18/10/2016

FORCE RESPONSE RE OFSTED LETTER TO HMIC RE CHILD PROTECTION

From Deputy Chief Constable Simon Nickless:

Cleveland Police takes safeguarding extremely seriously and works closely with all local authorities and other safeguarding agencies on a daily basis to protect children from harm.

Protecting the vulnerable and recognising risk in our communities is our priority. The past year has seen significantly increased investment in protecting vulnerable people with additional officers recruited to the Child Abuse Investigation Team, the Sex Offender Management Unit and the Paedophile Online Investigation Team, as well as the formation of a new team of officers who work closely with our safeguarding partners to tackle missing children, child sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Working with partners is at the core of our child protection work. Our Senior Head of Safeguarding sits on all Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards in the force area and we collaborate with all partners to improve child protection practice.

The letter from Ofsted refers to an inspection, focused on Stockton Borough Council, which took place during May-June 2016. We acknowledged the issues raised by OFSTED in their report published in July 2016 and take the points raised by OFSTED extremely seriously.

The force co-operated fully with OFSTED inspectors at the time to explain our approach to attendance at strategy meetings and measures already in place to deliver improvement.  It is important to note that we have consistently shared relevant police information with safeguarding partners in all cases and the comments of the Inspectors relate to attendance at meetings. Whilst we have been working throughout the past year to build additional resources to help us participate in more meetings, we have prioritised attendance at those strategy meetings where police involvement and police information were key.

We also note a number of positive comments in the report published by OFSTED in relation to force practice with our partners to safeguard missing children, those at risk of sexual exploitation and those missing from education. The report also made specific positive comment around Cleveland Police attendance at Child Protection Conferences and the benefits of the new Children’s Hub.

At the start of June 2016, safeguarding partners including Cleveland Police launched the Stockton and Hartlepool Children’s Hub. This included additional dedicated resource from Cleveland Police to participate in strategy meetings. Since the Children’s Hub was launched, there has been an immediate and sustained significant improvement in attendance at strategy meetings, which has been noted by key partners and the Stockton Local Safeguarding Children’s Board.

We are working closely with partners to roll out a similar Children’s Hub model across the force area and, in the interim period, have taken action to improve strategy attendance across the area.

The OFSTED inspection did not include any general examination of standards of police investigation.

The matter raised by OFSTED around a wrongly closed investigation (in relation to a report of common assault) was immediately addressed by the force, with the case re-opened the same day. Safeguarding of the children involved had been effectively addressed by Cleveland Police and Social Care.  The issue rightly raised by Ofsted was the decision by officers to finalise the investigation before all investigative opportunities had been explored.

The robustness of the response of Cleveland Police was noted in the main OFSTED report. The decision to close the investigation was contrary to force procedures and the force does not believe this reflects general standards of investigation.

There is no suggestion in the narrative of the OFSTED report, or the recommendations, that the reason the Stockton Local Safeguarding Children’s Board was judged to require improvement was due to a lack of support from Cleveland Police.

In relation to other areas raised in the open letter to HMIC:

  • In terms of sharing information on domestic abuse which Ofsted identified nationally as an issue for some forces, Cleveland Police has rolled out Operation Encompass forcewide. Where a child or young person is present at a domestic abuse incident, their place of education (from nursery to sixth form college) will be informed the following day so that appropriate support can be put in place.
  • Cleveland Police has procedures in place to inform social care on a daily basis of children that are reported missing.
  • Attendance at Initial Child Protection Conferences has been consistently high across the force in recent years.
  • Officers from the force Child Abuse Investigation Unit routinely participate in joint visits with colleagues from social care.
  • In terms of DBS backlogs, again identified as a national issue, Cleveland Police has an average return time of 8 days for a DBS request so we do not believe there is any reason for concern.  Funding for a further, full time member of staff has recently been approved.

We are concerned that the balance found in the OFSTED inspection report is not reflected in today’s open letter.

Quotes from the OFSTED report

“Well- attended child protection conferences, reviews and core groups by key agencies including Cleveland Police demonstrate the partnership commitment to managing risk and improving outcomes for children and young people.”

“When children and young people have suffered or are at risk of sexual exploitation, they are well safeguarded. Cohesive Tees-wide strategic partnerships bring together key agencies and organisations to ensure a focus on the most vulnerable children and young people in Stockton-on-Tees. Close cross-boundary work with neighbouring authorities ensures that information, intelligence, identification, and disruption and prevention activities are well coordinated.”

Ofsted praised the Children’s Hub saying it “benefits from partner agencies being co-located.  This is already leading to earlier and more effective identification of risk, improved information sharing and joint decision-making.”

“Social Workers are always notified quickly if a child under their care is reported missing.”

“Persistent actions are taken to ensure that children and young people who go missing from education are tracked and located.  Strong links with schools, regional and national local authorities, border control, police and other key agencies help to keep the missing children register up to date and to locate families quickly.”

“The [Stockton Local Safeguarding Children’s ] board has very good understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. SLSCB meets its statutory functions. It benefits from appropriate multi-agency membership, very good attendance and strong commitment”