Involvement in offending makes girls more vulnerable to sexual exploitation

Youth offending teams and staff in secure establishments were working hard with girls who commit criminal offences to reduce reoffending and reduce the risk the girls posed. However, many of those girls had potentially been exposed to sexual exploitation in the community and staff needed to be better equipped to deal with it, according to independent inspectors. Today they published the report of a joint inspection.

The report, Girls in the Criminal Justice System reflects the findings of HM Inspectorate of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Care and Social Service Inspectorate Wales. The inspection focused on how effective youth offending services and secure establishments were in: helping to stop girls offending, reducing the risk of harm girls present to other people and helping to make girls less vulnerable. Inspectors also wanted to consider the part played by alcohol misuse in offending.

Nationally girls make up just one in five of the caseload of youth offending services and the population of children in custody. They commit less serious crimes and normally pose little risk to other people. Their offending frequently links to emotional problems and relationship difficulties with family, partners and friends. Because of their relatively low number the distinct needs of girls sometimes get overlooked in a system primarily designed to deal with offending by boys.

Inspectors were most concerned to find that child sexual exploitation presented a serious risk to girls in all the areas visited. They found that:

  • there was a complex interplay between vulnerability and offending so for some girls, their offending made them vulnerable (to drug use, sexual exploitation); and
  • other girls were being sexually exploited, which often acted as a trigger for offending behaviour.

Inspectors also found that:

  • most youth offending team workers and staff in secure custodial establishments recognised that to work with girls effectively, methods used to work with boys did not work;
  • misuse of alcohol was not a significant factor contributing to the offending behaviour of most girls, although some drank to excess as a way of coping with difficult situations;
  • where gender-sensitive approaches had been developed, this was due to individuals and not through a nationally or locally led drive to recognise and meet the particular needs of girls who had offended; and
  • girls needed to develop trusting relationships with staff and had distinct needs, requiring a tailored response.

In order to drive improvements, inspectors made recommendations to youth offending team management boards, youth offending team managers, local authority children’s services and police forces. These included ensuring effective liaison between YOTs and other agencies working to safeguard girls at risk of sexual exploitation and regular monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of this cooperation.

Chief Inspector of Probation, Paul McDowell, said on behalf of all inspectorates:

“Overall, staff in youth offending teams and the secure custodial estate were working hard to try and make a difference to the lives of the girls for whom they were responsible. However, if the lives of girls currently in the system are to change, effective joined-up work needs to take place between all the agencies working with them. More rigour needs to be brought to bear on evaluating what works in turning girls away from crime and reducing their vulnerability.”

“What we were extremely concerned about was that many of the girls we came across during this inspection were themselves vulnerable to sexual exploitation and many had experienced situations and circumstances in their lives which they were struggling to understand and come to terms with. These individuals are children and are entitled to the rights and protection a child should receive. In too many cases, this protection was absent with staff in agencies often ill-prepared to deal with, or unaware of the problem of actual or potential sexual exploitation.


Notes to Editors:

  1. A copy of this report can be found on HM Inspectorate of Probation’s website at from 19 December 2014.
  2. Inspectors visited six Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) to assess the quality of work in a sample of 48 cases. Inspectors interviewed key managers and operational staff in the YOT and other agencies and interviewed 20 girls serving sentences in custody and custody staff.
  3. HMI Probation is an independent inspectorate, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, and reporting directly to the Secretary of State on the effectiveness of work with adults, children and young people who have offended, aimed at reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
  4. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and social care in England. The CQC makes sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and it encourages care services to improve. The CQC monitors, inspects and regulates services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety and publishes what it finds to help people choose care.
  5. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  6. Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) regulate and inspect to improve care and social services for people in Wales. CSSIW are a part of Welsh Government, but operate independently.
  7. Ofsted regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
  8. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Probation Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.