What’s being done to keep OUR kids safe?

The Rotherham report which revealed that around 1,400 children were abused in the town between 1997 and 2013 has led to widespread shock and disgust.

Councillors in our district have since raised concerns about the issue and will be briefed on the activities of the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board and how local agencies work together to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE).

The numbers of notified CSE cases in Kirklees are thought to be relatively small but are treated as high priority by all organisations responsible.

Though it can vary from day to day, there are currently 22 children and young people potentially at risk, in need of “active management” by the multiple agencies working with them to offer protection.

A further 45 are being monitored in case the danger to them increases – but some of these may only have a tentative link to CSE, like being a friend of the main 22.

Thirty-three potential perpetrators are flagged-up on police systems and are being looked at in Kirklees, mostly in the 20 to 40 age group and largely under 30. All but two are male, 25 are of Asian heritage, six white and two black. Almost half are unemployed.

Since December 2012 there have been 16 sexual offences recorded in Kirklees which fit the definition of CSE. However, in 2012 there was 215 sexual offences with a victim under 16 recorded. But the absence of a discloure from many young people means that there may never be enough evidence to mount a prosecution.

Alison O’Sullivan, Kirklees Council’s Director for Children and Adults, said: “Local agencies have been developing their approach to CSE for a number of years. We constantly monitor reports and recommendations from around the country, take important learning points and do everything possible to improve local practice.

“CSE is a complex area of work. It can develop very quickly, and the spread of social media makes things ever more complicated.

“We strive to understand and respond to all CSE issues, so that children and young people are kept as safe as possible.

“As a partnership, we prioritise the needs of vulnerable groups – including those who are at risk of sexual exploitation – providing dedicated resources, in terms of both people and budget.

“We do a huge amount of work to provide training, share intelligence, raise awareness and develop local practices.”

All work on CSE is overseen by Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board. There is a team of police officers, social workers and a Barnardo’s worker, established three years ago, whose efforts have included raising awareness in schools about CSE.

A group was also formed in 2009, meeting every four weeks, to consider ways to protect each person who is at risk of CSE and work on criminal investigations and stopping those who are thought to be sexually exploiting children.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “We have a delivery plan ranging from work in schools and work with faith and community leaders to direct work with victims as they move into adulthood. The group also works with people such as taxi drivers and hotel owners, training them to spot the signs of CSE.”

But the process is fraught with complications, according to Supt Ged McManus, of West Yorkshire Police. Often, victims are groomed to believe they are in a genuine, boyfriend-girlfriend relationship and initially do not think or behave in a way that supports a prosecution.

He said: “As victims of historical cases mature, it is likely that they are able to gain a better understanding of what has happened to them. This means they may be able to support a prosecution relating to events of several years ago.

“At the same time, this also makes it much less likely that alleged perpetrators will admit to the crimes they have committed.

The full council meeting on October 1 will discuss a report which outlines the prevalence of CSE in Kirklees.