Rotherham leader resigns after report finds child protection failings

26 Aug 14
Rotherham council leader Roger Stone has resigned following strong criticism of the authority’s leadership in a report commissioned to examine sexual abuse of young children in the area between 1997 and 2013.

By Andrew Pring | 26 August 2014 

Rotherham council leader Roger Stone has resigned following strong criticism of the authority’s leadership in a report commissioned to examine sexual abuse of young children in the area between 1997 and 2013.

The inquiry – commissioned by the council’s chief executive Martin Kimber – highlighted a variety of historic and serious child protection failings within the authority and other agencies. This led to an estimated 1,400 young people being sexually exploited over the 16-year period, the inquiry – chaired by a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish Government Alexis Jay – found.

Announcing his resignation, Stone, who has been leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council since 2004, said: ‘Like any right-minded person, I am disgusted by child sexual exploitation and abhor the lifelong damage that it wreaks upon the lives of all those affected by it. It is a matter of great regret for me, as it is for many others, that so many people have been traumatised by child sexual exploitation here in Rotherham.

‘However, having considered the report, I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report.’

Jay concluded that a third of the cases of abuse were known to the authorities, who chose not to act for reasons that included fear of inciting racial tensions.

Jay found that many of the abusers were from the Asian community, and stated that ‘the abuse is not confined to the past but continues to this day’.

‘In May 2014, the caseload of the specialist child sexual exploitation team was 51. More child sexual exploitation cases were held by other children's social care teams,’ she stated.

Both the council and partners such as the police could and should have done more to protect children at risk, Jay concluded.

Responding to the report, Kimber apologised to the young people who were let down by services, and accepted the report and its recommendations in their entirety.

‘The report does not make comfortable reading in its account of the horrific experiences of some young people in the past, and I would like to reiterate our sincere apology to those who were let down when they needed help,’ he said.

‘I commissioned this Independent Review to understand fully what went wrong, why it went wrong and to ensure that the lessons learned in Rotherham mean these mistakes can never happen again.’

The report pointed to serious failings, both within and between all organisations charged with child protection. These are attributed almost without exception to senior managers in child protection services and elected members within the council and senior police officers. However, frontline social or youth workers were acknowledged in the report to have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the nature and extent of this kind of child abuse.

The failings include poor leadership from senior managers in child protection services and elected members, and a lack of communication between the two on the issue of child sexual exploitation, as well as a perceived ‘lack of interest’ in, and understanding of, grooming as a model of child abuse.

Failings within organisational culture and processes meant victims were not heard or believed, the report stated, and the concerns of frontline workers were not acknowledged or acted upon at the most senior levels.

Artificial ‘professional barriers’ and also ‘professional jealousies’ between organisations which prevented effective action, while reports raising concerns about the scale and nature of child sexual exploitation do not appear to have been used effectively to influence the strategic or operational response.

Kimber stated that the council’s child protection services are now services are stronger and better co-ordinated.

‘They are not perfect, but they are fit for purpose, are significantly improved and continue to improve through close multi-agency working,’ he added.

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