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'Night-time economy' to help tackle child sexual exploitation

'Night-time economy' to help tackle child sexual exploitation

Taxi drivers and hotel workers are among those who will be recruited to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation as part of efforts to crack down on the criminal activity.

Guidance to help those working within the 'night-time economy' identify CSE and report it will be developed over the next nine months, ministers revealed yesterday, as they unveiled a national action plan to tackle the problem.

It came as a government commissioned report on Scotland’s child protection system exposed several weaknesses, particularly in relation to efforts to protect children deemed vulnerable but not officially looked after.

The Brock report, compiled by the chief executive of Children in Scotland, Jackie Brock, warned the current workforce for protecting children is lacking in confidence and competence while the legislative landscape remains cluttered.

The child protection system in Scotland has been thrust into the public spotlight following revelations to emerge from Professor Alexis Jay’s inquiry into failures in Rotherham.

Announcing details of the action plan yesterday, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, said: “We need to enlist people across Scotland in the process. 

“One of the many lessons in the Rotherham report is that people found it difficult to take their minds from where they were to what they were seeing in front of them. We need to ensure that people are prepared to do that—and sometimes that requires us to think things that we would rather not think.” 

A short-life working group is to meet from next spring to draft guidance for medical practitioners on CSE, while materials on the phenomenon that can be used in schools are to be developed.

A data monitoring tool for local authorities, which is currently being piloted, is to be rolled out nationally over the coming months to try and better gauge the prevalence of CSE within communities. 

Civil preventative orders used in relation to sexual offences will be reviewed and consideration given to how they might be “rationalised, strengthened, and used in a more comprehensive way”, according to the action plan. 

One of the four orders, Risk of Sexual Harm Orders, are in the process of being reviewed amid calls by Police Scotland for these to be more easily granted, as reported by Holyrood last month.

Other actions announced yesterday include:

  • Training and guidance for residential staff as well as foster carers about CSE given heightened vulnerabilities of looked after children 
  • A steering group comprised of children and young people is to be established to advise on issues linked to CSE, including support that is made available
  • An action plan is to be developed by next summer focused on the vulnerability of missing children to CSE
  • Options for a public awareness campaign to better inform the general public about CSE are to be explored over the next few months

“The action plan is not a panacea for tackling child sexual exploitation,” said Russell. “There is no single solution. 

“However, it represents a critical milestone that outlines tangible steps for useful action that will move us forward in our efforts to tackle this vital concern.”

The Brock report said Scotland is not yet in a position to conclude that the commitment and investment in the child protection system has achieved a confident and competent workforce for protecting children.

"There is unease and a lack of confidence among many children's services practitioners that all those children who are variously described as 'vulnerable' will be escalated appropriately from single to multi-agency support when necessary," the report says.

Children and families that are known to services are “not yet satisfactorily addressed systematically at local level”, it adds, recommending a focus be placed on improving protection for children who are “vulnerable and ‘on the radar’”. 

"Local systems are hindered by an over-complicated legislative system, and this is critical, particularly in the current climate when child sexual exploitation is in the spotlight,” says the report, while the lack of community engagement and understanding of the whole community’s importance in protecting children is considered “troubling".

Ministers have agreed to bring together chief officers of the 32 community planning partnerships, health and social care partnership leads and the child protection committee chairs for a summit later this year.

Last month, the first person convicted under Operation Dash – an investigation launched last year to root out child sexual exploitation in the Strathclyde area – was imprisoned. 

Javaid Akhond was sentenced to six years at the High Court in Glasgow after being found guilty of rape and sex abuse charges involving girls as young as 12.

Read the most recent article written by Alan Robertson - Time for Michael Matheson to live up to his motto of ‘smart on crime’

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