Force improves child protection with ‘comprehensive review’ of its structure

Warwickshire Police has committed “considerable time, resources and energy” to improving its child protection services, according to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Jun 6, 2023
By Paul Jacques

There have been improvements in many areas – particularly taking prompt action when investigating online child sexual abuse and exploitation; managing registered sex offenders and sharing information with frontline staff and statutory safeguarding partners about risks to children; and the use and recording of police protection powers.

Following an initial inspection last year into how well the force keeps children safe, a post-inspection review found it has reviewed its structures and staffing levels and has “considerably increased” the number of investigators dealing with child abuse investigations in line with its recommendations.

Warwickshire Police has also provided specialist training to support these officers and staff, inspectors found.

And it has produced guidance documents and videos for a variety of child protection issues.

The force has also provided training to help officers and staff working in the operational command centre make better decisions.

It has responded promptly to review the diary appointment system to make sure children are properly safeguarded, said HMICFRS.

Changes have been made to the agenda of daily management meetings to focus on child protection, and these meetings now give better oversight of cases where children are missing, in police protection, or in custody. The force has also introduced better processes for oversight.

During the re-inspection, inspectors examined force policies, strategies and other documents; interviewed senior leaders, managers, supervisors, officers and staff; and audited 34 child protection cases (nine cases were good, 15 required improvement and ten were inadequate).

HMICFRS found Warwickshire Police has improved in many areas, particularly taking prompt action when investigating online child sexual abuse and exploitation;

“The force has considerably increased the number of investigators dealing with child abuse and exploitation, who receive appropriate training for their role,” said HMICFRS.

“There is also better oversight of online sexual abuse and exploitation investigations. As a result, action is taken promptly to pursue offenders and protect children.

“But the force needs to share information about risks to children sooner.”

Since its inspection, HMICFRS said the force has carried out a “comprehensive review” of its structure.

This included reviewing the number of investigators allocated to child protection roles.

The force has increased the number of investigators in the child abuse, trafficking and exploitation (CATE) teams by three sergeants and nine constables. These officers must also be accredited investigators and trained in achieving best evidence; recording evidence from vulnerable people.

Warwickshire Police is also making sure they complete the specialist child abuse investigation development programme.

The force has also more than doubled the number of investigators in the online child sexual exploitation team (OCSET), adding one sergeant and six constables.

An online child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE) tactical delivery group has also been introducedto help improve case management.

Inpspectors also improved in managing registered sex offenders and sharing information with frontline staff; sharing information with statutory safeguarding partners about risks to children; and the use and recording of police protection powers.

However, HMICFRS found there were areas that still require improvement:

It said the force’s response when children are reported missing was “inconsistent”, and it does not focus well enough on children’s welfare when they are arrested and keeps them at the police station after charge when it should not.

However, it added that the force has “committed time and effort” to improving its response when children go missing

It has produced several video briefings to help officers and staff understand what they should do when a child is reported missing. Force inspectors also attended a continuing professional development day which covered the response to missing people.

Warwickshire Police has made it mandatory for frontline officers and staff to complete two separate College of Policing online learning modules about missing people.

“At the time of our visit, most had completed this training,” said HMICFRS.

The force has also improved the way it records incidents when children are reported missing. The intelligence management unit quickly creates a COMPACT record to record activity and risk assessments. In all cases audited by inspectors, a record was created.

“This helps the force accurately analyse data and, more importantly, identify escalating risks when children go missing regularly,” said HMICFRS.

“The force is also making better use of trigger plans. However, some were out of date and some simply provided information rather than helped direct enquiries.”

The force expects that when children are reported missing, the minimum risk grading should be medium to reflect their vulnerability. While HMICFRS found supervisors’ initial risk assessment was usually appropriate, a medium grading should result in “meaningful activity to trace the child and this doesn’t always happen”.

It added: “The force still doesn’t take enough action to find children who are missing regularly and make sure they are safe. Although the allocated officer adds the enquiries needed on the COMPACT record, they often don’t act on them. And in some cases, enquiries weren’t recorded in the correct place. This makes it difficult for supervisors to check they have been done.

“The force still doesn’t take enough action to find children who are missing regularly and make sure they are safe. Although the allocated officer adds the enquiries needed on the COMPACT record, they often don’t act on them. And in some cases, enquiries weren’t recorded in the correct place. This makes it difficult for supervisors to check they have been done.”

Inspectors found the force has addressed delays in sharing information by providing extra training to officers and staff working in the central referral and safeguarding unit (CRSU). CRSU staff now receive bespoke training, are allocated a mentor and must demonstrate competence before being approved to work independently.

“This means staff can be more flexible and cover each other’s roles where needed. The force also uses overtime to meet the additional demand during very busy periods,” said HMICFRS.

“As a result, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of CRA (child risk assessment) forms requiring attention. We also saw that the force shares information much more promptly, often within a few hours and usually on the same day.”

Responding to the post-inspection review, Warwickshire Police Detective Superintendent Pete Hill said: “We are pleased the inspection recognised much of the good work already going on in Warwickshire and the report acknowledges our commitment to child protection and to improving our services for vulnerable children.

“We had previously developed a robust action plan to address the areas for improvement around outcomes for children identified by the inspectors and many of these have already begun to be implemented by the force.

“We have increased the number of resources within the OCSET to enable us to deal with the increase in online offending that we and many forces across the country are experiencing.

“The force has also invested significant resources in establishing dedicated chid protection teams across the county such as our CATE team. The creation of these specialist teams has no doubt improved the quality of the most serious child protection investigations.

“We recognise demand in CATE has been challenging, which is why we have increased staffing levels to allow for greater focus on trafficking and exploitation of children as well as the number of investigators dealing with child abuse investigations.

“We recognise the opportunity we have through the scale of new officer recruitment and are working hard to ensure new recruits receive additional training so that, as a force, we have the right numbers of staff with the right skills to be able to carry out their roles effectively.

“We have provided specialist training to support the officers and staff involved in child abuse investigations as well as those working within our operational command centre with a number of guidance documents and videos helping to raise awareness of a variety of child protection issues.

“We were pleased the inspectors had commented positively on how effectively we work with partners to keep children safe and on how effectively we use governance and scrutiny to improve our services, but acknowledged there was more to be done to improve consistent decision-making on risks, and the quality of our missing person investigations.

“As part of this, we have changed the process around daily management meetings to focus on child protection to make sure there is better oversight of cases where children are missing, in police protection, or in custody.”

Det Supt Hill added: “We all have a role to play in tackling child abuse and exploitation. We urge the public to be aware of the signs and raise any concerns they have. We are committed to investigating the reports you make, protecting victims and bringing offenders to justice. Child abusers prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our community and we want to ensure they have no place to hide in Warwickshire.

“We are never complacent, we know there is always more the police can do to improve the outcomes for children, we will take the learning from the latest report and use it effectively to continue to raise awareness among our workforce so we can do everything we can to ensure children within Warwickshire remain protected from harm in the future.”

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