Good scrutiny: Buckinghamshire County Council’s review of child sexual exploitation
CfGS will not be organising a 2016 run of its Good Scrutiny Awards. Instead, we are highlighting excellent scrutiny in two ways – by sponsoring an award for excellent scrutiny at the MJ Awards (details on how to apply can be found here) and by starting a blog series highlighting examples of excellent, innovative or otherwise noteworthy work.
We start things off with this post on Buckinghamshire CC’s review of child sexual exploitation. If you would like to see your work featured in this space in due course (we hope to put up one of these blogs around every fortnight) please contact Abdul Huson on 020 7187 7365.
Buckinghamshire’s decision to undertake a detailed inquiry on child sexual exploitation was part of a programme of work that the Children’s Select Committee chose to undertake to contribute to improving the social care service. In August 2014 Ofsted rated the county’s children’s social care services as “Inadequate”. In response, the Select Committee ensured that it maintained both an overview of improvement work as well as tackling difficult issues head-on through undertaking detailed inquiries where a focus was needed.
For all members, it was the most difficult inquiry they had ever undertaken. Hearing in detail about specific examples of abuse from victims themselves, and frontline staff, was harrowing but needed to be done to ensure that members properly understood the issues and could put in place measures to prevent such abuse in future. Issues of “consent” and the sexualisation of children, factors relating to gender and race, and learning about hard-hitting stories relating to abuse helped members to develop a more profound understanding of the terrible experiences that some young people had been subject to.
Gathering this vital evidence was made even more challenging by the fact that live police investigations were under way – members needed to work in such a way that did not jeopardise this work, and that didn’t force victims to relive their experiences in a different forum without adding any value.
It was a difficult inquiry to undertake for political reasons as well. External scrutiny from DfE was a constant factor, which made the inquiry a particularly risky endeavour, when members did not know what the result and outcome of the work would be.
Although the work concluded comparatively recently, some key outcomes are already evident.
- CSE is everyone’s business. One of the outcomes of the inquiry was to emphasise the point that this was a relevant and appropriate thing for councillors to investigate as part of their scrutiny role – that they share a responsibility with paid professionals for the safety of children and young people in the area. Members will in future be continuing to take an active role in the oversight and improvement of children’s services – in part through a programme of visits and shadowing of frontline staff by non-executive members;
- Hotel Watch. This scheme, which only operated in one of Buckinghamshire’s three police areas, is about addressing CSE, and other crime, taking place in hotels and hotel grounds. Scrutiny recommended that it be expanded to cover the entire county, and steps are under way to expand it further to cover the entire Thames Valley force area;
- Data sharing. Members gathered substantial evidence on how the council and its partners gathered and shared information. They made recommendations to improve not only the sharing of information but also the way that partners worked together substantively – in particular, the police, the NHS and the council.
Other recommendations included the introduction of resilience training in primary schools.
In total nine of the ten recommendations made by scrutiny were accepted by Cabinet.
In their role as corporate parents, councillors have a legal duty to ensure that services provided to children and young people under their care, and to young people in the area more generally, provide for safety, security, and an environment where those children can grow and develop in a positive and supportive environment. Buckinghamshire’s example demonstrates a case where – when a council has been found wanting in this area – councillors have recognised and acted on this responsibility, through the scrutiny process.
Note: CfGS has, through its LGA-funded work to support council improvement, been involved in providing advice and guidance to members and officers in Buckinghamshire alongside this work. The CSE inquiry itself was however delivered entirely by Buckinghamshire’s own councillors, with the support of its own officers, at a time when the council’s scrutiny and democratic services function had (with the rest of the authority) gone through a major restructure.