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Suffolk’s child protection: areas of strength but changes needed

A HMIC National Child Protection Inspection has identified some inconsistencies in how the force manages child protection arrangements.

Suffolk Constabulary has some areas of good practice with regards to child protection, but needs to make significant changes particularly with regards to assessing and responding to risk.

A HMIC report, published today, examined 72 cases  – assessing the force’s practice as ‘good’ in 27 of them, ‘requiring improvement’ in 24 and ‘inadequate’ in 21.

Areas of strength included a committed and enthusiastic workforce, a clear focus on the voice of the child and high quality multi-agency child protection investigations.

Of particular note, was the introduction of the mnemonic ‘ARTHUR’ as a prompt tool– inspired by the Arthur Labinjo-Hughes case.

It reads;

A- Are there children present?

R- Review the circumstances to identify and assess risks.

T – Take time to speak with children, ask them how they are feeling and record what they say. Use body-worn video (BWV).

H – How do they appear? Look for warning signs such as demeanour, malnourishment, neglect and lack of safe supervision.

U – Understand their wishes, thoughts and feelings.

R – Record [on force systems] using a ‘protecting vulnerable people’ form. Include the voice of the child, add detail in the log and notify the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) safeguarding team.

This, alongside extra training, has resulted in a rise in entries in the system that include the voice of the child (Feb 2022 - 243, June 2022-700). 

However the response to CSE vulnerability and missing children incidents is “not good enough”.

Force policy is to respond to all missing children as high-risk investigations – but this wasn’t true in practice.

While Contact and Control room staff automatically prioritise domestic abuse risk, and therefore don’t complete THRIVE assessments, the inspectorate found that in some cases THRIVE was not being completed for other incidents either – meaning vulnerability was not always identified quickly.

Meanwhile, the force’s MASH team demonstrates that officers and staff work effectively with other partners. While meetings are held monthly for multi-agency criminal exploitation, missing children tasking and multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC), the MARAC viewed by the inspectorate did not conclude with a clear decision on who was responsible for oversight of actions decided in the meeting.

Today’s report cited a number of case studies where the multi-agency risk assessment conferences practice fell down.

One involved a discussion on a domestic abuse incident which featured risks of ‘honour-based’ violence and rape. While the perpetrator was expected to return to the family home when the police investigation closed, the meeting neither considered nor implemented a safety plan for the four children who lived there.

The PPU manages 917 registered sex offenders in the community (64.5 per manager). While officers were found to use police protection powers well, the approach is inconsistent.

PPU staff told the inspectorate that the wording of conditions on some orders were inconsistent with the information they had on risk and in some cases they need to apply to the courts for amendments.

At the time of the inspection the force had one sexual risk order which the inspectorate said suggests a “lack of understanding” about the tools that are available.

The inspectorate concluded: “We saw good practice in the way Suffolk Constabulary responds to children who need immediate protection after being involved in incidents. And the force’s child protection investigators work effectively with partner organisations to help children get better end results.

“But Suffolk Constabulary needs to make changes to improve some of its child protection arrangements and practices. This includes its management culture.

"Managers need to understand the implications of risk for vulnerable children and respond without delay to reduce the risk of harm."

Assistant Chief Constable Eamonn Bridger said: “It was pleasing to see that the report identified many positive findings and recognised that overall our child protection practices are good. It is clear that our workforce are committed to ensuring child protection investigations are effective with the victim voice and needs central throughout. 

“We recognise the areas that need further development, most notably in our response to missing and potentially exploited children.  Since our inspection in July, we have been actively taking steps to ensure rapid improvements are made, prioritising these two key areas." 

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