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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks Investigation Report

Contents

F.4: Risk assessments and services for children

21. Risk assessments and screening tools are also used to determine whether and how children’s social care professionals, police and health professionals respond to children. For example, they are used to decide whether children are referred to early help services, whether children receive a full assessment of their needs by children’s social care and whether multi-agency action is taken to protect them.[1]

22. Research commissioned by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, published in 2017, found that some assessments appeared to be used to allocate resources rather than identify vulnerabilities and that, in some, the threshold for access to services for being identified as a potential victim of child sexual exploitation was very high. There were varying definitions of high, medium and low risk in use across the country, with potentially serious consequences for the safeguarding of children.[2]

23. Ms Amanda Naylor, Assistant Director of Impact at Barnardo’s, expressed reservations about the continued link between risk assessment and the assigning of resources. She said that risk assessments are often completed in the first instance by practitioners who may not have received extensive training on the complex dynamics of abuse, how children respond to trauma and the barriers to disclosure:

the risk assessment can only ever be viewed as a partial snapshot of what is happening in a child’s life. If it is used as the only mechanism to determine whether a child receives a service, this will result in children being missed, and screened out of a more specialist assessment.[3]

24. There was evidence that children had been prematurely removed from the list of those discussed at multi-agency meetings when they were experiencing harm.

25. For example, in October 2018, a decision was taken in Durham to remove all but a small number of high-risk child sexual exploitation cases from monitoring at multi-agency meetings.[4] Mr John Pearce, Director of Children and Young People’s Services at Durham County Council, accepted that this had resulted in two high-risk children (CS-A29 and CS-A118) being removed from the supervision of the child sexual exploitation meeting.[5] He also said the assessed risks to CS-A29 were downgraded too soon because the child was being dealt with under a single agency care planning process.[6] Mr Pearce explained that children would not be classified as high risk where there was no identified perpetrator.[7] While we saw no evidence of this approach being put into practice, such an approach is wholly unacceptable. It is possible that, if the perpetrator is unknown, a child might be at even higher risk.

26. Since November 2019, the approach to risk assessment in County Durham has been supported by the use of a Child Exploitation Vulnerability Tracker (CEVT), created by adapting a previous county lines tracker. Referring agencies surveyed in August 2020 reported concerns that child sexual exploitation cases were being ‘missed’ off the CEVT because they were often scored as ‘medium’ risk.[8] Guidance on the use of the CEVT states that only high-risk child sexual exploitation cases should be included.[9] This concern was illustrated by the case of an 11-year-old child who failed to meet the threshold for CEVT monitoring in late 2019, even though adult males had exposed themselves to her online and told her to insert a pencil into her vagina.[10] This child should have met the threshold.

27. Durham County Council’s approach of only tracking cases on the CEVT where children were considered to be at high risk led to a reduction in the number of children being monitored in this way, although children not included on the CEVT may still receive some services. There are clear areas for improvement in both the assessment forms and processes for monitoring risk in County Durham.

28. In St Helens, the Catch22 missing children and child sexual exploitation support service is only able to accept referrals which are deemed medium or high risk. Ms Vikki McKenna, Senior Service Coordinator at Catch22, said that this left young people in need of preventative work potentially being missed.[11] There was evidence that children who were in need of support to prevent sexual exploitation in St Helens were not always appropriately classified as of sufficiently high risk and therefore did not receive adequate support. It was accepted that it had been wrong to remove CS-A26 from consideration by the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) meeting in October 2016 on the basis that it was “just risky behaviour” when the child had been assessed as at high risk of sexual exploitation around four months earlier.[12]

29. In Swansea, CS-A24 and CS-A25 were both removed from the child sexual exploitation protocol (Swansea’s list of children who are at risk of sexual exploitation) whilst still at significant risk.[13] Swansea Council noted that it had “identified a theme about premature removal” during that period.[14]

30. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has a target of completing 90 to 95 percent of risk assessments within three months. However, the written evidence of the Council stated that this target was not met at any time between June 2018 and March 2019 – the highest completion rate was 87 percent and the lowest 27 percent.[15] After the hearing, the Council told the Inquiry that:

risk assessment is completed imminently when any concerns are raised by a professional or family member that a young person is being exploited and is reviewed every 12 weeks or if a significant event occurs”.[16]

31. The evidence on this matter was not satisfactory and the Inquiry was provided with no evidence on how long risk assessments took to be completed, as opposed to reviewed.

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