Northamptonshire Police’s efforts to improve its child protection provision have not yet translated into better outcomes for vulnerable children, according to a report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
Inspectors found evidence of some good work by individual officers, but warned that poor management of registered sex offenders and inaccurate risk assessments were putting vulnerable children at risk.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said: “Northamptonshire Police shows a clear commitment to keeping children safe from harm, taking a proactive approach to safeguard children from further harm and bring offenders to justice.
“But our inspection also uncovered some areas of serious concern. The force’s management of registered sex offenders was particularly troubling. At the time of inspection, the force’s specialist team was significantly under-resourced and over-worked. Police officers were expected to manage caseloads well above nationally-approved guidelines.
“Although the force attends the highest priority cases in good time, we were disappointed to find that call handlers often downgraded crimes involving children – some as serious as domestic abuse – to ease demand their response teams. A risk-based approach should prioritise help for those who need it most, so the most vulnerable can be safeguarded in hours, not days.
“When incidents were identified as child protection cases, officers responded accordingly and handled them well. We found that they used their powers to remove children from harm’s way with due care and consideration for the child’s best interest.
“We have made a number of recommendations to the force to improve their practice in this area. Under the strong leadership of the Chief Constable and his senior team, I am reassured that the force has already taken immediate steps to address our concerns, which is positive and reflects the force’s overall commitment to improving outcomes for children.”
Inspectors were pleased to find that Northamptonshire Police:
- is unquestionably committed to the protection of children; and
- has invested in safeguarding training for frontline officers and staff.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
- joint visits between child protection officers and social services are either not recorded or do not take place;
- multi-agency risk assessment conferences are well-attended, but do not always result in strong decision making and action; and
- missing children investigations are generally of poor quality when allocated to non-specialist uniformed officers, leaving some children exposed to unacceptable levels of risk over a protracted period of time.