Beds Police have been told to improve their child protection services, after inspectors found examples of the force being too slow to respond to signs of sexual exploitation.
A report released today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found the force had taken a number of steps to improve over the last 12 months.
But inspectors also pointed to signs of “poor practice”.
However there were a number of positives in the report too.
Beds Police was commended for its up-to-date ‘trigger plans’ to help in finding missing children, staff and officers having awareness of their safeguarding responsibilities, and improved sharing of information with other organisations.
Although a new computer system had caused difficulties, these were quickly recognised and tackled.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr, said: “Today’s report paints an improved but mixed picture of Bedfordshire Police’s child protection capabilities.
“There are still areas where problems remain and where we have not seen all the improvements that we had hoped for.”
He added: “It is especially worrying that children most at risk, such as those being exploited sexually, are not being identified quickly enough.
“But it is important to recognise that the force has made progress.”
Deputy Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said: “Protecting vulnerable people is incredibly important for the force and we are committed to identifying and safeguarding those at risk of harm.
“We have carried out a lot of training to help officers and staff spot the signs of exploitation, both sexually and criminal, and we are working hard to link in closely with partners, particularly social workers and children’s homes, to ensure a joined up response to keeping people safe.
“It is significant that the report makes several references to the huge workload our officers are under given our funding constraints. In Bedfordshire we face complex crime challenges, usually seen by large metropolitan areas, yet are funded as a small, rural force – which impacts heavily on the capacity of our teams.
“We’re pleased that the HMICFRS has recognised the improvements we have made in this area and the innovative approach we are taking to protecting those at risk of harm, but we recognise there is still work to be done. We are committed to continuing to enhance our child protection capability and will put a plan in place following these recommendations from HMICFRS.”
Key issues raised by the report:
>Only seven out of 12 officers assigned to investigate child sexual exploitation were in post – and five of these seven officers were working full-time on historical sexual abuse investigations;
> A lack of police supervision in multiagency safeguarding hubs;
> Poor record-keeping meaning that it was unclear what safeguarding plans were in place for individual children;
> Delays in the force sending referrals to the local authority, even in some cases where there were “clear signs of risk and children were vulnerable to sexual exploitation”.