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27 September 2012, 07:42
Social workers, police and the Crown Prosecution Service "missed opportunities'' to stop a child exploitation ring abusing young girls in Rochdale.
That's according to a report into the scandal released today.
Several girls - aged between 13 and 15 - were targeted by a gang of men who were jailed in May.
As many as 50 young people, mainly from deprived backgrounds, were given alcohol, food and money in return for sex.
The gang of nine men received jail sentences of between four and 19 years from a judge who said they treated their victims "as though they were worthless and beyond any respect''.
Now a review by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board says initial investigations were flawed, and a chance to stop the attackers was missed in 2008.
There were also "deficiencies" in children's social care, and training of frontline staff was described as "patchy".
The report looked at how agencies including the council, police, NHS and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) worked between 2007 and 2012 to safeguard children and young people who were at risk of sexual exploitation.
The local council, police and prosecutors have apologised, saying they've made improvements.
The report showed vulnerable young girls, some as young as 10, were being targeted for sexual abuse, but were "written off" by those in authority who believed the girls were "making their own choices''.
What The Review Found:
* Specific training for frontline practitioners in the borough was patchy and lessons were absorbed inconsistently
* There were deficiencies in the way that children's social care responded to the victims' needs
* In children's social care, the focus was on younger children at risk of abuse from family and household members, rather than on vulnerable adolescents
* Agencies which referred potential victims were said to be "frustrated'' that they were not "being adequately assessed and dealt with by the local authority'', and staff failed to escalate their concerns successfully
* Agencies and organisations in Rochdale made faltering early progress in developing a satisfactory framework for managing allegations of child sexual exploitation;
* The need for a specialist resource was identified in 2008, but its development was inadequately co-ordinated and supported
* There was a poor response by children's social care to cases where children were at risk of sexual exploitation.
The first victim, who was 15 when the abuse began, told the police what had been happening to her in August 2008.
She specifically spoke of her abuse at the hands of two members of the gang who would later be jailed four years.
Her complaint was not taken seriously and she carried on being abused by the gang until December 2008 when she fell pregnant and moved away.
Rochdale Council said the recommendations in the review have led to improvements being implemented which include:
* More than 10,000 staff in agencies in the borough have received briefings in respect of recognition and response to sexual exploitation
* More than 1,500 staff have had face-to-face training with plans to reach the whole workforce by the end of this year
* The formulation of a multi-agency strategy to ensure a more co-ordinated response to child sexual exploitation
* An increase in staffing in the Sunrise Team, created to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation
* New procedures to follow when staff refer possible child sexual exploitation cases
* The introduction of one point of contact for referrals of concern and all referrals to children's social care services for children over the age of 12 being screened for early signs of child sexual exploitation
* Regular meetings to ensure services share concerns about possible victims, abusers and hotspots in the borough and develop appropriate responses.
Jim Taylor, chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said:
"We must not forget these terrible acts were committed by criminals and I applaud the bravery of the young women for bringing these cases to court.
This review highlights that all agencies did not work together adequately and it is very clear that, in the past, council services missed opportunities to offer assistance. I deeply regret this.
The council accepts the findings of this review, which has shown deficiencies in our children's social care service and, in parts, an unacceptable level of support.
There was more that could and should have been done to protect the victims when allegations first came to light.
Unacceptable practice is being investigated and dealt with in line with our procedures.
We are well aware of the issues the review raises and the way the council and its partners now approach the issue of child sexual exploitation has changed. We are now more able to intervene earlier and more robustly.''
The council's own review of internal processes and procedures will be published next month.