Essex Police failing to adequately protect children at risk of harm

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has today published the report of inspection carried out in September and October 2015 of the child protection work carried out by Essex Police. These inspections are part of a rolling programme of child protection inspections of all police forces in England and Wales.

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Essex – National child protection inspection

Protecting children is one of the most important tasks that the police undertake. Only the police can investigate suspected crimes and arrest perpetrators. Police officers have the power to take a child who is in danger into a place of safety, or to seek an order to restrict an offender’s contact with children. The police service has a significant role working with other agencies to ensure the child’s protection and long term well-being.

Although Essex Police is strongly committed to improving its child protection arrangements, at the time of the inspection HMIC found that the force was not adequately protecting children at risk due to widespread serious and systemic failings.

Inspectors were concerned to find:

  • child abuse investigations are being undertaken by insufficiently skilled and knowledgeable staff and are often of a poor standard, leaving children at significant risk;
  • a general lack of understanding of the signs of child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, and an inconsistent response from teams across the force;
  • the protection of some children who regularly go missing from home is inconsistent; early intervention and long-term inter-agency planning designed to protect children who go missing is often ineffective;
  • ineffective management of the risk posed by suspects in some cases of child abuse; and
  • children were being unnecessarily detained in police custody.

However, inspectors were pleased to find:

  • the Chief Constable is committed to improving services for children. The force has taken steps to improve child protection arrangements, such as investment in additional staff for child protection work;
  • most staff responsible for managing child abuse investigations are committed and dedicated to providing the best possible outcomes for children;
  • children with severe mental health problems are now taken directly to dedicated youth mental health facility, and not brought into police custody suites.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said:

“HMIC’s inspection revealed some serious weaknesses in the way Essex Police protects children who are at risk of harm. This is one of the most important tasks for the police, so I was extremely disappointed by what we found. I recognise that the Chief Constable and his leadership team are deeply committed to improving the service for children, but at the time of our inspection, in the autumn of 2015, this had yet to translate into improvements in police practice and Essex Police still had a very long way to go. We found, for example, that some officers had poor attitudes towards missing children, with assumptions being made about their ability to fend for themselves. Frontline officers also lacked a sound understanding of the warning signs that children might be at risk of child sexual exploitation. The majority of child protection cases examined by HMIC were inadequate or needed to improve.

“There are a number of areas that HMIC has identified as needing the force’s immediate attention. I am under no illusions that there is a lot that the force needs to do to provide children in Essex with the service they deserve. The force recognises that this is the case and is acting on HMIC’s findings.

“I have been monitoring the force’s response to our inspection findings very closely. Although it is still early days, during my update visit to the force this week I saw evidence of a sea change in approach; protecting vulnerable people, especially children, has been made the force’s top priority and placed at the heart of all that it does. I am encouraged by the broad and impressive range of actions already taken, designed to transform the way the force protects children and other vulnerable people. Since our autumn inspection there has been further investment in the number of staff working to protect children, as well as an intensive force-wide training programme designed to ensure that all officers and staff in contact with children are better equipped to take the right steps to keep them safe. I am certainly encouraged by the progress that the force has made and I am confident that it will continue the good work already embarked on. HMIC will continue to monitor progress and we will be conducting a follow up inspection to ensure these improvements continue.”

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Essex – National child protection inspection


  1. HMIC is inspecting the child protection work of every police force in England and Wales. The reports are intended to provide information for the police, the police and crime commissioner and the public on how well children are protected and their needs are met, and to secure improvements for the future.
  2. Under the National Child Protection Inspection (NCPI) programme, HMIC will assess how effectively each force in England and Wales safeguards children and young people at risk, make recommendations to forces for improving child protection practice, highlight effective practice in child protection work and drive improvements in forces’ child protection practice.
  3. Follow up activity by HMIC is an integral part of the NCPI programme. It allows inspectors to assess the progress each force is making in its work to improve services for the safety and protection of children. HMIC aims to revisit each force no later than six months after the publication of the initial NCP inspection report to assess how it is managing the implementation of the recommendations.
  4. In July 2015, HMIC published ‘In harm’s way: the role of the police in keeping children safe’ – based on findings from 21 inspections on the police response to child protection conducted over the last two years. This incorporates inspections from the first eight forces inspected under the NCPI programme.
  5. 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 all 43 police forces in England and Wales, together with other major policing bodies.
  6. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  7. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.