Sexual exploitation against girls could have been prevented

A “significant part” of the sexual exploitation committed against young girls in Rochdale should have been predicted and prevented, a serious case review has found.

Five of six victims on whom the report focused were “clearly in need of early help and at times intervention” by safeguarding agencies for several years before they were abused.

But there was no properly co-ordinated package of support and assessment which recognised such risks as neglect, domestic violence, parental health problems and substance misuse.

The report commissioned by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) added: “Given the highly organised, determined and manipulative behaviour of the perpetrators, it would be unrealistic to imagine that their behaviour could have been predicted and that all harm to all the young people they abused could have been prevented.

“However, had the sexual exploitation been recognised and responded to at the earliest stages, these young people may have been protected from repeat victimisation and other young people may also have been protected from becoming victims.”

The publication of the review comes more than 18 months after nine Asian men were convicted of the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of white girls in Heywood and Rochdale in 2008 and 2009.

The trial resulted in a national debate over the role of gangs of largely Pakistani-heritage men in grooming white girls.

A chance to stop the gang was missed in 2008 and both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were forced to apologise for their failings.

An interim report to the RBSCB last year found that vulnerable girls, some as young as 10, who were being targeted for sexual abuse, being written off by those in authority who believed they were “making their own choices” and “engaging in consensual sexual activity”.

The latest report covered the period from the beginning of 2007 up until 2012 and looked at the involvement of various agencies including social services, healthcare teams, the Crown Prosecution Service and Greater Manchester Police.

Report author Sian Griffiths, an independent social worker, said: “What has been identified throughout this review is a repeating theme of factors which impacted on the quality of practice in particular including:

:: Policy and procedures either not available or poorly understood and implemented at the front line;
:: Absence of high-quality supervision, challenge and line management oversight;
:: Resource pressures and high workload in key agencies, including CSC (Children’s Social Care) safeguarding teams, A&E and police, contributing to disorganisation and at times a sense of helplessness;
:: Policies, culture and attitudes within many agencies which were actively unhelpful when working with adolescents.”

Ms Griffiths adds: “What is indisputable is that the repeating nature of these failures exposes fundamental problems and obstacles at a strategic level in Rochdale, not simply in relation to individual practice.

“That the failings took place over a period of five years in relation to six young people who were in contact with at least 17 different agencies makes it absolutely clear that the problems were much more deep rooted than can be explained as failings at an individual level.

“It is also important to note that the experiences of these six young people whilst fundamentally important in their own right are accepted by agencies within Rochdale as being indicative of the experience of other young people at the time.

“What resulted represents a culture and a pattern of leadership that individuals were either unwilling or unable to change.”

She said the key issues which led to the failures were:

:: Long-standing failings in leadership and direction at the most senior levels of key agencies;
:: Long-standing difficulties in achieving effective multi-agency working at the most senior levels reflected in operational practice;
:: Failure by strategic managers to focus on routine safeguarding practice, to understand how it was delivered.
:: Lack of an evaluative culture focused on the experience of young people, outcomes and the effectiveness of interventions.
:: Under-resourcing resulting in high workloads, decision making influenced significantly on managing budgets to the detriment of practice which would meet children’s needs.

The report said that prior to and during the course of the review a number of internal proceedings have been taken against CSC managers and frontline practioners.

Some had been subjected to disciplinary action – although no-one is thought to have been sacked – while others have been referred to the Health and Care Professions Council, the regulatory body for social workers.