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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


K.4: Internal audit and improvement activity in the case study areas

23. The importance of local agencies and partnerships having their own internal audit and performance management systems has been noted by several inspectorates, with Ms Katherine Riley (Portfolio Director for Criminal Justice Joint Inspection at HMICFRS) describing this as “essential”.[1]

24. A number of institutions indicated that being selected as a case study area had generated improvement activity in relation to child sexual exploitation and in some cases this had led to significant service improvements. This is to be welcomed but it also raises questions about the effectiveness of internal performance improvement systems, as well as scrutiny by the inspectorates.

25. Partner agencies in Durham and Darlington have agreed a Child Exploitation Group delivery plan for 2020/21. A revised performance scorecard was jointly developed. Quarterly data includes eight child sexual exploitation indicators as well as statistics on missing children, return home interviews and children referred to the Child Exploitation Vulnerability Tracker (CEVT) meeting.[2]

26. Mr John Pearce, the Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services, was appointed in September 2019. He has accepted that aspects of the children’s case studies, considered by the Inquiry, were not acceptable but said that major improvements had been made since November 2019. Durham County Council had historically been “information rich” but had not analysed information in ways that led to improvements in performance.[3]

27. In January 2020, Durham County Council identified that improvement was needed in several of the Inquiry’s themes, including raising awareness of issues affecting those from LGBTQ+ communities, children with special educational needs, male victims and those with disabilities, as well as missing children and return home interviews.[4] Progress was made during 2020 on involving children in the co-production of a document about professionals’ use of language.[5]

28. Recent improvement activity by Durham Constabulary centred on an action plan to implement the recommendations of the March 2020 HMICFRS report, with improvements made in information systems and the response to missing children.[6] During the public hearing, Deputy Chief Constable David Orford of Durham Constabulary was unable to comment on the cases of children in the Durham timelines.[7] He subsequently arranged for the cases to be internally reviewed but this did not conclude that there were weaknesses in the police response. Concern about Durham Constabulary’s internal audit activity was expressed in HMICFRS’s 2019 inspection, which noted that although the police conducted audits and reviews, these focussed more on processes than performance outcomes.[8]

29. The City and County of Swansea Council accepted that its current information systems were limited and that this has impacted its ability to capture performance data robustly for improvement purposes.[9] Its participation in the University of Bedfordshire three-year contextual safeguarding pilot was considered an opportunity to redesign and improve its response to child exploitation. It described its quality assurance framework as being under development.[10] Ms Julie Thomas, Head of Children’s Services at Swansea Social Services, accepted that aspects of the cases in the Swansea timelines were not acceptable.[11] She was confident that recent initiatives, including a new integrated safeguarding hub and two new posts of practice lead and senior social worker for child sexual exploitation, were bringing about improvements in practice and quality assurance capacity.[12]

30. Child sexual exploitation and missing children have been a focus of improvement activity by South Wales Police since HMIC child protection inspections in 2015 and 2016. Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Daniel Richards described the introduction of Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation advocates in all of the force’s command units as “probably one of the main components [of] how we have transformed our organisational culture in terms of CSE [child sexual exploitation]”.[13] His view was that in operational terms the initiative had been a huge success in assisting the police to engage with victims of child sexual exploitation who might be distrustful of the police.[14] The force has also successfully rolled out an adverse childhood experience (ACE) approach to vulnerability which has also assisted engagement with victims.[15]

31. Warwickshire County Council and the Warwickshire Safeguarding Partnership have taken a systematic approach to quality assurance and improvement based on lessons learned.[16] The Partnership has a Quality Learning and Improvement Hub. One of its first actions when established in 2019 was to undertake a thematic review of the exploitation of children and adults. Recommended improvements included having a designated safeguarding lead in each agency and improving referral processes. The Partnership also has a Quality Assurance Framework and is able to evidence learning from regular case audits of sexually exploited and missing children.[17] Some examples of improvement include taxi licensing with mandatory training for drivers, training for hotel staff (following the suspension of a hotel licence in a case involving child sexual exploitation), thorough staff training on achieving best evidence and providing 24-hour support to child victims giving evidence in court. The Council also identified gaps in transition support for older children and has established a transitions project to address this.[18]

32. Mr Leivers was appointed Interim Director of Children’s Services in St Helens Council in March 2020. He told the Inquiry that after Ofsted found children’s social care to be inadequate in 2019, there had been major investments in resources and recruitment. In his evidence, he accepted that there had been weaknesses in the case studies examined by the Inquiry in relation to victim-blaming language and attitudes and risk assessment and decision-making. Practice was now more systematically audited. Merseyside Police has an audit team which performs daily sexual offence audits, including child sexual exploitation cases, and produces monthly reports.[19]

33. In April 2017, an Ofsted inspection of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets found its children’s social care to be “inadequate”.[20] Mr Richard Baldwin (Divisional Director of Children’s Social Care) explained that a key element of the Council’s response to this has been to develop an “unrelenting focus” on audit, particularly of exploitation cases.[21] Two multi-agency audits of exploitation cases have been conducted in March and July 2020, reviewing the files for young people who have been missing from home and care.[22] Since June 2020, all cases open to the exploitation team are subject to a “two minute audit” every three months, which considers whether supervision was regular and purposive and whether key documents such as chronologies, single assessments, risk assessments and safety plans were up to date.[23] The Council has also proposed to undertake an audit of closed child sexual exploitation cases to identify good practice and areas for improvement, something which the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children supports.[24] Auditing in Tower Hamlets is undertaken by the Council’s social work academy under the supervision of a manager appointed from a different team. This is an attempt to bring a degree of independence to the process.[25] We recognise that the Council has undertaken substantial work to address the 2017 findings of Ofsted.

34. The Metropolitan Police Service’s dedicated inspection team has conducted inspections of child sexual exploitation cases in June and August 2020 by dip sampling eight cases at random.[26] As a result of these audits, officers have been “buddied” with other officers who perform well in audited cases to facilitate the sharing of knowledge.[27] In addition, the Central Specialist Crime unit undertook an audit review of all open child sexual exploitation cases in Tower Hamlets.[28]

35. Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Police have undertaken extensive auditing of their practice in relation to child sexual exploitation over the past four years, particularly in relation to our selected themes. This has included:

  • an internal evaluation of the Operation Topaz pilot in 2017, conducted by the police;[29]
  • a 2018 external audit of child sexual exploitation and missing practice by the National Working Group (NWG) Network (which made 10 recommendations, including three for additional audit);[30] and
  • a 2019 audit into casework relating to children with disabilities at risk of child sexual exploitation (which was commissioned to support Bristol City Council’s submissions to this Inquiry).[31]
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