Jail those who turn a blind eye to child abuse, says Cameron
Coming in the wake of horrific stories of neglect in places such as Rotherham and Oxfordshire, the plan is to be put forward by the prime minister at a Downing Street summit. Cameron will say: “Professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.”
Child sexual abuse is to be upgraded to the status of “a national threat”, so that it is placed on a par with serious organised crime by police chiefs and elected police commissioners in their strategic planning. They will be required to cooperate with other police forces across county boundaries to safeguard children.
Cameron believes his plan to extend the offence of wilful neglect beyond the health service and adult social care sector to a far wider group of public service workers will send out a message that child abuse can no longer be regarded as a second order issue by public service workers. He hopes the reforms will herald a culture change and come close to meaning that public service workers would lose criminal immunity if they failed to report or act on clear evidence of abuse.
The wilful neglect or ill treatment offence was first introduced in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act passed earlier this year. It applies to individual care workers or care provider organisations looking after children and adults in the NHS and adult care homes. Some critics have claimed that the measure is likely to threaten the desired culture of openness in dealing with the problem and could lead to scapegoating, whereby individuals are blamed for organisational failings or lack of public funding. But Cameron will say: “It is about making sure that the professionals we charge with protecting our children – the council staff, police officers and social workers – do the jobs they are paid to do.”
Police and social services in Oxfordshire are expected to be heavily criticised on Tuesday in a report that will conclude that more than 300 young people, mostly girls, have been groomed and sexually exploited by gangs in the past 15 years. One social worker in Oxfordshire recently told a trial that nine out of 10 of those responsible for the wellbeing of the girls were aware of what was going on.
In Rotherham, it was estimated by Professor Alexis Jay in August that at least 1,400 children were sexually abused over a number of years. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has sent commissioners to run almost all aspects of the council for four years.
Cameron is to order that exit payments be denied to senior staff found to have ignored evidence of abuse. Local health and child professionals, in conjunction with councillors, will be obliged to prepare long-term practical plans to uncover child sexual exploitation and bring more offenders to justice. Failure would incur tough consequences.
Cameron said all the inquiries into child abuse had found a systemic failing and a culture of denial. He has already proposed the implementation of joint official health, police and education inspections and the creation of a child sexual abuse taskforce of professional troubleshooting experts in social work, law enforcement and health to provide support.
Cameron said: “We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country. Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet – often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness. That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated.”
Cameron is aware that Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been trying to exploit the evidence of child abuse by members of ethnic minorities to demand tougher action. Speaking on Fox News in the US last week, Farage said the reason child sexual abuse in Rotherham had not been dealt with earlier was that “the police and the authorities were frightened that because the perpetrators were predominantly Pakistani Muslim men that, if they said anything about it, they might get called racists. So, we have been frightened of our own shadows.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the Cameron plan did not go far enough. “Stronger laws are needed to protect children. The government should bring forward a legal duty to report child abuse, a new specific offence of child exploitation, and new child abduction warning notices. However, ministers voted against these last week.
“Most important of all, we desperately need proper, compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to teach young people about consent and healthy relationships. However, the government is continuing to refuse to bring it in.”