West Midlands police six weeks to improve “weak” child protection functions
West Midlands police has six weeks to improve its staff’s knowledge of child protection after a HM Inspectorate Constabulary (HMIC) investigation found a “general lack of understanding” had led to a number of “weak” responses to difficult, complex or prolonged child protection cases.
West Midlands Police were investigated in June by HMIC as part of a rolling programme of child protection inspections of all police forces in England and Wales.
The investigation found that heavy workloads for staff meant that child abuse investigations teams were unable to manage their cases effectively.
The report states: “Signs of risk were missed, lines of enquiries were either not followed up or took too long, and there were failures to respond to information and intelligence and to pursue offenders.”
Nine cases regarding child sexual exploitation in the West Midlands were examined by inspectors, five of which were assessed as inadequate. Nine out of 11 cases which involved children missing from home were also assessed as inadequate.
In one case, the police were alerted by care home staff after a 15-year-old girl left home late at night with an older man. The HMIC report says that although the girl was known to “be at risk of sexual exploitation”, her location was not immediately sought and police did not check on her welfare when she was reported to have returned the following morning.
The report found that the attitudes of some officers from West Midlands Police towards “potential victims of child exploitation” or runaways was “unacceptable” and resulted in “poor decision making”.
“Staff need to understand that children do not make a ‘lifestyle choice’ to be abused, particularly those who are more vulnerable because of the neglect they have already suffered in their life,” stated the report.
As West Midlands Police were investigated two days into a change in its departmental arrangements, officers were keen to express that the report did not reflect the constabulary’s “exciting new changes”.
Assistant chief constable at West Midlands Police, Carl Foulkes, said: “Child protection is a priority for the force and I am passionate about providing the best service we can. I want West Midlands police to be the best in the country – dealing with vulnerable children with professionalism and compassion.”
West Midlands public protection unit has recently doubled in strength to some 800 officers and staff. “This displays our level of commitment,” said Foulkes.
Her majesty’s inspector of constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said: “I would like to encourage West Midlands police to address our concerns immediately, and have asked that within six weeks it provides us with an action plan to demonstrate how it will act upon these recommendations.”