Hundreds of assessments for children at risk of sexual exploitation have been logged over the last year, a meeting has heard.
On April 12, Sunderland City Council’s children education and skills scrutiny committee recieved a report about the issue and the schemes in place to keep children safe.
Stuart Douglass of the Safer Sunderland Partnership delivered the report which defined child sexual exploitation as a “form of child sexual abuse” when an individual or group take advantage.
This can involved coercing, manipulating or deceiving a child into sexual activity – either physically or through technology.
The committee heard that the Missing and Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children (MSET) Shared Intelligence Group works to investigate cases of concern.
MSET unites a range of partners to tackle the issue, is chaired by a detective inspector and is based at Washington’s Team Sanctuary South – a scheme set up in 2016 covering South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland.
Between January 2017 and January 2018, 679 assessments were considered across those three areas, with 111 cases being forwarded to full meetings and 40 deemed as high risk.
The meeting heard that figures also include children who go missing but may not demonstrate a risk of exploitation.
Mr Douglass said many risks revolve around adolescent behaviour such as going out and drinking alcohol and it’s hard for agencies to demonstrate exploitation in these cases.
He added MSET can work with public park staff to plot out points where youths gather or refer traders selling alcohol to youths to the Trading Standards team to help tackle the issue.
While the report added there were no “hotspots” of child sexual exploitation in Sunderland, “vulnerability areas” were identified.
Coun Paula Hunt asked what training was available for partners involved in MSET while also commenting on the “low percentage” of high risk assessments.
“When you talk about 679 assessments, I’m wondering where they come from,” she said.
“You don’t want anyone to fall through the net.”
Mr Douglass said the majority of assessments come from social care workers and with a voluntary youth provider, people make their concerns known which instigates the safeguarding process.
He added convictions in sexual exploitation cases may never happen but the purpose of MSET is about making children safe, which could include moving them to other areas.
The committee also heard that if a person is visiting an adult and a parent is “not happy” about it, a child abduction notice can be issued.
“We will say it’s not suitable to go to that house as long as you get that parental support,” Mr Douglass said.
Committee vice chairman, Bob Francis, noted the number of agencies working within MSET and asked if their standard procedure involved single staff member monitoring a person through the system.
Mr Douglass clarified that MSET looks at the risks around child sex exploitation and is about coordination with other agencies who are aware of eachother’s work.
“I would hope people wouldn’t slip through the net and they shouldn’t do,” he said.
Other projects to tackle the issue include managing child sexual exploitation victims transitioning into adulthood with £70k external funding helping to launch a 12-month pilot.
A report on the success of the pilot, which covers care leavers, will come back before committee for discussion in May this year.
Committee chairman, Patricia Smith, addressing Mr Douglass, added: “When you come back you need more numbers about risks and what’s happening with our kids.
“If we have a problem, we need to know. It’s the same that you mention there aren’t hotspots but vulnerable areas. We need to know.”
Future council plans include updated data recording systems and awareness training around child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.
A report adds this will build on work in 2016 which was delivered to 780 multi-agency practitioners, 30 foster carers, 220 taxi drivers, 15 licencees and 30 councillors.
Mandatory training applied to all taxi drivers on ‘home to school’ contracts but was voluntary for all other taxi contracts.
With the training policy set for review this year, the committee requested that new condition was made to make the awareness training mandatory.
Mr Douglass said he could liaise with the licensing department to explore the feasibility of this.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service