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12 July 2013, 12:48
Northamptonshire Police have "more progress to make'' before they can offer assurance that children at risk in the county are being adequately protected, a report has said.
The force responded to inspections carried out by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and made changes to procedure, but still has more to do.
In January, as part of a pilot multi-agency inspection of child protection arrangements, the inspectorate found that the force was not giving sufficient priority to the protection of children.
The pilot found that child protection arrangements in Northamptonshire were wholly inadequate.
A further inspection by HMIC in March found the force had developed a plan for how it would improve its approach to child protection. But, there were still concerns and HMIC considered that more progress should have been made.
The most recent visit by HMIC last month found that the force had made ``extensive changes'', investing significantly in child protection and developing a comprehensive plan designed to ensure the required improvements are made.
However, HMIC concluded it is too early to say whether the force is doing enough to properly protect children at risk.
The inspection in January identified that the force was not allocating enough resources to child protection, and staff had received insufficient training in how to safeguard children.
HMIC found unacceptable delays in sharing information about children at risk with other agencies and that police officers were not recognising potential risk to children when they attended incidents.
They were also failing to make referrals to either police child protection specialists or to other agencies such as children's social care.
HMIC immediately engaged with the force to establish what remedial action it would put in place to address the issues raised.
The inspectorate said it will continue to monitor the force and will carry out a full reinspection of child protection arrangements in October to assess if the force has made improvements and if this can be sustained.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said: "Our inspection in January found that Northamptonshire Police was not giving sufficient priority to the protection of children in the county.
"We found that child protection arrangements were wholly inadequate, and that children at risk within the county were not being properly protected by the police and other agencies. This is simply unacceptable.
"Following our initial inspection, the force recognised changes needed to be made and our revisit in March found they had developed a plan tackle the issue.
"The force has demonstrated it is taking child safeguarding seriously. But there is still much to do before it can offer assurance that children at risk are being adequately protected.
"We will return to the force in October to inspect what progress has been made.''
Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster, who has recently joined Northamptonshire Police, has assumed responsibility for ensuring the delivery of the recommendations set out in the report.
He said Northamptonshire Police have fully embraced the recommendations and he has provided an unequivocal commitment to working with partners to ensure that the appropriate structures, staffing and processes are implemented to maximise the protection of children at risk across the county.
The initial inspection by the inspectorate "alarmed'' Northamptonshire Police, Mr Foster, and the force immediately responded to concerns.
He added: "I am confident that the joint action plan will ensure that each of the recommendations made will be delivered prior to the anticipated re-inspection by HMIC in the autumn of 2013.
"However, any transformational change takes time to fully embed and work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
"I will take personal responsibility for continually monitoring and reviewing progress to maximise opportunities to protect children at risk living in our communities.''