one telephone support for parents whose children are being sexually exploited, or for those who are concerned their child is at risk.

 

  1. This organisation’s parent support workers provide independent, non-judgmental and confidential support, which fully recognises the rights of parents in decisions on how to reduce the risk of harm to their children. PACE listens to parents’ concerns, gives information on statutory agencies and procedures and passes on advice from other affected parents, should it be required. PACE never blames parents for what is happening to their child.

 

 

  1. Many local authorities and police and crime commissioning offices fund PACE to provide dedicated support to parents of sexually and criminally exploited children. PACE works in multi-agency teams tackling child exploitation. This enables parents to gain the understanding and support they need about what is happening to their child, share information they have to assist with the police investigation, and strengthen their ability to cope and reduce risks to the child.

 

  1. PACE is currently commissioned in 7 areas: Blackburn with Darwen, Rochdale, North Yorkshire, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield and Liverpool.

 

  1. Evidence shows that where PACE is embedded in the system safeguarding outcomes are much improved with a reduction in missing from home episodes, a reduction in children going into care. This is because parents’ ability to cope is strengthened.

 

  1. A report commissioned by PACE UK and researched by academics Nancy Pike, Maria Langham and Sarah Lloyd was published on 24th January 2020. The report is published on the PACE website.

 

  1. The study involved two parent focus groups of 11 parents and 1 grand-parent who had previously received support from PACE, and in-depth interviews with 20 individual parents. All participants had received support from PACE in the recent past (between April 2016 and March 2018). Key findings are these;

 

  1. Parents initially contacted Children’s Social Care for help when they realised their child was being sexually exploited. The responses they encountered led them to believe that Children’s Social Care services were ill-equipped to deal with this form of exploitation. Parents reported a lack of understanding of child sexual exploitation among Children’s Social Care staff and a failure to address the risks and harms their child was facing. They frequently described the following issues;
  • There were often considerable delays between parents raising their concerns with Children’s Social Care and receiving any response. Delays had ranged from one month to two years with many families waiting over 3 months for an initial assessment.
  • There was a lack of understanding of CSE amongst social care staff who often minimised or dismissed the risks and harms a child was facing.
  • Interventions usually only focused on either the exploited child or the parents. There was little focus on the disruption or prosecution of perpetrators and consequently abuse was able to continue.
  • Parents frequently felt alone in managing the threats to their child and putting safety measures in place. Even when exploitation and abuse escalated and a child’s distress manifested in violent outbursts, depression, self-harm or suicide attempts, parents were mostly left to cope alone.
  • Parents described being treated as ‘inadequate’ or being seen as in some way ‘to blame’ for their child’s exploitation. Some had been offered generic parenting courses, but none had been offered training relating to sexual violence or supporting victims of CSE.
  • There was rarely much attempt by social care staff to engage meaningfully with the exploited child or build a trusting relationship with them.
  • Social care staff displayed little trauma-awareness either in terms of understanding a child’s behaviour or understanding the impact of secondary trauma on other family members. In some instances, parental distress had been interpreted as evidence of an inability to be a good parent.
  • Parents’ difficult relationships with Children’s Social Care depleted their energy and sometimes exacerbated already challenging situations putting their child at even greater risk.
  • Some parents reported having a supportive relationship with an individual member of children’s social care staff, but even where this was the case, they did not feel supported by the Social Care system as a whole.

 

  1. The scene is not entirely negative. By way of positive examples;

 

  1. Alexis Jay’s Rotherham Report has served as a catalyst. Her report on the extent of CSE in Rotherham published 6 years ago in August 2014 was a turning point for many working in the field of CSE. The report laid bare the institutional bias and hostile culture against victims and their families and vindicated everything that PACE had been saying since its inception in 1996.

 

 

  1. In terms of the Government Response to Rotherham, Local Children’s Safeguarding Boards have been given a mandatory duty to tackle CSE.
  2. Child sexual abuse was given the status of “national threat” in the Strategic Policing Requirement so it is now prioritised by every police force.

 

  1. Yet the PACE experience shows that in practice these changes have not translated into good coal face practice. Many practitioners are struggle to get their heads round the complexity of CSE and how to best respond.

 

In the opinion of PACE Social Care are still working to a child protection model based on;

  • Young children not teenagers
  • Abuse within the home not outside
  • Children seen in isolation and not as part of a family, and by implication only professionals can provide solution to CSE
  • PACE sees parents who are traumatised by seeing their child victimised and abused and who want to do everything in their power to help. Yet still they are treated as part of the problem.
  • PACE wants parents recognised as the central resource in the fight against exploitation.

David Greenwood

 

LONG AWAITED DECISION ON SOCIAL SERVICES NEGLIGENCE

LONG AWAITED DECISION ON SOCIAL SERVICES NEGLIGENCE

(This applies to Exploitation and “failure to remove” cases).

Since December 2017 we have been waiting for the most senior judges in England to decide whether councils can be held liable for negligent social workers. Hundreds of claimants across the country were fearful that judges could have given councils immunity from having to compensate children for failures.

The case is called Poole Borough Council v GN [2019] UKSC 25

In a decision announced yesterday (6th June 2019) common sense prevailed.

The judges decided that where experts offer their skills to the public but provide a negligent service their employers can be held responsible. This will apply to social workers working for the council who investigate and make decisions on how best to keep children safe.

This will apply especially to children (a vulnerable group) who are affected by social work decisions. Failed care cases Where social workers become involved with a family they are expected to exercise reasonable skill and care to protect them from harm. That is the job and specialism of a social worker. The case says at paragraph 80: “..a public body which offers a service to the public often assumes a responsibility to those using the service. The assumption of responsibility is an undertaking that reasonable care will be taken, either express or more commonly implied, usually from the reasonable foreseeability of reliance on the exercise of such care”.

Children impliedly entrust their welfare to professionals looking after them.

My view is that there has been an assumption of responsibility in all cases where social workers have had more than a minimal involvement with a child. The Rotherham and Oxford exploitation cases provide stark examples of the failure of professionals at all levels. This case allows those affected to claim redress.

David Greenwood and the child abuse team at Switalskis Solicitors represent survivors of child abuse due to social work mistakes, including failures to protect from sexual exploitation and grooming. They have extensive experience in helping those who have been affected by child abuse to achieve justice.

If you were a victim of child abuse and would like confidential advice, please contact David Greenwood, Bev Mercer, Sally Smith or Amy Clowrey on 0800 138 4700 or by e mail at david.greenwood@switalskis.com

Ms A: Full Statement

Following the decision of the IPCC to uphold her complaint against South Yorkshire Police, Ms A released the following statement:

“I made this complaint about South Yorkshire Police not only for myself, but also for other girls in South Yorkshire who were in similar situations as me. You can only watch injustice go on for so long until you feel compelled to say something.

“My Pakistani ex-boyfriend told me he beat me and raped me because I was white, and I didn’t behave like a Muslim woman. I reported his abuse, stalking and threats to the police five times, but they said that if I didn’t have bruises, there was nothing they could do. Even when an honour attack led to my fractured skull, the police didn’t investigate, and they dissuaded me from making a statement. I expected him to go to prison for his crimes, but he was always allowed to get away with it.

“I still don’t know why South Yorkshire Police let so many girls down so badly, but they did, and we have suffered a lot. Living in fear, with scars and constant reminders of what they did to us.

“I am very grateful to the IPCC for thoroughly investigating my complaint about the way my case was handled.

“In the future I hope that the police take violent sexual crimes, stalking, and honour attacks more seriously. If the police spent less time making excuses, and more time actually doing their job, the world would be a safer place.”

For more information, please contact David Greenwood, who acts on behalf of Ms A and other survivors of the abuse perpetrated in Rotherham and Sheffield, on 01709 890400.

Louise Casey to appear before Committee

Louise Casey, author of the recent report into the inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, will appear to give evidence to the Commons Select Committee. She is expected to be giving evidence this afternoon.

Ms Casey’s report found Rotherham ‘not fit for purpose’. It is six months since the report of Professor Alexis Jay OBE found that at least 1,400 children were abused in the town between 1997 and 2013.

Rotherham report: culture of bullying and denial at the heart of world of abuse council

The inside politics of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council have been laid bare by Louise Casey’s report, which was published on Wednesday. The report, which found the council to be not fit for purpose following the child sexual exploitation scandal (CSE), highlighted the dual culture of bullying and denial within the council, as well as the way in which council officers continually passed the buck regarding CSE.

David Greenwood, Director and Head of the Child Abuse Department at Switalskis Solicitors, represents 38 survivors of the abuse in Rotherham. Following the publication of the report, he said:

“It is clear that the culture of denial inside the council has resulted in the continued failure to protect vulnerable girls from exploitation by predatory individuals. Because people failed to take responsibility children were horrifically exploited. I’m pleased to see Louise Casey’s report highlighting these fundamental issues in the management of Children’s Social Care in Rotherham.”

David Greenwood on Radio 5 Live

On Friday 29th August, David Greenwood of the Switalskis Child Abuse department appeared on the Stephen Nolan show broadcast live from Rotherham. David appeared with a number of other contributors to a debate held in a local community centre to discuss the fallout of recent media coverage into the Rotherham child exploitation scandal.

David spoke on the programme about the need for Social Services to pick up on the signs of grooming earlier. People need to be aware of how gangs operate and how they entice girls into their control. There needs to be increased vigilance to the signs that girls may be groomed for exploitation. This vigilance is required from all people who are responsible for caring for these girls. This includes parents, schools and social services among many others.

David called for a change in attitudes pointing out how the perpetrators of these offences found it acceptable to behave this way towards young white girls. He called on the local community, social services and the police to look at their culture and change the way they treat young vulnerable girls.

David explained how the police and social services operated within a “comfort zone” and were not willing to step out of that in order to investigate people from different cultures and backgrounds.

David Greenwood also said that it would be a long time before the institutions which failed in Rotherham could build up the public’s trust again. He explained that they could do this by making changes to how they operate and by obtaining convictions against perpetrators. He commented that many girls have yet to speak out as they feel that no one will believe them. It was pointed out in the programme that the victims of exploitation will now be listened to and assistance is available if they choose to come forward.

The child abuse lawyers at Switalskis have a long and positive track record of holding social services to account for failing to protect children. If you need confidential legal advice call us on 0800 138 4700 or e-mail david.greenwood@switalskis.com