The issue was aired at a meeting of full Council last Wednesday (November 25) with a detailed update on the local approach to tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE).
The Council’s Community Safety and Leisure Scrutiny Panel previously investigated the issue, resulting in a wide-ranging action plan which has been rolled out across the Tees area.
Middlesbrough’s Chief Executive Mike Robinson is now a member of the multi-agency North East Tackling Exploitation Board which is drawing up a ‘Pledge’ for the region’s children, young people and vulnerable adults.
The work also builds on local initiatives including the ‘In The Wrong Hands’ awareness campaign which highlighted the issues and challenges to schools, parents and communities.
The latest report – by Middlesbrough Council’s head of Safeguarding and Children’s Care Neil Pocklington – further details the challenges faced both locally and nationally, the responsibilities of the various agencies and the various approaches being taken.
The report also includes a list of common myths about CSE, with information on the true picture.
Mark Braithwaite, independent Chair of the Middlesbrough Safeguarding Children Board, addressed Wednesday’s meeting, outlining the challenges that exist, and the role of elected members in addressing them.
Mr Braithwaite said: “Following events in Rotherham, Middlesbrough decided to take a close look at the issue here – many areas have shied away from this but it was the right thing to do.
“The truth is we really don’t know how big the problem is, either here or elsewhere – but the agencies involved know they are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.
“Child sexual exploitation doesn’t respect geographical boundaries, and is not restricted to any particular group or section of the community.
“It is seems to be a growing problem and that is why it is critically important that we are right up to speed with it.
“We can only bring interventions to bear on what we know about, and that’s why we all have a vital role to play.
“Councillors are crucial to this agenda – it’s all about knowledge, awareness and vigilance, and knowing who to go to if you need advice and support.”
Welcoming the report and backing Mr Braithwaite’s stance, Councillor Mike Carr, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Children’s Social Care, said it was essential for agencies to work alongside the public to address an ‘extremely serious’ issue.
He said: “We have to tackle it openly and transparently if we are to avoid the culture of denial that has been seen elsewhere.
“The main purpose of this report is to draw attention to the safeguarding responsibility of elected members, both in their activities within the Council and in the role they have in the community.
“Child sexual exploitation is something that can happen anywhere, and we need to be vigilant.”
Councillors agreed unanimously to work to ensure Middlesbrough is a safer place for vulnerable children and young people, and to work to disrupt the perpetrators of CSE. A further report will be presented to Council in 12 months’ time.
Any crime can be reported to Cleveland Police by calling 101
Anyone who is the victim of on-going or historic sexual abuse can seek confidential specialist advice and support 24 hours a day by calling the Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre on 01642 516888.
For more information on the work of the Local Safeguarding Children Boards, and details of how to report instances of abuse, visit http://www.teescpp.org.uk/