“We’re on top of this”. That’s the message from the man leading Calderdale Council’s fight against child sex abusers in the district.
Stuart Smith, the authority’s head of Children and Young People’s Services, said pro-active work is constantly being carried out to protect the district’s children and the council is an “example of good practice”.
Mr Smith’s comments come after 25 men appeared at Calderdale Magistrates Court last week accused of historic sex offences against two girls.
And Mr Smith was also keen to stress that Calderdale was “not another Rotherham” and encouraged anyone who believes a youngster is, or at risk of becoming, a victim of child sexual exploitation (CSE) to report their concerns to the authorities straight away.
Mr Smith said: “This isn’t a massive crime wave in Calderdale like it’s been depicted in other parts of the country because we work with the police and social workers all the time and it means we can get on top of it.
“We’ve been doing pro-active work since before the Rotherham case came to light. It’s been going on for 10 years.
“We share intelligence every day.
“We have secured the safety of children who have been victims or are on the edge of becoming victims.
“We know the size of the problem in Calderdale.
“We’re on top of this.”
Mr Smith said the council and the police deal with around 20 CSE cases a year and at any one time have 12 they are “keeping an eye on”.
A number of children, who are deemed “vulnerable” of being at risk of becoming victims, are on a CSE register and have their case monitored on a daily basis.
Depending on whether the risk is green (monitor the situation), amber (monitor or intervene by talking to men in the child’s life and hold talks in schools) or red (intervene, which could include taking the child into the council’s care or in extreme circumstances moving them out of the borough to break links with men), will dictate what course of action is taken.
Playing a key role in making these decisions is the Calderdale Local Safeguarding Board (CLSB). The CLSB has a “Proactive and Responsive” sub-committee which takes the strategic lead for CSE, Missing and Trafficked Children and is chaired by the police at Detective Chief Inspector rank. All of the key child protection partners are present on this group.
Subordinate to this group is the CSE Operations group which meets every week and includes the police, social care, youth services, youth offending, and health and education services. This group collates information and intelligence and supports investigations.
Working to this group is the CSE team or Multi-agency Safeguarding Team (MAST) This specialist team, based at Halifax Police Station, is made up of police officers, social workers, the Children’s Society’s “Safe Hands”, health services, youth services and youth offending. They hold daily intelligence sharing meetings to ensure immediate and appropriate action is taken in each indivdual case. Anyone who calls the council’s dedicated CSE line will speak directly to the MAST team.
This structure has been cited as an example of good practice in the Local Government Association’s “Tackling child sexual exploitation”, a resource which was distributed to all councils in the country earlier this month.
Mr Smith said: “We have quite a good preventative programme. We have intervention in schools. In schools there will be lessons about what’s an appropriate relationship and what the signs are of someone trying to groom you. The way to stop this happening is to stop girls being conned. If they’re more aware, they’re less likely to be conned.”
Mr Smith said last year the five councils in West Yorkshire - Calderdale, Kirklees. Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds - were given a grant to tackle CSE from West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson. Part of this money will be spent in schools, whilst money is also going to ensuring that taxi drivers who have lost their licence in one borough for CSE do not end up working in surrounding areas. The police are also encouraging hotel and B and B owners to report any CSE suspicions.
Mr Smith added: “With CSE, the council is really very concerned about the community generally. We don’t want the Muslim community in Halifax to feel like they’re being tarred with this. They’re as much a part in the solution of this as other parts of he community.”