No-one can have failed to have been shocked by the revelations about the extent of child sexual abuse over the last few months.
I chair the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee in the House of Commons. Our job is to scrutinise and report on the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), its agencies and local government.
We have a particular interest in reviewing policy – formulation and implementation – taking and analysing the evidence on what works and what doesn’t, and then drawing conclusions and making recommendations for improvement.
It is in that context that we have been taking evidence on the local government aspects of the failure to protect so many children. We have just published our first report. We heard alarming evidence that the organised child sexual exploitation at Rotherham is prevalent across England. Rotherham is not an outlier.
In leadership, governance and accountability terms, what most concerned us was that it was the press which stimulated action in Rotherham, not the Council’s own system of challenge or scrutiny, nor external inspections. Therefore, we were clear that it is essential that councils across the country are busily reviewing whether their own scrutiny, governance, and leadership is fit and ready to identify and combat child sexual exploitation in their communities.
Serious questions also need to be asked of Ofsted. Repeated Ofsted inspections in Rotherham failed to lift the lid on the Council’s shameful inability to tackle child sexual exploitation. As a Committee, we will want to question Ofsted about their inspection regime and ask why their inspections were so ineffective in Rotherham.
As I write, Ofsted has just reported that children’s services remain inadequate in Rotherham. I have little doubt that, over the coming months, Ofsted will find that services in other councils that it had previously rated as good will be found wanting.
And, Ofsted has just published a wider-ranging report which states that child sexual exploitation has not been treated as the priority that events in Rotherham and elsewhere suggested it should have been.
We all have to come to terms with the fact that vulnerable children in every community are at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.
We all have a role to play in preventing it and taking action to bring to account those who abuse children or fail to keep them safe.