We reported last week on the release of a report into an incident of Child Sexual Exploitation in Yeovil. The details of the case are grim enough and so it was a bit of a surprise to see a statement from the LibDems trying to make political capital from it. In the event it is perhaps best to reproduce their statement verbatim:
Jane Lock, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Somerset County Council announced ‘I have read the Serious Case Review report of the dreadful abuse suffered by girls in Yeovil. They were completely let down by the people you would normally turn to being prepared to take any action against these dreadful men. The report is a damning indictment of the inadequate children’s services in Somerset at that time with a 50% vacancy rate for social workers, could they honestly say it wouldn’t happen again, I don’t believe they can.
Children’s Services looked at the parenting, one of the girls under the care of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) continued to be visited and taken out by her abuser and the police prosecuted one of the victims for racial abuse. Somerset County Council, Health services and the police were negligent by not sharing information which might have helped the nightmare to end sooner. It could not have been any worse’.
As this is being turned into a political issue, which is a pity, there are a couple of factual issues we should draw attention to.
The allegations were first made in August 2010 (it does take a long time for a Serious Case Review to come to a set of findings) and the events under review carried on until 2013. During that period, Somerset County Council children’s services were not rated “Inadequate”. The first Ofsted report rating the service as inadequate was in 2014.
Secondly it is worth remembering that until May 2009 the LibDems were in power. By the time of the first allegations in this case, August 2010, the Conservative administration had been in power for just over a year. It seems barely credible that an entire cohort of social workers had either vanished or disintegrated in that time as the LibDem statement appears to suggest. Certainly by 2014 there were clearly issues, major ones at that, but that is not the point being made.
In view of the politicisation of the case and in the interests of balance we also asked for statements on the case from the County Council and the SSCB.
For the latter the, Independent Chair Sally Halls told us: “Difficulties in recognising and effectively addressing CSE are not limited to Somerset. It is a particularly difficult offence to identify because many of the victims will not at first consider themselves to have been abused and will believe they are in loving relationships.
On a national scale awareness and understanding by agencies and the public has come a long way in recent years and there have been considerable improvements in all agencies since the time of these offences.
While no-one could rule out CSE happening in this county – it happens in communities of all kinds across the country – I do believe there is far greater awareness in Somerset and agencies are in a much better position to identify and respond, thanks to the courage and testimonies of the young people involved”.
On behalf of the County Council a spokesperson responded to our request saying “We have welcomed this report and the lessons it highlights. We have all learned a lot since then and understanding of CSE, nationally and locally, has come a long way. Our ability to address CSE has been improved as part of the improvements across children’s services. We have more social workers, permanent leadership and improved practice and supervision. This council, and all the other agencies who are involved in safeguarding, are in a much better position to work together to prevent, identify and respond quickly to CSE”.
Politicising children’s services is a dangerous game, whether or not you consider it to be in good taste. However it remains a fact that Ofsted Inspectors are at County Hall as I write this, reviewing the Children’s Services activities. Another “Inadequate” report would be a disaster for the county. Whilst I’m sure everyone will be hoping for a better outcome, if there isn’t one, that will certainly become a politically toxic topic and with some merit.