Safeguarding boards called upon to assess risk of sexual exploitation

All local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) will be required to undertake regular checks to assess whether children in their area are at risk of sexual exploitation, under government plans to tackle the problem.

The government’s new sexual exploitation action plan calls for urgent action on the issue, arguing that agencies too often fail to recognise and deal with this type of abuse.

LSCBs will be charged with establishing the extent of the problem in their area and developing preventative strategies, and all police officers will be trained in recognising child exploitation and responding appropriately.

Meanwhile, the government wants the Crown Prosecution Service, judges and magistrates to better support young witnesses and victims by increasing the use of “special measures” in court for young people up to the age of 18.

For example, more young people will be allowed to testify using live links to the court from an outside location, so they do not have to come face to face with defendants.

To improve services for young victims, the Home Office is to provide £40,000 to support organisations, including Rape Crisis and local sexual assault referral centres.

To help child protection professionals improve their response to cases of sexual exploitation, the Department for Education (DfE) plans to publish a step-by-step guide on what to do if they suspect a child is being sexually exploited.

It will be published in spring 2012 and will emphasise the strong links between child sexual exploitation and children running away from home or care.

The DfE is also working with Ofsted on how new guidance for inspectors can consider child sexual exploitation and the contact a child has with different services.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton said the country must wake up to the fact that children are being sexually abused in far greater numbers than people imagine.

“Too many local areas have failed to uncover the true extent of child sexual exploitation in their communities and failed to properly support victims and their families,” he said.

“Child sexual exploitation is child abuse, it is not good enough that some local areas don’t recognise it as an issue. This is an extremely serious crime and must be treated as such, with the perpetrators pursued more vigorously. We need to make going to court much easier for the young victims and their families. It is worrying that many incidents go unreported because victims are unwilling to come forward.

“We can only succeed if we address every aspect of the problem. The action plan is a big step forward and looks at sexual exploitation from the perspective of the young person, analysing what can go wrong and what should happen at every stage.”

Sheila Taylor, director of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, said councils must co-ordinate local agencies to work together on tackling child sexual exploitation. “If no one is putting the pieces together, children’s desperate situations will continue to be missed,” she said.

The government will review progress on the action plan in spring 2012.