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26 July 2018, 12:17 | Updated: 26 July 2018, 12:28
Child protection in Northamptonshire's come under severe criticism this morning from Government Inspectors.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) 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:
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
"We welcome the report by HMICFRS and we are pleased inspectors have recognised our commitment to improving our services for the protection of children.
The report praises the force-wide focus on safeguarding and working to improve the outcomes for vulnerable children. It also compliments the quality of investigations within specialist teams, with officers demonstrating an 'appropriate mix of investigative and protective approaches to ensure children are safeguarded while criminal investigative opportunities are pursued'.
We are pleased the inspection found examples of good multi-agency work and a child centred approach, particularly around the area of child sexual exploitation; the report highlights 'good engagement with partner safeguarding agencies' across the force area.
Overall the report praises our 'unquestionable commitment to the protection of children' while outlining a number of areas where significant improvements are required.
We fully accept these findings, many of which the force had already identified.
Work is well underway to address each of the report's recommendations.
We are creating a culture where the voice of the child is at the centre of all we do, and giving our officers the tools they need to better protect and safeguard children."