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TVP’s child protection performance is 'inconsistent and ineffective'

The standard of missing child investigations was described as 'poor'.

Thames Valley’s governance for child protection is not consistent and doesn’t have clear reporting structures, HMICFRS has found.

The force has recently undergone a HMICFRS inspection into their child protection work.

The inspectorate has acknowledged that there have recently been some changes in senior leadership, with a new Chief Constable, however that there is commitment from the senior team as well as the police and crime commissioner to protect vulnerable people.

Officers and staff have similarly been described as “dedicated”, while they have access to good wellbeing and psychological support. 

However today’s report underlined that the necessary strategic governance and performance management arrangements aren’t in place.

The inspectorate said: “[The force] has a number of different meetings but there is little co-ordination between these.

“A vulnerability board meets on a quarterly basis and is chaired by an assistant chief constable. This meeting receives updates on vulnerability including child protection, such as child abuse, exploitation and missing persons. Due to its frequency, and the number of issues covered, this meeting is limited in what it can achieve in protecting children.”

The force uses a range of quantitative data sets but the inspectorate has said it should further be using qualitative measures as well, with force performance data not currently good enough to inform senior leaders about demand and outcomes of any child protection activity.

The force introduced two dashboards in April which include quantitative data on child exploitation and missing children incidents.

The inspectorate said they have “good potential”.

While the force has demonstrated some good child-centred practice, it does not have a consistent approach to recording the voice of the child – this is in spite of “extensive” campaigns, initiatives and training about the importance of this.

Meanwhile the standard of missing child investigations was described as “poor”. Call handlers take down detailed information but don’t then consider that when grading the response.

It’s the officer who attends the incident who completes the risk assessment – but this process sees delays of up to four hours.

The inspectorate has found routine practice of “using ‘cut and paste’” on investigative updates, actions and reviews.

One case study outlined a 15 year old girl who was reported missing by her mother. The girl had a history of self-harm and had attempted suicide. She was also known to be at risk of sexual investigation and had been a victim of rape which was under investigation at the time.

Her mother informed the force that the girl had said she was travelling to the same force area where the previous rape had occurred.

She was assessed as medium risk of harm – which was reviewed and maintained by an inspector eight hours after the initial report.

Ten hours following the report, the mother told the force that the girl had said she was in a “cheap hotel” with an unknown person.

The report and risk was not reviewed until the following morning when it was changed to high risk.

The girl was later located on train tracks with visible injuries from self-harm. At a hospital she disclosed a sexual assault.

The force has created a missing investigation support team in July 2022 but “this has yet to show benefits”.

Among other recommendations issued by HMICFRS was for supervisors to promptly review risk assessments in missing investigations as well as flags, warning markers and trigger plans being accurate and used appropriately.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “During our inspection, we found that Thames Valley Police has a committed and dedicated workforce, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances.  

“While we found some areas of effective practice, we also saw inconsistent practices and decision-making.  In too many cases we examined, children weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard, and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force.

“Thames Valley Police needs to ensure that its commitment to improving the service leads to better results, and it provides a consistently good service for all children.

“We have made a range of recommendations which, if acted on, will help improve outcomes for children. We will continue to work closely with the force to monitor its progress.”

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