Inspectors call for ‘radical new approaches’ in how the police and local partners protect children
In a report published today, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is calling for police and partner agencies to improve how they work together to protect children.
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HMICFRS last published a report on how the police service protects children nationally in 2015. Since this report, HMICFRS has continued to inspect how individual police forces in England and Wales protect vulnerable children. These, along with the Joint Targeted Area inspections carried out by HMICFRS along with Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation provide a detailed picture of the child protection arrangements in each force area.
Today’s report draws conclusions based on these individual force inspections, which show where the police service as a whole needs has made progress and where it needs to improve.
Inspectors report that:
- police forces have improved their understanding of the risks around vulnerable children;
- protecting vulnerable children is a priority for policing leaders, but it requires further resourcing at a time of decreasing officer numbers and budget cuts;
- the approach of the police and partners is not proactive enough in identifying children that could be at risk of abuse; and
- the current system is unsustainable. The police can’t do this work alone. More resourcing needs to be given, not just in policing, to help support and protect vulnerable children.
The report paints a picture of dedicated professionals working across police forces and partner agencies to protect vulnerable children. However, inspections continue to find many of the same problems challenging forces and their partners. This is, in large part, because the approach of the police and their partners continues to be reactive with decisions based on the most recent incident. Too little emphasis is placed on identifying underlying issues or the cumulative impact on a child of multiple repeated instances of trauma.
HMICFRS has been pleased to find examples of innovative work taking place to protect vulnerable children at an earlier point in their lives. In Wales, police forces are part of a programme to give early support to children exposed to adverse childhood experiences. All four Welsh forces collaborate with Public Health Wales on early intervention and prevention work with children who have suffered adverse childhood experiences.
Giving these children early support will have longer-term benefits, not only for the police, but for health, education and other public services. In England the picture is less consistent, but we have also seen some examples of innovative practice. In Camden, north London, for example the police have worked with partners to create the United Kingdom’s first ‘child house’, known as the Lighthouse. Based on an Icelandic model, it is designed to help make sure children who have been sexually assaulted aren’t further traumatised by the investigation of a crime.
HMI Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said:
“We are calling for radical new approaches to be implemented so that vulnerable children are better protected. We want to see vulnerable children safeguarded at the earliest possible opportunity, so they avoid being subjected to damaging abuse – rather than wait until they have already suffered. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff in every force and partnership agency the current approach to risk and vulnerability places too much emphasis on addressing immediate risks and the symptoms of vulnerability.
“To achieve the best possible outcomes for children, leaders in all agencies with the shared responsibility of protecting children need to improve how they work together. Police chiefs and other agencies need to develop coherent protection plans, at a local level, to better identify children who are potentially at risk.”
Also published today is research carried out by NatCen commissioned by HMICFRS to evaluate its national child protection inspection (NCPI) programme. Since the programme started in 2014, NatCen reports that HMICFRS’s approach was considered, engaging, and comprehensive. NatCen also found evidence of positive changes to the way forces approach child protection, notably in force leadership, management and governance, and the child’s experience of the force. Engagement by senior leaders with the programme resulted in greater investment in resources designed to safeguard children.
NatCen also made recommendations for how the NCPI programme might further help improve child protection arrangements in forces. HMICFRS will use the results of this evaluation and recommendations to develop this and other inspections it carries out.
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- HMICFRS is inspecting the child protection work of every police force in England and Wales. The findings of the inspections 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.
- This report is based on inspection reports for 18 police forces, plus a further 21 reports which review progress against our initial recommendations. These reports can be found on the HMICFRS website.
- HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing and fire and rescue services in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire and rescue services. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies. It also inspects 45 fire and rescue services in England.
- For further information, HMICFRS’s press office can be contacted from 9:00am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
- HMICFRS’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.