The Home Office National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People – an inappropriate response to organised sexual crime.

Tom Watson MP, on October 12th 2012, asked a Prime Minister’s Question to ensure that the police investigate claims of a powerful paedophile ring linked to a previous prime minister’s senior adviser and parliament. Watson said that an evidence file collected by the police to convict paedophile Peter Righton, in 1992, had contained clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring.

 

Following this question, and in response to many recent exposés, the government did initiate a range of reactive inquiries and police operations. It also set up the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People.  The title, though, is significantly flawed because, of course, children are people and also vulnerable.  This Home Office led group, established in April 2013 and chaired by Damian Green MP, has published a Progress Report and a report of national findings relating to a multi-agency project.  I haven’t yet noted a strong base in survivor and care-leaver groups, a consultation process or any invitation for the presentation or collation of evidence.

 

The Home Office would not have been my department of choice for this work. In the 80s, Geoffrey Dickens MP presented the Home Office with extensive dossiers about serious crimes against children. These were carelessly mislaid and it seems little action resulted from his investigations. Dickens was exposing the sexual abuse of children in the London Borough of Islington long before I whistleblew about it and just a street or two away from the events I exposed in the 90s.  I was a social worker in Islington at the time and it is my deep regret that I did not contact him. However, my investigations were without the advantage of the internet, social media and strong survivor networks currently proving so helpful to investigations.

 

I looked optimistically for the word ‘social worker’ in the Progress Report but social work as a profession is severely marginalised. There is a mention of the appointment of the Chief Social Worker and a one liner about social work practice.  This is no surprise as the Working Together 2013 statutory guidance, which the Progress Report pledges to implement in full, omits all reference to methods of joint police and social work investigation  and even removes the definition of organised abuse. As it isn’t included I expect that no-one will notice it – let alone investigate it. Social work is now all about assessment of needs and the police separately investigate crime. Unfortunately, the protection of children does not fit so neatly into such divides. The nuanced, skilful work of specialist police and social workers jointly investigating child abuse, in a child-centred way, has been steadily under attack since the mid 90s. Academics and politicians are among those rightly accused of assisting the demise of proactive child protection work which has consistently led to  tragic consequences for children.  Prevention, early intervention and family support  approaches were implemented as an alternative to policies and methods of protection –  as if the protection of children could be made redundant if these early years systems were in place. The changes also provided an opportunity for the easy privatisation of services. It was comparable with having fire alarms but no fire fighters. 

 

Serious case review findings, following the deaths of children from abuse, have in recent months highlighted that the focus of work was on the parents and adults rather than the child, there was a lack of investigation of perpetrators, poor evidence collation and little focus on direct communication with children. Specialist joint child protection teams have been discarded and police and social workers now rarely train together. The Progress Report promotes the Frontline social work fast track education scheme to bring Russell Group graduates into the work.  Some of us working in higher education cannot imagine how this can possibly work. We are anxious about the scheme competing with us for valuable student placements and fear for a profession in which newcomers will be unlikely to reflect the diverse class and ethnic backgrounds of those who use the services. In contrast to my own teaching, I doubt if the syllabus will include anything about organised sexual crime.

 

The child protection professional who informed Tom Watson’s prime minister’s question has written about his former team of social workers who, working jointly with police over 8 years during the 90s, took over 4000 referrals and achieved 37 convictions of child sex offenders. The team closed down 9 boarding schools associated with these investigations.  Such expert teams no longer exist. The joint investigation of child abuse has been air brushed out of policy, yet it is only when social workers and police work closely together, focusing both on the world of the children and that of the perpetrator, that effective investigation can take place. Those of us who worked in this way in the 90s know in depth what works and how it works. We do not need a National Group to tell us how to protect children and how to prosecute child sex offenders.  We also know that, with devastating impact on abused children, this proven methodology is not being implemented now. The systems and structures that supported it have long since been dismantled.  Working Together 2013 also removed guidance about child trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and honour-based crime as well as a focus on disabled children. It removed chapters on training and development and on how to manage those who pose a risk to children. The responsibility for detailed protocols covering such matters now falls to each locality. This takes me back to the early 80s and the mayhem of a free-for-all as each area had their own child protection procedures. The government thinks that  professionals  should rejoice at the reduction in pages of Working Together guidance from the 700 of the previous version to just over 70. However, knowing the tragedies that will undoubtedly follow, I can only mourn the reckless deregulation of protocols that did effectively protect children.

 

The source of Tom Watson’s question has written an open letter to David Cameron. He has suggested that all three party leaders come together to forget their political roles and act as fathers of young children and as decent citizens. They should show the moral courage to stop the cover-ups and allow all abusers to face justice regardless of their privileged position in society.  Responses from Cameron and Clegg to this letter refer to the National Group but this is not the answer.  What is needed is a national police and social work child protection team to work proactively, co-ordinate local investigations,  collate current and historic intelligence and achieve justice for child abuse survivors and care-leavers as well as protecting children currently being harmed.  Clichés and rhetoric are not required. We have heard it all before and we recognise an excuse for inaction when we see one.  

 

Tom Watson’s question pointed to investigations that were closed down when they got too close to people in power. This was also my experience in Islington when all police were removed from my investigations of child murder, abuse networks, abductions and sexual assault. It is only by the investigation of past crimes that current children will gain protection from abusers who have never been brought to justice.  The past must come under scrutiny but it is the safety of children right now that is my prime concern.

 

 

Dr Liz Davies

Reader in Child Protection

London Metropolitan University

l.davies@londonmet.ac.uk

Advertisements
3 comments
  1. Dave said:

    It is now obvious why Greville Janner didn’t like Geoffrey Dickens.

  2. cathyfox said:

    Reblogged this on cathyfox and commented:
    Liz Davies

%d bloggers like this: