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Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board has published a serious case review that highlights failings by multiple agencies and charities in relation to vulnerable young people who were abused by sex-grooming gangs. The report covers the response of services in Rochdale Borough Council to child sexual exploitation between 2006 to 2012.
The reviews follow an independent report on the council's internal processes and procedures. It was commissioned by the council in June 2012 following the conviction of 9 men from Rochdale and Oldham for grooming and sexual abuse offences.
The reviews have identified a widespread pattern of weaknesses and failings, across all agencies at an organisational level but also in terms of some individual practice. The reports conclude that the repeated nature of these failures exposes fundamental problems and obstacles at a strategic level over a period of years and that this undermined the agencies' ability to protect and safeguard young people.
According to the report, there was a significant amount of information that should have alerted agencies to the likelihood that the young people were experiencing some sort of serious abuse, whether or not this was understood at the time to be child sexual exploitation. However there was a pattern of these allegations either not being properly referred to the lead statutory agencies (Police and Children's Social Care) or investigations not being effectively concluded when referrals were made.
The failings also date back before the young people became victims of the sex-grooming gangs. Six of the seven young people considered in the reviews were, for several years prior to being sexually exploited, in need of help and more proactive intervention by safeguarding agencies. These include failing to protect them from neglect, domestic violence, parental mental health problems and substance misuse. There was no evidence of coordinated responses that took account of these risks. Had this approach been taken the reports conclude that "it must have been possible that the vulnerability of these young people could have been assessed and responded to at a much earlier stage".
In response Rochdale Borough Council has said it is "determined to never repeat the mistakes of the past" and many of the review's recommendations either have been, or are in the process of being, implemented.