Concerns remain about delays in responding to reports of children being exploited online, despite other improvements by Northumbria Police.
The force has made good progress in improving its approach to child protection issues, but still has work to do, according to a report released today (Thursday, April 11) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
As part of a rolling programme of inspections of all police forces in England and Wales, HMICFRS assessed Northumbria Police in 2018 and found that, while the force displayed a strong commitment to child protection, there were several areas where performance was substandard.
The latest report details the findings of a follow-up inspection, which took place in January, at which the inspectorate found that there is a ‘continuing commitment’ among officers and staff with regards to their child protection responsibilities.
The force has also made some specific improvements against the 2018 recommendations, particularly in relation to missing children, but the inspection found that there are still areas of concern.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Phil Gormley, said: “I am encouraged to see that there has been progress made against those recommendations, particularly in relation to protecting children at risk of harm.
“We were pleased to find that the quality of investigations of child sexual exploitation cases that did not involve the internet have improved.
“However, I am concerned about the delays in responding to reports of children being exploited online and the backlog in completing digital forensic examinations, some of which are taking too long to complete.
“I am encouraged by the force’s commitment to protecting children from harm. I look forward to seeing further improvements implemented in due course.”
HMICFRS will continue to regularly monitor the force’s child protection capabilities.
Northumbria Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon said: “Protecting the most vulnerable in our communities is our number one priority and we are extremely proud of the work we do to safeguard children from abuse, exploitation and harm.
“We are pleased to see the latest report from HMICFRS recognises that good progress and improvements have been made against recommendations, but we are far from complacent and are committed to ensuring this excellent work continues.
“We are working hard to improve the quality of our investigations into child sexual exploitation (CSE) and have improved the way the force recognises and responds to children at risk. Our officers have also received additional training and better supervision to further increase awareness of their safeguarding responsibilities.
“We continue to invest in our safeguarding department, which has received extra people to deal with the complex demands placed upon the team.
“We are also committed to working with our partners to ensure collectively we are offering the very best service possible to young people in the communities we serve.”
A spokesman for the NSPCC, the child protection charity, said: “While there has been significant progress at Northumbria Police, it’s clear that improvements are still required and we hope the force responds swiftly to the inspectorate’s recommendations.
“The disparity between CSE investigations is extremely concerning and we hope, following the success this week of our Wild West Web campaign, that the Government’s legislative proposals to hold social-media companies to account will further stress the importance of putting child protection both offline and online at the heart of their policing.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service