Agenda item

Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham - 1997-2013

-        Chief Executive to report


Consideration was given to the report presented by Martin Kimber, Chief Executive, following the publication of the Alexis Jay independent report into historic cases of child sexual exploitation.


The Council had already apologised that it had previously let young people and their families down. Some of the Council’s previous services were simply not good enough.


The report did not make comfortable reading. There were not many people who would feel anything other than absolute dismay at the awful abuse suffered by some of the young people in the past. The report is clear, young people were let down by the Council and other agencies who were there to protect them. More should have done more to protect them from the most damaging form of abuse imaginable. The report contained some historic case studies that anyone involved in protecting young people past or present could not help but find deeply distressing. One can only admire the bravery of the people who have helped by recounting the most horrific period of their lives, in order to ensure a better response from agencies in the future.


The survivors of child sexual exploitation’s long wait to have their voices heard, for their stories to be believed and for all of the events that they suffered had now succeeded.  The Council owed the survivors nothing less than the pledge that everything would be done to better protect young people in the future and to take immediate steps laid down in the report to make this happen.


The recommendations within the report were accepted in their entirety and action would be taken to make the recommendations were implemented promptly.


The Council was determined to ensure that the people that committed the vile criminal acts were brought to justice and steps had already been taken to ensure this action was taken.


The report provided with an extremely distressing narrative of what went wrong in Rotherham and the reasons why.  The details were set out in the Independent Inquiry and they were set out within the report submitted in response.


A series of historic failings in the Council and other agencies amounted to a series of missed opportunities to understand and tackle child sexual exploitation dating back to 2002 and, therefore, the missed opportunities prevented the Council from ensuring that there were far fewer victims that the report indicated.


Given the nature of the failings there was a desire for those at fault to be held to account and the employment approach being taken was explained further along with the recommendations and the response to other agencies.


The Council took seriously its responsibility as an employer, would initiative approach action where evidence was available to support this.


Independent legal advice had now been sought on two occasions to assist the Council in relation to employment matters and to assist in any appropriate courses of action.  In common with other agencies the only information to form judgement was the report, case studies, case files and confidential reporting arrangements.  In respect of current employees of the Council the approach must be made in accordance with the relevant codes and procedures.


A list of individuals, currently employed by the Council, involved in child protection had been shared with the report author who confirmed that in all cases no adverse comments made in the course of the inquiry either through interview, written submissions or case interviews that would warrant investigation.  One individual had been asked further relevant questions as to their knowledge about child sexual exploitation issues.  In addition, preliminary discussions were to take place with one further employee, to be concluded as swiftly as possible, and may or may not lead to further action.


The Jay Report was publically available and those employers of employees no longer employed by the Council could have the opportunity to consider further action.  The report contained considerable information where general conclusions had been drawn and it was not possible to consider a professional capacity referral for employees past or present to any of the relevant professional bodies.


The concept of responsibility and accountability were important to the Council.  Information would be kept under review.  The Council was proactively looking at information sources and if anything became available it would be promptly and thoroughly considered.  If it indicated malpractice or misconduct in respect of any current employees the Council would take appropriate action.


Other agencies were also named in the report who had a contributory role in the failure of service provision.  The report also refers to the role of the Police and the report had been formally referred to the Chief Constable for his consideration.  He had already made some announcements on his intended actions.


Young people and families who needed help who did not come forward because they do not think they would be believe were re-assured that the  services were fit for purpose and anyone that needed help would be provided with any assistance.


The Jay Report indicated that the services were stronger today, but this offered little comfort to the victims of the past.  Sadly this did not mean that young people in Rotherham would never be subject to sexual exploitation.


The multi-agency working and prevention strategies were stronger today and better developed.  It was hoped that this would reassure young people and their families that if help and protection was required, they would be listened to, believed and be given the support needed.


This awful crime happened in each and every town and city and there continued to be many predators intent on harming young people.  If this crime was not sought out it would remain deeply hidden.  The Council wanted those with criminal intent to know that the whole of Rotherham, citizens, agencies and parents intended to tackle child sexual exploitation with vigour. 


It was hoped that the report would contribute to the national debate and national learning about child sexual exploitation and to play its part in all that it could in preventing these vile acts.


The strength of the community must be shown to actively marshal all efforts to ensure that young people were as safe as they could be.  This horrific form of abuse was carried out by criminals and attention must be focused on them with a strong and united message that together they would be found and referred them to the Police.  This Council had already asked the Police to reassure it that it was doing everything it could to bring perpetrators of past crimes to justice.  It was expected that the criminal justice system would punish these perpetrators and ensure that justice was provided to the young people and their families.


The community could only be effective by working together and dealing with the horrendous crime was not something a single agency could deal with alone and required the collective efforts of everyone.  Assurance was given that where information came forward it would be looked promptly, vigorously and appropriate action taken.


The Chairman invited Cabinet Members to ask questions on the report.


·                The Cabinet Member for Business Growth and Regeneration expressed his shock at the details contained in the Jay Report and suggested that the Council must ensure that no corner went unchecked or stone unturned to provide justice to the victims nor must there be no let-up in the pursuit of the wrong doers of the past and of the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.


In terms of the Rotherham brand and its reputation it was noted that inward investment was already being affected by some companies re-evaluating their decisions due to the damage done by the outcome of the report.


The role of Licensing had been strengthened, which was reflected in the report, but not enough reassurance was provided to convince that enough had been done.  It was, therefore, suggested that the Licensing Board be asked to carry out a comprehensive review of their processes and procedures to ensure that the issues highlighted in the report around the role of taxi drivers could be prevented in the future.


The Director of Housing and Neighbourhoods Services confirmed that the Jay Report did identify licensing issues, but indicated that the processes in place were robust.  It was noted that there had been six cases reported to the Licensing in the last seven years relating to the welfare of children and those drivers had been immediately suspended and no longer working in Rotherham.


All the taxi drivers in Rotherham (over 800) have an enhanced disclosure and barring reference check completed and due to this being a notifiable occupation any concerns relating to taxi drivers by the Police were immediately referred to the Licensing Section.  The relationship between the Licensing and Safeguarding Services had been strengthened and shared meetings did take place highlighting areas of any concern and relevant officers had attended specific meetings.  More could be done and further work was taking place on improved enhanced standards in relation to taxi licensing in respect of the welfare of passengers.  If the Licensing Board wished to look at this in further detail the service would welcome the opportunity for further scrutiny.


·                The Cabinet Member for Business Growth and Regeneration welcomed the reassurance given and formally asked that the Licensing Board look into this in more detail in the form of a further recommendation.


·                The Cabinet Member for Business Growth and Regeneration made reference to the current demand on resources and with the potential for more victims to come forward and in moving forward asked were the necessary resources available to officers for them to carry out that increase in demand.


The Chief Executive confirmed that this was a top priority for the Council and that there was a series of recommendations which referred to resourcing and work was taking place with partners to increase the resource base.   Propositions would be coming forward shortly, which would include Health partners for long term therapeutic needs relating to past and future  victims.


The findings from the Jay Report would also be fed into the budget setting process and need would be assessed and provision provided.


·                The Cabinet Member for Communities and Cohesion referred to the clear and concise report.  He referred to the childhoods stolen by the perpetrators of crime, which were not only vile and evil, but who lived amongst the communities of Rotherham.  He believed everyone should be committed to root out the evil and those people who had committed those heinous crimes.  Those people that used ethnic origin to not prosecute should be held to account and should never be used as an excuse.  It did not matter which community or town they lived in if a crime was committed then they should be held to account.  This was where the young people of this town had been let down because individuals had acted on decision that they believed to be right.  It was inappropriate to suggest that certain crimes were acceptable and this should be happening in the criminal justice system.  This kind of practice should not be allowed to happen again.  Information to officers across front line services should be provided to ensure they were in better positions to identify where sexual exploitation was occurring.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services gave assurances that front line staff were trained to identify where crimes were being committed and those involved reported to the Police to be brought to justice.


·                The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care pointed out that the report had been commissioned because it was felt that the child’s voice was not being heard.  What the report had now done had given other young people the confidence to come forward and twelve other young people had done just that.


The report had highlighted gaps in services for post abuse support and partners in Health and other areas had been asked for their response and how they could help in this process.


The Strategic Director for Children and Young People’s Services highlighted the processes and procedures that were in place to support those affected by this abuse and the services available by both the Council and Health Trusts.


Additional capacity was being considered with partner agencies and extra resources provided for those who had been the victims of abuse.  However, meeting the needs had been identified as a gap and the services were working hard to ensure that appropriate resources were available.


The Cabinet Member for Finance also referred to sexual abuse and its definition regardless of ethnic origin and what role Health had had.  As a former Chairman of the Health and Wellbeing Board it was stressed that children’s services feature in the Health and Wellbeing Strategy. 


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed that a Health Worker position had been established in the Child Sexual Exploitation Team who provided effective links directly into mainstream health services.  How other services could be positioned to best meet the needs of victims was welcomed further.


·                The Cabinet Member for Education and Public Health asked how schools and staff were made aware of child sexual exploitation as they were frontline workers, but asked if there were any gaps or barriers to providing that service within schools, if awareness training was up-to-date and what schools were doing to work with support staff to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed that all secondary schools were actively engaged with the child sexual exploitation programme  including all academies also pupil referral units and children’s homes.  Assurance was given about robust engagement and the excellent child sexual exploitation training module that was available to all schools for training safeguarding leads and governors.


·                The Cabinet Member for Finance asked about the transfer of information from a lower to a higher level staff, as highlighted in the report, along with some concerns about communication channels between agencies and departments and asked about the Council’s Whistleblowing Policy and how much this had been publicised to staff and whether there were any differences in the reports from the past to the present.


The Chief Executive confirmed that an important part of any organisation’s governance arrangements was its Whistleblowing Policy, which was very strong and well used.  Incidents received were immediately referred onto the Internal Audit Team for investigation and where additional help was required this was referred on to the External Auditors.  Referrals were taken very seriously and acted upon appropriately.  However, an organisation with an effective management structure did not have the need for a Whistleblowing Policy as there were many opportunities and arrangements for concerns to be shared and discussed.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services added assurance to frontline practice and referred to the Dispute Resolution Process and outlined how this worked.


·                The Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways and Street Scene Services referred to the “Green” status of Recommendation 1 in the action plan, but references in the Jay report referred to a high number of cases not having a risk assessment in place.  Clarification was sought on the “Green” status.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services referred to the work around risk assessments, which was flagged up in the Jay Report.  A great deal of work had already been carried out, but there was further work still to be done.  All cases had a risk assessment in place and were of a reasonable quality, which would continue to be improved.  There was evidence through auditing work that good professional judgement was evident, but the risk assessment as a tool was not always present.


·                The Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Adult Services referred to the report highlighting the need to engage with women and children from minority ethnic communities.  The action plan indicated that work takes place with mosques and madrassas and asked if this was sufficient to meet target groups, particularly as this was critical of traditional routes of engagement that were not working at this moment in time.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services said work had started with this recommendation and meetings had already commenced with the voluntary and community sector Child Sexual Exploitation Forum to discuss this and other issues and how best to engage.  Work would also commence with colleagues in Community Engagement on how best to approach community groups of women.  Funding had also been secured from the Safer Rotherham Partnership for the voluntary and community sector Child Sexual Exploitation Forum to do some awareness raising and they had been asked to engage with community groups in different settings.


The Chairman also asked about the engagement of ethnic minority groups, which he himself had raised at the Rotherham Safeguarding Board, and asked if this was the same kind of work as indicated above, which was confirmed by the Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services.  Other areas of work were also highlighted which would commence in October and evaluations would be available about impact hopefully by Christmas.


The Chairman was aware that until work commenced in addressing some of the cultural norms in some societies, the risk of sexual exploitation would never go away and asked if the Gold Group were looking to consult with communities.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed that this was a valid report about the manipulation of cultural norms and there were some issues around this, which was why Professor Jay was particularly recommending that the Council engage with women who, for a variety of reasons, may not get their voices heard as this was an area that was under reporting, with particular emphasis of minority ethnic groups and that they be reassured that they would receive the necessary support should they wish to make any such disclosures.


The Chairman also referred to the issues of domestic violence within the Asian community and Asian females not feeling safe and asked what actions were being put in place to ensure that the sort of issues raised in the report did not happen in Rotherham.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services could not categorically say that these matters would not happen again as there were people in society who were controlling and coercing males and females in abusive relationships.  Work was taking place with the Domestic Violence Community Group and a report was to be presented to Cabinet in the next month or so with a view to signing up to the White Ribbon Campaign, which would take a stand against violence against women.  The Council were also working alongside Apna Haq who were an organisation supporting those suffering from domestic abusive from the black and minority ethnic community.


The Chairman also asked about the rising population of the Roma community and asked for an update on work being carried out within that community.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services provided information on the work taking place within the Roma community and the specific issues relating to child sexual exploitation as there were differences in law between the indigenous country where the age of consent was much lower than in England.  Women and young girls were being supported through various pieces of work to enable them to understand what their rights were.


·                The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care referred to the different awareness raising through various community groups and pointed out that perpetrators worked in secrecy to try to draw young people away from their support networks and asked how those young people could continue to be reached and supported?


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed that work was taking place with women and young girls so that they could identify grooming behaviours.  The work taking place in schools was so important to try and identify and support those individuals showing signs of sexual exploitation, which was why training was so important to recognise the vulnerabilities..


The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care asked if a child or young person was identified as being at risk what measures could be taken to prevent any incidents escalating to abuse.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services referred to the ranges of support that were available with examples from within a school setting to ensure that a package of support was available for that young person following assessment of risk and professional judgement.


The Cabinet Member for Finance also referred the national strategy for organised criminal gangs, which was being shared within Rotherham, and the mobile integrated youth support service which was recognised to reach the different areas to ensure safety.


·                The Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Adult Services also asked about the support that was available for parents when they disbelieved either a young person or a person in authority in order for them to be fully supported.


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed support networks were available for parents as part of the support from the Child Sexual Exploitation Team for family support, through GROW and Barnardos.  The Safeguarding Board’s website also provided a great deal of advice should a parent be concerned, which had been revised and relaunched recently, bolstered also with the voluntary and community sector Child Sexual Exploitation Forum, work in schools and other materials available.


·                The Chairman referred to the report which indicated a number of areas where the Council had failed around hearing the voice of young men, failing in the commissioning of services in the past for victims and in the placing of victims away from Rotherham and the support for victims not being good.  Could the Cabinet be assured that the issues raised in the Jay Report and the systems for dealing with any victim that may come forward were in place?


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services referred to the current caseloads which included a small number of young men and the work and support currently taking place and gave an example of a recent operation in Sheffield which had predominately focused on young men, some of whom were from Rotherham.  Advice had been sought from the National Working Group, supplemented by a number of agencies who supported young men.  The Integrated Youth Support Service were also key to this work and had packages of support in place for vulnerable young men.


In terms of the commissioning of placements there had been concerns about this in the past and work was taking place with the Commissioning Team and the relevant Social Workers to make sure robust arrangements were in place for any child placed out of authority.  The White Rose Framework Agreement would ensure that young people were placed in appropriate settings which best met their needs and the risks they were presenting.


In terms of support for victims a good working relationship existed with the Sexual Assault Referral Unit at the hospital who did work in confidence with victims and survivors to ensure they received the report they needed.


The Chairman asked if those victims came forward today was there support available for them here and now?


The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services confirmed that this support was available for all victims and urged anyone to come forward so that they could access therapeutic support to assist them in moving forward and having a fulfilling life.


·                The Chairman asked about the absent voice which was the Police and asked if the Council could be assured that they were doing everything to track these people down and bring them to justice and what action could be taken if they were not?


The Chief Executive echoed the view across Rotherham that the perpetrators of abuse should be brought to justice for the vile crimes committed.  South Yorkshire Police already had ongoing lengthy investigations in relation to allegations made by victims stretching back many years.  The recommendations in the report could be strengthened to request formal assurance from the Chief Constable that this was the case.  During 2013 assurance was requested that all historic case files had been reviewed and that the Police were doing everything they could to bring perpetrators to justice.


The Cabinet Member for Communities and Cohesion welcomed the opportunity to strengthen the recommendations as it was not just the perpetrators of the crimes, but the facilitators that needed to be investigated and the legality of reopening cases.  The confidence of the community could only be rebuilt if the public could start to see justice, whilst ensuring that resources were available with a strong assurance from the Police that action would be taken.


The Chairman pointed out that the Police and Crime Commissioner had also asked the Crime Prosecutor to do some work on cases that went to court that were never progressed.  The outcome of this review had never been received and the Council needed the assurances that the Crown Prosecution Services were looking at historic cases along with the Police and in ensuring that nothing had been missed.  This should be included as a further recommendation from this meeting.


·                The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board referred to Page 7 of the report and missed opportunities and asked if the three reports ever went to any Elected Member and if so who and when.  Linked to this Paragraph 8.12 would indicate that the wider body of Elected Members may not have seen those reports.  Reference was also made to the action plan primarily Recommendation 3 and whether the minutes of the Corporate Parenting Board could be presented to the relevant Scrutiny Panel for monitoring.  In terms of Recommendation 7 it referred to this being regularly reviewed and it was asked by who.  Reference was also made to Recommendation 12 and the creation of a community engagement plan, which may have also been developed some time ago and it was suggested that there be some scrutiny involvement to develop this plan, which should be meaningful and effective.  The Overview and Scrutiny Management Board should be given the opportunity to scrutinise the report further to safeguard reassurances.


The Chief Executive confirmed that it would appear that reference to the circulation of reports may have been directed at middle managers and may not have gone any further.  In the context about challenge one of the recommendations was to ensure that the report be referred to the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board with the expectation at that Board meeting that Scrutiny would set out its future requirements for scrutinising in detail matters arising from the report.


The Chairman confirmed that the past scrutiny function had been heavily criticised in the report and in order for the Council to be seen to taking action the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board should seek to bring in independent scrutiny to look at this.  The Centre for Public Scrutiny had already been contacted to see how they could support the Council in doing this, which they had agreed to do.


The Chairman took on board comments made by members of the public about the position in which questions on the report could be asked and used his discretion to grant other Elected Members present at the meeting the privilege to ask a question.


·                Councillor Parker referred to the Members who attended the seminar in 2005 and the information shared today which indicated that following that meeting it was known that sexual exploitation was taking place and this was also referred to in the report.  Questions were raised as to whether any Councillor who was aware of specific information following that seminar, but advised to ensure this remained confidential, at a later date raise concern, followed up on information or asked questions and if they had not, why not.  This was negligence on their role as a Councillor and they should be subject to a charge of misconduct in public offence.


          The Chief Executive was unable to respond to this question as he was not in his present position at that time.


          In a supplementary question Councillor Parker pointed out that any further meetings on this issue should have been minuted with documentation in place.


·                Councillor Turner referred to awards won by the Children and Young People’s Directorate and believed that information that would have deterred that decision would have been suppressed.


          The Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services was unable to recollect the criteria for the award.


·                Councillor C. Vines referred to the two Elected Members who were also in position in 2005 and explained why he himself was unable to attend the seminar, but confirmed that his party colleague had.  His party colleague had taken his concerns to the former Leader of the Council and, as indicated in the report, told to keep the matters confidential.


Reference was also made to the Corporate Parenting Panel agenda papers which, having been fully restricted had now been made public.


Having explained the position those Councillors present at that seminar were requested to do the same.


Councillor Ellis confirmed she indeed was one of those Councillors who had attended the seminar in 2005 and explained her position in that Members were advised to keep information confidential in order to not jeopardise the Police investigations taking place at that time.  With hindsight matters would have been dealt with differently had the full extent of the scale of sexual exploitation been known and the information shared at that seminar was welcomed. 


It was right and proper that the report had been commissioned to understand what went wrong and to ensure that this was put right now.  The report identified some good working practices and the Council was in a better position to be able to protect the vulnerable as much as it could.


Having listened to the concerns shared in the Council Chamber it was important that help and support be provided for the victims and the mistakes made in the past put right.  Scrutiny was important and the Council needed to be united to ensure that mistakes never happened again and it was proper that the public had the opportunity today to raise their concerns.


Councillor Wyatt reiterated his position that he had not wished to jeopardise complex Police investigations and took cognisance of those people who requested that the information be kept confidential.  In looking back at his own portfolio of work it was possible to see where actions had been influence by the information shared to ensure the protection of children.  Acknowledgement was given to the political management overall and with hindsight had people known about the scale of the abuse would have done things differently.  Adequate reassurance was not sufficient and inspections undertaken in Rotherham in the past had indicated that children in Rotherham were safe.


·                Councillor Cowles referred to the extraordinary times and the need for extraordinary resolutions and in achieving this an extraordinary person was required.  Inward investment into the town was now being affected by the position the Council was in and only by removing the people involved now would the Council be in a position to move forward.


The Chairman gave his assurance that the issue of discipline would be dealt with by the Chief Executive, which had been referred to previously and that matters relating to past and present employees be followed up.


In a supplementary question Councillor Cowles confirmed that this was not merely for employees, but also Elected Members.  Would those Councillors who were not up for election in 2015 go back out to the electorate to seek re-election as they no longer had the support of the people in Rotherham.


·                Councillor Reynolds referred to the passing of time and the seminar held nine years ago and asked why no Councillors had spoken out against the abuse during this period or asked for progress reports.


The Chief Executive was unable to comment on the actions of Members and was only able to comment on the report as presented.


The Chairman confirmed that actions were being taken to follow up on the issues raised.


In a supplementary question Councillor Reynolds referred to the current Police and Crime Commissioner, who was the former Cabinet Member responsible for children’s services, and his refusal to resign from his position on the basis that there was collective responsibility for the failings.  Given this rationale were all Councillors who had this collective responsibility going to resign?


The Chairman confirmed that there was a collective responsibility on all Members of the Council.


The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care provided insight into the format and purpose of Council seminars and training packages, which would allow Elected Members to take on board information and support their role as a Councillor.


The Chairman formally thanked everyone for their attendance and confirmed that other opportunities would be available for all those who wished to comment further on the report.


Resolved:-  (1)  That the full the findings and recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation by Alexis Jay OBE, dated 21st August, 2014, be accepted.


(2)  That the report confirming that services are significantly stronger today, there have been many improvements over the last four years and that there is evidence that multi-agency working is effective, be noted.


(3)  That the recommendations set out in the report attached as Appendix 1, which will continue to drive improvements to the way child protection services in Rotherham are delivered, and that regular progress reports be presented back to the Cabinet in due course, be approved.


(4)  That the references in the report to the reduction in public sector funding, placing Councils like Rotherham under extreme pressure when faced with high demands from vulnerable children and families, be noted.


(5)  That the Council should co-operate with the National Working Group to improve the child sexual exploitation risk assessment tool and that the Government be urged to use Rotherham’s report to provide evidence to a national investigation in child sexual exploitation.


(6)  That a copy of the Independent Inquiry and this response be provided to the agencies and organisations referred to in paragraph 2.18 of this report, in order to add to the national learning and improvement to child sexual exploitation responses be approved.


(7)  That the Independent Inquiry Report and this response to the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board be referred for consideration.  


(8)  That Police reassurance be sought to ensure the criminal investigations into historical crimes are being vigorously pursued with clear focus on justice for the victims.


(9)  That licensing activities works jointly with the scrutiny arrangements to strengthen its responses to see how practices can be improved.


(10)  To seek reassurance from the Crown Prosecution Service that it will play its part in supporting the Police to attempt to bring justice in all historic cases with a clear focus on justice for the victims.


(11)  That help and support be sought around an independent scrutiny function to support the Council in strengthening its scrutiny arrangements.

Supporting documents: