Too many councils are ill equipped to prevent child sexual exploitation, they lack leadership on the issue and efforts to work in partnership are ‘disjointed’.
The damning verdict comes in a report by Ofsted that the Local Government Association said would make ‘uncomfortable reading’ for local authorities across the country.
The education watchdog said councils had been ‘too slow to face up to their responsibilities’. Its in depth study examined eight local authorities, inspections of 36 children’s homes and 33 children’s services and took in the views of more than 150 young people.
Local arrangements to tackle exploitation are often underdeveloped, it found, with poor information sharing between councils, police and other agencies.
‘It cannot be acceptable that local authorities and their partners are still failing to grasp and deal with it effectively,’ said Ofsted’s national director for social care, Debbie Jones.
She added: ‘It is not enough to simply wait for the next scandal to happen. We are calling on all local authorities and their partners to ensure that they have a comprehensive multi-agency strategy and action plan in place to tackle child sexual exploitation.’
Ofsted made a series of recommendations including the publication of local action plans developed by councils and their partners and for safeguarding boards to hold them to account more effectively.
All plans and strategies should be influenced by the opinions and experiences of those who have been at risk of or have suffered from child sexual exploitation, it said. Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said:
‘While some local authorities are making positive strides to protect young people, it’s clear that others have been too slow to step up to the plate and must do more to stop any cases where children could be at risk.
‘This report makes for uncomfortable reading and councils across the country will now be reflecting on its implications and asking questions of their staff to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect each and every child.
‘Preventing child sexual exploitation is incredibly complex but local authorities are not going to be able to tackle this vile crime in isolation, it needs to become everyone’s business.’
Earlier this week, Ofsted was criticised by MPs for ‘serious flaws’ in its inspection regime in relation to the abuse of children in Rotherham.
Cllr Simmonds said: ‘Councils, communities and parents need to have confidence in the Ofsted inspection regime and its role in protecting children. The LGA has called for an independent review to discover what has gone wrong with the inspectorate.’