'˜Children deserve support against sexual exploitation'
As bosses at Preston Council prepare to discuss child sexual exploitation and what the authority can do to combat it, Sarah Carter speaks to chief executive Lorraine Norris about the importance of looking out for society's most vulnerable children
A children’s safeguarding champion looks set to be put in place in Preston to work to combat sexual exploitation, it has emerged.
Following the scandal that unfolded in Rotherham the council, along with other organisations, has created reports around how it tackles the issue.
Chief executive Lorraine Norris explains: “What we know from the Rotherham report, the Jay Report and others, is child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a fact of life, and it is probably happening all over the country.
“Is it a particular problem in Preston? I don’t think there’s any intelligence to say it’s a particular problem here more than it is in other places, but it’s a fact of life that it exists.
“Therefore, we need to be vigilant and Lancashire Constabulary has been at the forefront of work that’s being done on this, and was one of the earliest constabularies that started to do that work.
“The city council is, in many respects, a partner in this and it is one of the more minor partners, but nevertheless it needs all public sector partners.”
Mrs Norris says the private sector also plays an important part and says: “We hear a lot about the taxi industry, they can play a very positive role in ensuring we are aware of the possibility of CSE and ensuring its prevention, so it is a real partnership effort.”
A report is to be considered by Preston Council’s cabinet on Wednesday, written by Mrs Norris, updating councillors on work carried out.
She explains: “This report is trying to show how we as a council have tried to discharge that duty as a partner with the activities we’ve been doing.
“Most of it is done alongside other people, the Safeguarding Children’s Board is the lead partner.
“We are trying to demonstrate that the council is doing what we can.” She explains the council and other agencies checks their services and procedures against new advice, each time fresh reports are published. The issue of child sexual exploitation has been considered by Preston Council’s crime and disorder committee, and members of the task group recommended establishing a member champion to “liaise with officers and to keep ‘a finger on the pulse’ of developments and activity in addressing CSE”.
Mrs Norris says: “Having a member champion is about making sure, internally in the organisation, this work has some profile, that we are giving it the importance it deserves, to say we keep our eye on this, and that’s usually the idea of a member champion.
“Also, they can attend conferences and the children’s partnership board, with a view to keeping the council up to date and this on the council’s agenda as an issue that we need to be aware of.”
A similar report about child sexual exploitation was considered by Preston Council in October 2014, and an update is to now be discussed by cabinet members.
That report said, between April and June 2014, there were 31 victims of CSE in Preston - the same number as reported the previous year.
Mrs Norris explains that victims of child sexual exploitation deserve the support of the council and agencies across the city.
She says: “The victims are vulnerable young girls and, in some cases boys, and the October 2014 report highlights, from some of the studies that have been done, the factors that lead young people to become involved in this.
“What that tells us is not all, but quite often, they are among the most vulnerable young people in the community and, therefore, it requires us all to be vigilant and aware because they deserve all the agencies’ support to avoid that, because these are life-changing experiences.”
If the report and its recommendations are agreed at Wednesday’s meeting, a recommendation will be made to this month’s full council meeting to appoint a children’s safeguarding champion.
The report says: “The council has a statutory duty to co-operate in respect of safeguarding children.
“There is no alternative to the council’s active involvement in these issues.”
An overview is given within the report of the works being carried out by Preston Council, or in partnership, to address CSE.
It says an internal review of procedures and practices in relation to CSE was carried out following the publication of the findings in Rotherham, and a briefing was provided to middle managers.
It says information was included on the council’s website providing help and advice, and the community safety web page has been “regularly updated”.
Among other measures taken, the report explains a session was provided for councillors on CSE awareness and safeguarding duties, based on the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board training model.
When the council’s crime and disorder committee met to consider the issue as a work plan study, they heard evidence from people interviewed from voluntary and statutory organisations.
CSE training was also provided to neighbourhood services and grounds maintenance staff, and “bespoke” training was also provided for licensing officers.
The report says an awareness pack was developed for taxi licensing interviews with new applicants, and a CSE awareness session was provided for the community engagement team.