Safeguarding e-Bulletin – 6th February 2020

Welcome to our Safeguarding e-Bulletin, keeping you up-to-date with all safeguarding news, information and updates. Between publications you can also get in the moment updates on safeguarding news by following us on Twitter @SSSlearning and my commentary on @Sam_SSSLearning

Emergency legislation for terrorist sentencing

Despite being ridiculed for repeatedly vowing to tackle ‘counter-terrorism offenders’ following the knife attack in Streatham, Home Secretary Priti Patel this week announced HM Government plans to introduce ‘fundamental changes’ to the way terrorists are released from prison in the wake of the attack.

Convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman, who had been released from his previous conviction after serving half his sentence, was shot dead by police in Streatham on Sunday 2nd Feb after three people were injured in the terror attack carried out by Amman.  Despite being under active counter-terrorism surveillance at the time, Amman carried out knife attacks in the south London borough whilst wearing a fake bomb vest. Remarkably those injured in the attack all survived.

In the wake of the attack Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented on the difficulties associated with de-radicalising extremists stating:

“There is a big psychological barrier, people find it hard to get back over, and that’s why I stress the importance of the custodial option and that’s why I have come to the end of my patience with the idea of automatic early release and I hope that people will understand why we’re doing that.

This is a liberal country, it is a tolerant country, but I think the idea of automatic early release for people who obviously continue to pose a threat to the public has come to the end of its useful life.”

Under pressure following three attacks by men convicted of terror offences who were released, HM Government is proposing introducing emergency legislation. This would mean prisoners convicted for terrorist offences would no longer be freed at the halfway point of their sentence. The new plans, which would apply to current and future offenders, would mean terror offenders would only be considered for release once they had served two-thirds of their sentence and with the approval of a Parole Board.

However, the plans are likely to be challenged. In a BBC  interview Lord Carlile, a former independent government reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that “The decision to lengthen the sentences of people who’ve already been sentenced and therefore expected to be serving half the sentence may be in breach of the law”.

Sam Preston, Safeguarding Director of SSS Learning, commented: “It is understandable that, in the wake of attacks involving men previously convicted of terrorist offences, we need to review legislation. But simply lengthening sentences will not address the issue that at some point such criminals will be released and the public need to be safeguarded. To ensure this there has to be a focus on the process of de-radicalisation and indeed how /if that can be effectively achieved in the prison setting.”

Haleema Faraz, mother of Amman, has  claimed that in addition to watching online extremist material, her son had become further radicalised by inmates in whilst serving his sentence in high security Belmarsh Prison.

The proposals follow a broad package of counter-terrorism measures previously announced by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, which included plans to introduce lie detector tests for terrorist offenders as well as the recruitment of specialist counter-terrorism probation officers.

Whilst it is likely that HM Government will justify the planned changes on the grounds of national security, the proposals will face legal challenge that may result in progression to the Supreme Court.

Welsh smacking ban

The Welsh Government has passed a new law banning people from smacking their children, the second country in UK to bring in such a ban. The legislation removes the defence of “reasonable punishment” in cases of common assault, giving children the same protection as adults in Wales. (As stated by The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a reasonable punishment defence only applies if victim’s injuries are “transient and trifling and amounted to no more than temporary reddening of the skin”).

The law banning people in Wales from smacking their children will begin in 2022 and will be enforced by the criminal justice system. However, it will rely on evidence gathered by the police, who also have the option to caution someone instead of taking them to court. They could also issue community resolution orders, which would not go on a criminal record but could show up on an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check in some circumstances when people apply for certain jobs.

Experts call for national review of home schooling following serious case review

Northamptonshire Children’s Services, described by Commissioners as “one of the worst performing yet most expensive” in England, are again in the spotlight as children’s protection experts call for a national review of procedures around elective home schooling.

The call follows a serious case review in which a young boy faced “extreme neglect and abuse” by his stepfather and mother. Before eventually being taken into care, the boy (who cannot be named for legal reasons) endured four years of abuse which included being beaten, locked in his room and forced to defecate on the floor, being fed stale food and banned from speaking to his siblings.

Although Northamptonshire county council social services set up a “child in need” plan for the boy, it closed the file after three months after deciding there were no concerns for the child’s welfare.

The official serious case review published by the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership found significant failures by social workers and NHS staff, who it said had missed early chances to remove the boy.

Within weeks of closing the case, his stepfather made professionals aware of his intention to electively home educate the boy. This resulted in the boy not being seen by any professional for over a year. The review described the boy as being “hidden from view” whilst the abuse perpetrated by his stepfather and lack of protection by his mother continued. The review found that the boy’s mother had “abdicated her responsibilities and duties as a parent” to the stepfather.

In fact, the boy was never home educated as his stepfather did not submit an application form. This resulted, the review says, “in the child being out of school, effectively out of sight for a period of 14 months”. Attempts by the school to get the forms completed appear to have been rebuffed.

His parents, a 34-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman were convicted of five counts of child cruelty and jailed for seven and three and a half years respectively.

Northamptonshire county council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Fiona Baker, said: “We are deeply sorry for any poor decision making and mistakes which may have contributed to this awful case of abuse. Children’s services in Northamptonshire are on an improvement journey and although much progress has been made there is still a lot to do.”

The case is the third high-profile serious case review in recent years involving Northamptonshire county council children’s services. Last year two reviews found that professionals missed crucial opportunities to save two toddlers who were murdered by men with histories of domestic violence, crime and drug use.

APPG for young carers & young adult carers

The first all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for young carers and young adult carers is set to be formed.

According to charity Carers Trust, the new APPG will provide “an invaluable opportunity to develop a cross-party platform to encourage improved support, services and recognition for young carers and young adult carers. It will also promote awareness of their needs and issues affecting them”.

The APPG will also enable Young Carers and Young Adult Carers to meet MPs giving them a forum to explain the pressures and challenges faced because of their caring responsibilities and how such pressures might be addressed by decision-makers.

Dublin FGM conviction

For the first time in the history of the state, a married couple have been sentenced for aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) of their then 21-month-old daughter.

The couple, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, had pleaded not guilty to procuring an act of FGM claiming the child had sustained her injuries by falling backwards onto a toy while not wearing a nappy. However, the paediatric surgeon who performed a procedure to stop the girl’s bleeding, came to the conclusion that her injury had not been sustained accidentally and referred the case to gardaí for investigation. The surgeon, Sri Paran, told the court that the child would have gone into shock within 20 hours had her bleeding not been stopped. The parents’ version of events was disputed by several medical experts and the couple, who were also found guilty of one count of child cruelty, were convicted at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last November.

Sentencing the couple, Judge Elma Sheahan said the offence had resulted in serious harm to the child, who may suffer psychological or psycho-sexual effects that may not be fully known for years. She described the offence as the “most egregious breach of trust by those presumed to be the protectors of their infant child”. She said the girl had suffered an “appalling act of cruelty”.

The husband and wife were sentenced to five-and-a-half years and four years and nine months respectively for the female genital mutilation of their then 21-month-old daughter. In addition, the husband was sentenced to three years on one count of child cruelty and the wife to two years and nine months.

FGM is a criminal offence under the Irish Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012, and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. It is estimated that 5,800 women and girls in Ireland have undergone FGM, with human rights charities warning that another 2,700 are at risk. See my blog

Safeguarding failures found at pre-registration of independent school

An inspection of the Empire Coaching Academy’s proposed site at Smithfield House in Digbeth, Birmingham, has been deemed “not likely to meet” all independent schools standards and failed pre-registration. The Ofsted inspectors discovered boarded up fire escapes which failed to work when a kitchen fire set the alarm system off. Inspectors also found fallen-in ceilings, sharp steel ceiling retainers dangling at head height and windows that opened wide enough so that a pupil “could easily fall out”.

Ofsted conduct pre-registration inspections to determine if the school is likely to meet independent school standards, filing their finding to the Department for Education.

On the alarm sounding, lead inspector Dan Owen said it wasn’t possible to “easily leave the building by the stairs because many adults were coming up the stairs to other floors as opposed to evacuating the building”. A school leader suggested to him it was a test alarm and the inspector should continue his inspection.

However, Mr Owen found he couldn’t escape on the ground floor because a “magnetic door exit would not operate properly”. A second fire exit was “tied shut on the inside with a power cable and was firmly covered with wooden boards from the outside”. The report added: “In the event of an evacuation, there is no clear route out of this building.”

The inspection also found that upper floors of the building were in “a state of dereliction and pose serious hazards to pupils”. Although not proposed for school use, the upper floors were fully accessible. Office furniture was found on fire escape routes and a shopping trolley on a staircase. Low-dangling light fittings and sharp steel ceiling retainers were found to be dangling at head height. Mouldy food was observed together with signs of “rodent activity”. The report concluded that whilst these areas are not part of the proposed school they are “readily accessible” and “could have an impact on the safety and welfare of any pupils” adding that “Leaders’ risk assessments have failed to evaluate the risks associated with the building”.

In addition, when assessing the accommodation at the school the report found “serious hazards to pupils” which present even higher risks as “the pupils the proprietor proposes to educate are highly vulnerable”. This included exposed wires, with some sockets were found to not be properly fixed to the wall. Some windows could not be opened at all whilst others opened without restriction where pupils “could easily fall out”. One large window came off its hinges when opened by the inspector.

The decision to open the proposed school, which would employ eight full-time staff and teach a total of 70 pupils aged 12 to 16, 10 of which would be part-time pupils will be made by the DfE in due course.

Parents let down by professionals’ poor grasp of child sexual exploitation

A damning report has been published by the charity Parents Against Child Exploitation (Pace) / focusing on the experiences of parents and grandparents whose children were sexually abused outside the home.

The report, consisting of semi-structured interviews and focus group sessions with 32 parents or grandparents, describes lengthy delays in any action taken, not being listened to by social workers, feeling that their child had not been helped, and that they were often viewed as bad parents, or even possible abusers themselves.

The majority of participants felt social workers had a poor grasp of child sexual exploitation, often minimising or dismissing the physical and mental harm their children were being subjected to by criminal gangs.

One father, a single parent from the West Midlands and experienced community work professional, who participated in the study described how the sexual exploitation his daughter was suffering wasn’t part of children’s services discussions. Nicholas Beale said “I kept raising it with [children’s services], but they were constantly questioning my parenting, my failings. And the language that was used was so patronising, condescending, dehumanising … if it had just been one person, I’d have put it down to their individual failings, but it was every social worker with the exception of one.” In fact, he felt so unsupported that he felt he had no option but to request that his daughter go into temporary foster care.

The report indicates that this experience is far from unique. Gill Gibbons is chief executive of Pace, the charity which supports parents attempting to extricate their children from the clutches of the gangs that serially rape vulnerable teenagers for profit, said that, although things have changed from the time of the Rotherham scandal when social workers explicitly viewed children as consenting to their own abuse, the testimony in Pace’s report leads her to believe “the shift away from blaming parents has taken a lot longer. It has been hardwired into all the training around child abuse that the first perpetrator you look at is parents”.

Commenting, Leeds’ Director of Children’s Services Steve Walker acknowledged that the approach taken towards families in some children’s social work departments is problematic. “Families are assessed through the lens of risk, where they are either causing harm or failing to protect, which is unhelpful in all but the most severe cases of abuse. As a result, families experience social work interventions as judgmental and adversarial. This makes it difficult to achieve the kind of partnership with families that is needed, particularly where there are concerns about sexual exploitation.”

February publications

Ofsted, Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (2020), The multi-agency response to child sexual abuse in the family environment

This report summarises findings from our joint targeted area inspections of ‘the multi-agency response to child sexual abuse in the family environment’.

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