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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 182-ii
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Localised Child Grooming
Tuesday 3 July 2012
Tim Loughton MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 150 - 185
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 3 July 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, gave evidence.
Q150 Chair: Good morning, Minister. Order, I call the Committee to order and refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of Members are noted. Are there any additional interests that need to be made at this point?
Alun Michael: May I declare an interest in relation to several of today’s interviews that I am a candidate for election as police commissioner in South Wales.
Mr Clappison: I declare an interest as a governor of an independent school.
Chair: Thank you. Minister, thank you so much for coming before us. This morning, of course, the Children’s Commissioner’s interim report was published and the Government has responded to some extent. The purpose of your coming here today is perhaps to elaborate on that response and to answer some of the questions of the Committee in respect of our inquiry into child exploitation. Can I begin with the evidence that we received from the Deputy Commissioner when she talked about grooming going on in every town, village and hamlet in the United Kingdom; do you accept that and is that a surprising, shocking statement for you, as it was for the Committee when we heard it?
Tim Loughton: Chairman, thank you for holding this inquiry because I think it is very important. It is a very important subject for the Government and this inquiry will help raise the profile of this appalling issue. I certainly accept the description by Sue Berelowitz, although hamlets might be pushing it slightly. But I was warning last year, when we first alighted on the work towards the Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, that this had been going on under the radar for many years and it was not something that was just for the preserve of northern metropolitan boroughs such as Rochdale and Derby where we have had the high profile cases brought to court, but it is happening in market towns and it is happening in rural areas as well. The cases of child sexual abuse going on in rural Cornwall and other counties like that that show that this is not something that we can ignore anywhere. It is coming from any part of the country; it is coming from all different communities and different social sets as well. So I was not surprised by her comments because I have been making similar comments for some time and I fear that it was appropriate and right to make that description when we did.
Q151 Chair: Who is at fault? If you have known for some time, and you gave a warning some time ago about a system that has presumably existed for a number of years, who is at fault?
Tim Loughton: What we revealed last year-work that we carried out in the Department, work that CEOP carried out in their Out of Sight, Out of Mind report and useful work that the University of Bedfordshire carried out-showed, one, that the awareness of this problem among the public, but also among professionals, whose duty it is to be able to take measures to avoid it and to deal with it, was remarkably low, and one of those reports showed that some three-quarters of local Safeguarding Children Boards who are tasked to deal with child sexual exploitation as part of their responsibilities did not have comprehensive plans to deal with it. So that is why I brought together a whole range of interested parties from the police, from children’s organisations, from Children’s Services Departments, from five Government Departments, to work on what then became the Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan in November last year. Since then, the awareness of it has been going up and a number of practical measures have started to come to fruition.
Q152 Chair: There were a number of articles in The Times, which has highlighted the problem in Rochdale in particular. But I think the figure that most surprised me was the fact that, on average, the 5,000 children in care cost-presumably the council taxpayer-£200,000 each; it is £1 billion to keep 5,000 children in care. Is that right? Can you confirm those figures?
Tim Loughton: Yes. The bill for children in care overall is about £2.8 billion and of that £1 billion, thereabouts, is being spent on looking after up to 5,000 children who will be in residential children’s homes within a year. Obviously the figure fluctuates because on average children are only there for about three months in many cases. So the average of that is £200,000. That masks a great deal of discrepancies. There may be some that are a lot cheaper than that, but also some a lot more expensive than that as well. The point I also want to make is I do not want to tar all residential homes with the same brush, and a lot of those homes are providing very specialist services to children with very severe disabilities or very severe behavioural problems, who are not physically capable of getting involved in some of the problems we are talking about here. But there are a great many of them for whom we are paying a not inconsiderable amount of money for whom I do not think we are getting value for money, but more importantly, I do not think they are nearly as safe as they need to be.
Q153 Chair: But on the issue of children in local authority care going to other parts of the country, and those who transfer them to other parts of the country, knowing they are going to crime hotspots, it is a kind of official trafficking. Knowing that they are going to face these difficulties they are still being sent from the south, for example, to the north because it happens to be cheaper. Is that a worry to you, that this seems to have an official sanction? That there have been examples going on for a number of years and this practice of the official trafficking of these children seems to continue.
Tim Loughton: I think this is the most important part of the problem that you are addressing and on which we are announcing proposals today; it is something I have been worried about for some time. That is why over a year ago I overhauled the guidance regarding placing children out of area. There is a series of thresholds that local authorities have to meet before they can place children out of area. Over a year on, the number of children being placed out of area, which accounts for almost a half of those children in residential children’s homes, is little changed. Clearly that guidance has not worked. That is why, as a central part of the recommendations we are making today, having appointed a task and finish group specifically to look at out of area placements, I want to beef up that guidance seriously so fewer children are placed out of area. I think what has gone wrong in the past is that a local authority will look at a children’s home that might have a good or excellent rating from Ofsted or look at a foster placement that has been rated highly but they have not looked at the area in which those placements happen, and we need to be just as careful when the child leaves the front door of that placement rather than just looking at what happens within those four walls.
Kent in particular has done some very detailed work on the heat maps, as I have called them, or the hotspots as you referred to them. Kent Police have been to see me about this, and I have some examples of those heat maps where we have a large concentration of children in children’s homes or foster care alongside a large concentration of known sex offenders, sex offenders’ hostels, people out of prison on licence and a lot of other vulnerable children in an area that I would find it very hard to justify as safe, let alone safer than the area from where those children come. That is the reality and I am now going to confront those corporate parents responsible.
Q154 Chair: It would be helpful if you could clear up one issue, that of ethnicity. You have seen the report that was published today-you probably have it in front of you-and table 5 has a list of the ethnicity of those involved but it has no figures. Do you think ethnicity is a factor in child exploitation?
Tim Loughton: Yes. It is no good pretending otherwise, and I gave many interviews over a year ago, when the Derby case came up, saying that if there is some form of political correctness around ethnicity, which is getting in the way of police and other agencies investigating, tracking down and nailing these perpetrators, then that needs to be removed and we need to do something about it.
Q155 Chair: But what is interesting about that table is that it has ethnicity by country of origin but it does not have any figures. That is what I find odd because if you have gone through data and you have found out ethnicity, surely you would be able to tell us percentages?
Tim Loughton: I do not have that information. Part of the problem-
Q156 Chair: Do you not think it is possible to get those figures?
Tim Loughton: I think it will be possible to get that information. The trouble is we are looking at a relatively small number of prosecutions so far. The majority of individuals who are already in jail for child sexual offences tend to be white middle-aged men. Their tool of choice might be the grooming over the internet. Clearly, what we have seen in the high-profile cases in Derby, in Rochdale, and in other cases still to come fully to court is a problem involving, in most cases, British Pakistani men, although there are a few other cases of Afghanistani and Bangladeshi men, who are operating loosely in gangs, preying on mostly teenage white girls, not exclusively, but that has been the pattern that we have seen in these high-profile cases.
In other parts of the country I can take you to we have communities originally from central Africa who have all sorts of other practices, preying on vulnerable children as well. The point I am trying to make, and the point the Government is making absolutely clear, is that we have to make sure that the police, social services, and other enforcement agencies are using the right tool to nail these perpetrators in the most appropriate way regardless of their culture or ethnicity. It all amounts to serious child abuse and they all need to be nailed for whatever form they are doing it.
Q157 Chair: Indeed. That is very helpful, but do you think you could find that data? That there is no reason why we should not be able to find that data?
Tim Loughton: I think we can find it from the limited sample of those who have gone through but I will point out that the figures provided in this report are emerging findings. Sue Berelowitz’s report will not be complete until next year. She has assimilated a whole load of data, which are yet to be properly assessed, and I am sure when she has her fuller report, of which there will be an interim version available this autumn, there will be much more empirical evidence to go with it.
Q158 Mr Winnick: Minister, is it not the case of dealing, in fact, with criminality, whether it is of Asian origin, white or anything else, and that there is no evidence whatsoever that any group in the country, be it British, white British or Asian or black, condones such criminality and abuse of children?
Tim Loughton: No, I do not think there is any evidence to say anybody condones it. I think what is important is how prepared or free communities are to come forward and shop it. I know in certain more closed communities, without going into any detail, people who know about this form of abuse are less inclined to or feel threatened about coming forward and reporting it to the authorities. It is not in the interest of the British Pakistani community or the British Congolese community for this sort of abuse to be going on by members of their own community. It is in their best interest to make sure that it is being reported, rooted out, and the perpetrators dealt with as criminals, which is what they are.
Q159 Mr Winnick: Everyone would agree with every single word of that. Would you say that what was revealed in Rochdale, the sickening abuse that came to light and the criminals have rightly been convicted, was a wake-up call on what is occurring, and to that extent it served a purpose in spotlighting what undoubtedly is going on at the moment?
Tim Loughton: Yes, and I think we had an earlier wake-up call in the Operation Retriever case in Derby the previous year. Again, I think it is important to make it clear that this is not just some new phenomenon. This has been going on for years under the radar. People did not come forward and report it, and the police, for whatever reason, did not investigate it, certainly investigate it sufficiently for cases to be brought to court that then stuck. I would say, in one respect, that the fact we are now seeing these high-profile cases is a cause to say that progress is being made because they are now being investigated, proper evidence is being brought to bear and the perpetrators are being nailed, and I am glad to say in the Rochdale case, with some pretty hefty sentences as well. We need that to send out very clear messages to other people who think this is some soft transgression. This is serious sexual child abuse against vulnerable children and it needs to be dealt with in a very serious manner.
Q160 Mr Winnick: I hope I will not be hanged and drawn by some of my own colleagues, since the Murdoch organisation is rightly under much fire, absolutely justified, but praise should go to The Times newspaper for its coverage.
Tim Loughton: In particular, Andrew Norfolk, the journalist who quietly and diligently has been investigating this for some years and getting under the skin in a very constructive way, and the profile that his newspaper has been able to bring to this has certainly helped us to make sure that everybody is getting in gear and stepping up to the mark. So in this case they have served a purpose.
Q161 Mr Winnick: One more question, Minister. Arising from what you said, yes, location is important obviously, the number of children who are far from their normal place of abode, but is it not far more important, and I think you stressed this, did you not, that safety should be the issue, not location? We want these children in care to be in a position where obviously they have all the safety and security that this Parliament wants to see provided.
Tim Loughton: Yes, we take children into care to put them in a safer place from which they have come and we need to make sure that we are looking after them in the safest possible way. We also need to make sure that we are giving them the best possible quality of support and the services that they require as well.
Q162 Bridget Phillipson: It is my feeling that there is often a culture of disbelief when it comes to people coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse, whether that is children or adults. How do you think we change that culture whereby people who come forward and disclose that they have been subjected to sexual abuse are believed, because often the abuse is not carried out by these organised gangs, dreadful though that is, it is often carried out by perhaps a family member or a trusted family friend, and it can be very difficult, I think, for others to believe that that person might be capable of such dreadful acts.
Tim Loughton: Yes, and it is a very good point. I am not primarily concerned in the work today with sexual abuse within a family, but it is a big problem, and often victims of these gangs and others may have had some experience of sexual abuse within their family, which is maybe the reason they are in care in the first place. I think there is a bit of a culture shift we need to engender and certainly some of the remarks that Sue Berelowitz made earlier about the way society views some of these victims-they are victims-in terms of "They were asking for it, they were putting themselves forward and they got what was coming to them", is completely and utterly wrong, can only succeed in deterring those victims from coming forward and reporting it in the first place, let alone then having to appear, in very traumatic circumstances, in a court as well in front of not just one but in many cases a fleet of defence barristers, which is a very intimidating exercise.
Just one aside on this, awareness of this whole issue is important-awareness of kids of what to look out for, of parents to what to look out for for signs from their own children, of care home operators, social workers and other professionals to look out for for children who are in the care system. The Eastenders storyline, which I have often cited, of Whitney Dean being sexually exploited by somebody who she thought was her friend was a chillingly realistic storyline-in fact they were advised by Barnardo’s on this-and I think it succeeded in bringing into everybody’s front room the reality that this stuff happens and it could be happening in your street, in your town, in your workplace, involving a relative or a work colleague. We must get the message across to everybody that it is up to all of us to be more vigilant and understanding and remember these girls, and some boys, are victims, they are not the perpetrators. Some of them think they have brought it on themselves and we need to make it clear that they haven’t.
Q163 Bridget Phillipson: Do you think the training offered to social workers, in particular, but other care professionals, perhaps those in children’s homes, is adequate in allowing them to recognise some of the signs of sexual abuse because, of course, sometimes children will say they are being subjected to abuse, sometimes it is a matter of staff having the skills to spot the behaviours that might indicate that a child is being abused?
Tim Loughton: Absolutely right, and it has not been adequate. It is getting better and the progress report, which we are publishing today, is deliberating littered with a number of examples of things that have tangibly happened since we published the action plan last year in terms of police awareness, police training, social work training and The College of Social Work now teaching this and making sure we are getting the right modules for potential social workers to learn from. The National Health Service is producing a video for training its own staff and to raise awareness. There is no one single bullet but we need to raise awareness across all sorts of professionals and make sure the appropriate training is there and in terms of residential home workers, again one of the things we are flagging up today and one of the task and finish working groups we are setting up is about the quality of children’s residential homes and inevitably the quality and the skillset of the people working within those homes, and the skills of those people. There are some very good ones, some very dedicated ones, but if you are working in an equivalent home in the Continent you would need a graduate level qualification. You don’t need such qualification to work in a home here and that is something we are looking at very closely.
Q164 Alun Michael: It is very important to know the extent of the problem in order to take the appropriate steps and you have acknowledged yourself the full extent of the dangers faced by those who abscond or otherwise go missing from care because official figures, and I think I am using your words, fail to capture the scale of the problem. Now the All-Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults found the police data are showing an estimated 10,000 individual children going missing from care but Government official data record only 930 children going missing. How do you account for that and, even more importantly, how do we get to dealing with realistic facts and figures in future?
Tim Loughton: It is a very important point. As you say, we need to understand the extent of the problem and we do not at the moment. I can account for both of those figures. Neither of those figures do I trust anyway. We are counting two different things. The figure of 930, which is reported from Children’s Services Departments to the DfE and Ofsted are children who have been missing for more than 24 hours. The police figure, which has variously been put at 10,000 or higher, is on instance of children who have gone missing, and that may be little Johnny is due back at the care home at 9.00pm, at 9.01pm he has not arrived so the first thing the care home does is to ring up the police to say: "Little Johnny is missing" even though every Friday evening little Johnny is off with his mate doing PlayStation, they know where he is and he tends to come back late. But the police-and I have this when I go out on patrol with my own police, we have a lot of homes in my constituency-get called out, have to go through all the paperwork when they know that that child in 99.9% of the case is not a genuine missing case for whom we need to intervene heavily.
Q165 Alun Michael: What is being done to make sure that this is a shared problem between the police and the individual care homes and social services more generally?
Tim Loughton: There are two problems and we have already set up a task and finish group, which has started working, which will report back to us in September. The two problems are, one, we have two different sets of data, both unreliable. The second problem is that the police and local authorities are not allowed to share information about simple things like the location of these children’s homes under the Care Standards Act 2000. That is nonsense and it is going to change.
Q166 Alun Michael: Is that a specific prohibition because there is also legislation in place that says data can be shared for the purpose of preventing crime, which would seem to me to apply in this case?
Tim Loughton: You would have thought so and common sense would suggest that we should be sharing data if it means that we are more likely to make those children safer. Under the Care Standards Act 2000, I understand, and updated regulations in 2010, there is still a limit on sharing information about location and other data between the police and local services. I can find no good reason why that limitation should remain therefore we want to enable police and local authorities to share data about location of homes and the missing, and we can do that very easily by changing regulations, which it is our intention to do within a matter of weeks. Secondly, I am not convinced we are collecting the right data. I want one dataset of the police and Children’s Services working together to work out first of all what is a meaningful missing statistic. Should it be 24 hours, should it be 48 hours, should it be somebody who goes missing only once in a while or somebody who does it on a regular basis? I do not know the answer to that, which is why we have tasked this group to come up with a meaningful definition of missing on which we can, in future, then collect one set of data that is reliable from which we can then know the extent of the problem and know what to do about it.
Q167 Alun Michael: Can I suggest that you look at the requirements of the 1998 Act because it may be that that would assist?
Tim Loughton: I think we can do it by simple standing statutory instrument change of regulations, which I hope we can do as early as September, but we have given that very clear indication.
Chair: Can I just say to colleagues, we have other witnesses and this is a fascinating subject but we do need to be moving on.
Mr Clappison: This is my first question, Mr Chairman. I waited 13 minutes while you have your question, if I may say.
Chair: It is not directed at you, Mr Clappison.
Q168 Mr Clappison: Minister, I think we all welcome the sense of urgency, which you are bringing to this subject. But reports we have seen suggest that a number of the girls who were sexually exploited were in local authority care at the time the exploitation took place and it appeared to be happening over and over again. You mentioned figures; do you have any idea of the proportion of children who have been victims who were in local authority care at the time?
Tim Loughton: No, because again the work in progress, Sue Berelowitz’s report, has a lot of data that has yet to be analysed. What I can tell you is this is not just children in care who are being abused like this. I have met the families of many children, perfectly decent loving families whose children are lured away by these predators, and it is more children from families than children in care. There are 65,500 children in care in this country, so they are proportionately more represented than are children in their own families. The extent of it I do not know.
Q169 Mr Clappison: You could not give me figures for how many of the victims have been in care or what proportion of children in care are victims?
Tim Loughton: Not so far, insomuch as you do not have figures for the nationality of the perpetrator, either. It is disproportionately children in care who are being exploited.
Q170 Mr Clappison: Would you agree, just looking in a general way from the point of view of the public, members of the public tend to ask, "Why haven’t alarm bells been ringing about the care system before now?"
Tim Loughton: I was very loudly ringing these alarm bells-
Mr Clappison: I appreciate the urgency you have shown.
Tim Loughton: I and various other people were doing that over a year ago, but this was a chicken and egg situation around child sexual exploitation. Because it was not getting reported, because victims were not fully appreciating that they are victims and this is something that needs to be dealt with seriously, so there was very little profile to this, therefore people thought it was not really a problem. It was just a one-off of a few girls who were "asking for it". When we have seen that this is organised stuff by gangs and other serious criminals, people have realised the extent of it. That is why over a year ago we did work on this and produced our action plan at the end of last year from which a lot of action has already flowed. It should have happened years ago, I absolutely agree; it is now happening with a sense of urgency.
Q171 Mr Clappison: Briefly, members of the public could also think that £200,000 is a fantastic amount of money to spend on this when there have been apparently so many failures in the system. Do you think local authorities should look at, where possible, other settings for children who need this type of care? It just occurs to me, and I have declared an interest in this, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper, possibly more effective and give a better education, if children were sent to independent schools or boarding schools.
Tim Loughton: That is one matter-I made a speech about it last week-that we are proposing, and have been working with independent schools to send more children on the edge of care as well as in care to boarding schools. But also, you are absolutely right, one would have thought one would get a much better service for the extraordinarily high amount of money we are spending on these children. We are not getting value for money, I believe. It is a pretty shambolic system anyway because there is a lot of spot purchasing that goes on, a lot of these kids end up in children’s home as a sort of last resort rather than being put through a more advanced and early planning system, which it needs to be.
I do not know whether we need to take more children into care or fewer children into care, or that we need to have more in children’s homes or fewer. What I do know is we need to have the right children in the most appropriate settings and that is not happening at the moment, which is what our work announced today is intended to get to the bottom of and use a large amount of public money rather more efficiently but, more importantly, rather more effectively to make those children safer.
Q172 Nicola Blackwood: You will be aware of the distressing case that has come forward in Oxford, and I think that everybody there is very grateful for the work that you have been doing to try and take action on the issue of child sexual exploitation. But looking at the recommendations that have come forward here, I think that there will be some concern that they are focusing, one, exclusively on care and as just come out in the answer to Mr Clappison’s comments, not all children who are exploited are in care, and, secondly, the recommendations about data focus on sharing between police and Ofsted and the care services, and not on, for example, the justice sector and the health service. I just wonder if future recommendations might focus on those areas as we have heard evidence that there are opportunities to bring in preventive measures at those points as well.
Tim Loughton: Absolutely right. The progress report today details a number of initiatives involving the justice service and involving health, and I alluded to the video that the National Health Service is making, for example. There were five Government Departments, five Ministers, involved in the working group around the Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan including the Attorney-General, the Minister for Health, Anne Milton was part of that, representatives from the Home Office and the MoJ as well as my own Department. A number of briefings and advice sheets have been put out over recent months. Barnardo’s has worked with us on a briefing for parents, the signs that they should look out for if they suspect there is something wrong with their children. Today we are launching another step-by-step guide for front-line practitioners, all of the people you mentioned, social workers and others, as to what they should look out for, in addition to the enhanced training that is now going in for police, for social workers, in education settings, health and others. This absolutely needs to be a joint effort from all those different interested parties about awareness and knowing how to work together, knowing how to intervene, knowing who to report it to and to carry it forward. All of those are important areas.
Q173 Nicola Blackwood: The discussions that I have had with the local service providers imply that there are all sorts of barriers about data and information sharing and that maybe the only way to overcome that, because of the culture of data protection, is co-location of services. What is your view on that?
Tim Loughton: I believe that excuses around data sharing are usually just that. Maybe, as Mr Michael has mentioned about some of the things being made easier back in 1998, we need to look at this very closely. I think what we are doing on data sharing in this particular case will send out a very clear message that niceties and perceived protocols around data sharing need to be changed if they are standing in the way of making children safer. I do not believe that they are when you drill down to the detail.
Peter Davies of CEOP, I know gave you evidence about MASH, multi-agency safeguarding hubs, which I am a big fan of, and many years ago, when I was in Opposition, I went to see the Devon MASH, which is where the MASH model developed, and I have seen many since. I spoke at the London Area of Safeguarding Children Board Conference on MASH. I have been to spend the morning with the Haringey MASH, which is a very good example. Absolutely what we have co-located there, be it for vulnerable children, those vulnerable to child sexual exploitation or for safeguarding issues, may be a social worker with somebody from the police, somebody from the domestic violence unit and somebody from housing who, when intelligence comes in, can very quickly leap into action, compare notes, often do not even need to do it with a computer, and they have some experience of that.
When I spent a week being a social worker up in Stockport a while ago within that team we had a domestic violence specialist social worker, we had a police member, we had somebody from the Family Nurse Partnership, as well as some good social workers. Rarely did they use their computer because they had that knowledge and made those sorts of connections because they sat close to each other and they communicated. You really cannot beat that to make sure you have the people who can safeguard kids out there on the job rather than relying on computers, which I think we have rather relied on too heavily in the past. We need them as a tool but it is not computers that make kids safe, it is the experts who then know how to use that knowledge and intelligence.
Q174 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think that you are going to change or update the Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy as a result of the information coming out of the Child Commissioner’s inquiry?
Tim Loughton: We have. I was due to publish the progress report in May; then Rochdale happened. Within 24 hours the Secretary of State had asked Sue Berelowitz to bring forward a part of her report specifically around the subject of children in care homes. She produced that report a couple of weeks ago to deliver to us. We have updated and expanded the progress report to reflect her findings and her recommendations, in addition to which Ann Coffey’s All-Party Parliamentary report Mr Michael referred to, which was an excellent report, again came up with many parallel observations and recommendations. I would be happy to adopt just about all of those. In fact yesterday, when we did an embargoed press conference to publish all this, I did it alongside Sue Berelowitz and Ann Coffey because we do need a united front on this, and everybody weighing in to help.
Q175 Dr Huppert: The Deputy Children’s Commissioner suggested that pornography was having an impact on child abuse. Are you aware of any evidence of a causal link there?
Tim Loughton: Yes, there is evidence and using my hat as one of the co-chairman of the United Kingdom Council for Child Internet Safety, this is an area obviously where we have been doing an awful lot of work. That is why we want to make sure that children being exposed to inappropriate adult material is dealt with rather more effectively than it is now. Again this is something that needs a joined up approach for which there is no single silver bullet. Certainly evidence and study shows that the impact about the normalisation of sexualised behaviour and sexual exploitation of young girls is affecting the way that some people get involved in their relationships, and that is very unhealthy.
Q176 Dr Huppert: Do you support the conclusions of the Bailey Review, which called for active choice filters and then noted with regard to default settings that having defaults could lull some parents into a false sense of security as they would do nothing more to help their children go online safely? Do you agree with those conclusions?
Tim Loughton: I chair the committee that has been taking forward some of the recommendations from the Bailey Report, and Reg Bailey has given evidence to UKCCIS. The preferred model that we have been moving forward with is Active Choice. We have been getting the ISPs, the retailers, the software manufacturers, the device manufacturers to develop strategies for that, but we are also aware that there are many strings to the bow that we need. The, again, very well informed report that Claire Perry chaired here, which was promulgating an opt-in service, again has some merits. So that is why last week, with the support of the Prime Minister, we launched a consultation looking at the merits of that alongside Active Choice and everything else, and we are waiting to see the responses to that consultation as to how we may need to adapt the various tools that we are using to make sure the internet is safer for children in many different aspects, as well as social media. We seem to have concentrated an awful lot on access to harmful content, be it adult material or violence. I think an equally if not greater problem is cyber-bullying and violence over the internet and invasion of people’s integrity in various social media as well, which is why Facebook and others, for example, are represented on the UKCCIS board.
Q177 Chair: We have a problem also with BlackBerries and the PIN numbers, don’t we, because they are untraceable? The Committee has received a letter from a father who is very concerned that the police could not trace who the message came from.
Tim Loughton: Your technical knowledge is slightly above my pay grade on that one, but I am happy to advise-
Chair: Dr Huppert’s is even better than mine but that is what I have been informed. I will send you the details.
Q178 Michael Ellis: Minister, you have already mentioned Peter Davies of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, can I come back to that and also the issue of data and data collection or recording. He told this Committee that all front-line agencies should, in his estimation, develop ways of capturing and recording data of known and suspected cases of sexual exploitation. What sort of improvements do you think could be made to data recording to prevent child exploitation?
Tim Loughton: I’ve answered that in part in addressing Mr Michael’s question about children who go missing, and we need to have better empirical data, part of which will come through the Sue Berelowitz report and much of that data has been provided by my Department, and my local authorities of course, as to the propensity of those children in care and particularly those who go missing from care, then to end up in the hands of these predators. Absolutely we need to have that data in as much detail and as transparent as possible to be able to model the right responses to it. We have not really touched on local safeguarding children’s boards. LSCBs are a really important medium in all of this because you have got all the key players involved in this from the health service, from education, from children’s services, police and others, sitting around the same table tasked with making sure that all those agencies have got robust up-to-date effective plans of action to deal with child sexual exploitation and all sorts of other safeguarding issues, and that all of those partners are pulling their weight and they are interacting effectively together. If they are not, then the LSCBs need to kick some backsides and do something about it.
Q179 Michael Ellis: Do you think that local authorities should be required to feed data into police forces in this area?
Tim Loughton: Yes. I have been asking the reason ever since I found out that police cannot be told the location of children’s homes in a certain area. I knew this some time ago because we had an issue in Worthing in my constituency where we have got a cluster of about ten children’s homes, who some time ago were posing some problems for the police. I am glad to say good working together between the local authority and the police and others there have meant that it is not the sort of problem we are seeing in places like Margate or in Rochdale. I can see no good reason why that data, subject to all sorts of security measures, should not be freely available to police and local authorities who should be discussing it and working together in a joint strategy to do something about it anyway.
Q180 Nicola Blackwood: You have mentioned the CEOP’s report on child exploitation and the role that LSCBs have to play in working with the police. But CEOP’s report did find that there was very inconsistent delivery of child safeguarding and child sexual exploitation measures among LSCBs across the country. What you have sort of pointed out is patches of really good practice and patches of really bad practice. How are we going to make sure that we have consistent delivery across the country from now on?
Tim Loughton: It is a very important point that I alluded to earlier because LSCBs were just not on the game on this, a few were but the majority were not. What we are also very bad at is sharing best practice across LSCBs generally, they were acting in silos in too many cases. Last year I spoke at the National Network of the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board’s conference in Birmingham, the first time that event had ever been held. We had the chairs of all the LSCBs in the same room feeding off each other and learning about examples of best practice. I want that network to flourish, to thrive, to exchange best practice and act as an early warning system for each other because they are facing the same problems in different complexions and parts of the country. If LSCBs are going to be absolutely at the hub of making sure we have robust systems for dealing with this, then they need to be talking to each other as well, just as they need their internal partners to be talking to each other around the same table. So I have written, I have been meeting regional heads of local safeguarding boards as well and there is a much greater dialogue going on, a much greater sense of urgency going on, and we are in a much better place than we were just a year ago.
Q181 Bridget Phillipson: Councillor Lambert from Rochdale Council told us that he felt that they were not offered the back-up and support that was needed and there was a lack of understanding about what they were facing. What support and guidance are you offering to councils now so that we do not see a repeat of the cases in Rochdale?
Tim Loughton: Apart from the progress report today, the three working groups that I have set up will report back to us in September. The first report is on data sharing, which is very pertinent to local authorities, and our intention is to share its findings. Secondly, on placements out of area, counties such as Kent have been facing for some years a massive influx of children from out of area, particularly placed by London boroughs, which has safeguarding issues but is also putting huge pressure on schools in the area and things like that as well. There is a task and finish working group which will report back to me in September for how we clamp down on that to make sure those areas are made properly safe and we have heat maps before any child can be placed out of area. Then the third bit of work that is being done, which will take slightly longer, centres on the quality of the children’s residential homes and the quality of the people working within them. Rochdale itself have carried out two studies which are yet to report, very thorough studies about what exactly has gone on in Rochdale- a thematic study and also the history of some of these cases that have come to light after the Rochdale court cases. There is a huge amount of learning there which all of us need to take advantage of.
Q182 Mark Reckless: Minister, CEOP recommends that all LSCBs have a multi-agency safeguarding hub which I now understand is called a MASH. Is there a danger that we become overly prescriptive in the structures? You said all the key players were on the LSCB, yet it is recommended they must operate through a MASH. Is it really appropriate to bring in statutory definitions and requirements in terms of those or could we alternatively leave things more to the local discretion of people to talk to each other and use common sense?
Tim Loughton: No, we are not being prescriptive at all and we are not at this stage saying that every local area should have a MASH. Personally I believe that is the way to go because I have seen how effective they can be and it just makes sense that you have all the key players co-located, sharing that information instantaneously.
Mark Reckless: But you just said we had all the key players co-located on the LSCB. To assist the Committee, could you just state what is it about doing that through a MASH that makes it more effective than having the players at the LSCB level?
Tim Loughton: They are two completely separate things. The local safeguarding children’s boards are there to oversee the effectiveness of services and how well children are being safeguarded in that area. So you will get very senior people on them-the senior safeguarding police officer, senior head teacher and so on. The MASHs are the troops on the ground, the social worker sitting next to the domestic violence specialist, police officer next to a housing officer, who will very quickly compare information and decide on an action plan and who is going to intervene. In the past I think it is too much of the police doing one thing, a housing officer doing another thing, social services doing another thing, in a rather random approach. Here, all that information is shared, this is what needs to be done and that is the person from police, social services, who is going to be tasked to do it and pick up the ball and run with it. We are being very unprescriptive; we just reduced the working together guidance which is a highly prescriptive document amounting to 713 pages. We have now shrunk it down to I think 68 which is all about setting down guidelines and requirements but leaving it to local best practice as how best to intervene, and how you intervene in Medway may be very different to the way you intervene on some vulnerable groups in Leicester, for example. We are relying much more on the professional expertise of those professionals to come up with the most effective ways of intervention in their own areas, without have to spend all their time in front of a computer, looking over their shoulder, or flicking through 713 pages of a very prescriptive manual that has undermined professionalism.
Q183 Chair: The articles in The Times by Andrew Norfolk, is this the tip of the iceberg or is this the extent? Are we talking about thousands of children?
Tim Loughton: We are talking about a considerable number of children.
Q184 Chair: Does it run into the thousands, because we know the geographical part which is in every part of the country. Are we talking about thousands of children who are currently being abused?
Tim Loughton: I think we are probably talking about thousands of children, be it in care or from their own families, who are in some shape or form the subject of sexual abuse and we have not seen the half of it yet.
Q185 Chair: When you took your position as Minister for Children did you think it was that kind of extent or is this something you have discovered in the last two years?
Tim Loughton: Well, I have said that I think I was as guilty as everybody else in not fully appreciating the extent of this problem. All of us were unaware, I think, previous Ministers, chief police officials, directors of children’s services, frankly, and we have had a very serious wake-up call, as Mr Winnick described it earlier and everybody really has stepped up to the mark and we need them to do that. So I was not really surprised when I started to see some of the evidence, but my main concern is to make sure that everybody else is completely on the ball and up to the job of making sure we clamp down on this wherever it manifests itself.
Chair: Minister, thank you very much for your evidence today.