Buckinghamshire needs to fundamentally change its approach towards protecting children from sexual exploitation.
Teachers, healthcare providers, parents and councillors have all been urged to change both their attitude towards victims of the abuse and the how they tackle the issue.
A hard-hitting report by Bucks County Council’s children’s social care and learning select committee was released on Tuesday.
Its release comes two months after six men were jailed for a combined total of more than 80 years after grooming, raping and sexually abusing two young girls in Aylesbury – crimes which shocked the county.
The Old Bailey trial heard that social workers were aware of both young victims at the time that the abuse was taking place.
The report reads: “Nothing can compensate adequately for the offences committed, but an emphasis on prevention by all concerned with the safety of our children should hopefully go some way in making such crimes ever more difficult to commit.”
The inquiry was set up in response to children’s services at Bucks County Council being judged inadequate by Ofsted in 2014 – and national scandals such as Rotherham and Oxford.
The report, which was already under way when the Aylesbury crimes came to light, recommends a raft of measures, including that all councillors should undergo training to spot the signs of exploitation.
Parents, carers, teachers and those who work in hotels, taxi drivers and youngsters themselves were also flagged as needing more education on how to spot the signs, and how to report concerns in an appropriate way.
With regards to schools, the report read: “The county council should commission the Buckinghamshire Learning Trust to develop a toolkit for use in primary schools to help schools foster resilience in their pupils.”
Some committee members said that some headteachers they had spoken to did not think that exploitation was something that would happen in their school. The committee was keen to debunk this myth.
Committee member Robin Stuchbury told the Herald: “The reason we get these situations in the first place is that no-one wants to admit they’ve got a problem, it’s about protecting reputations. This report is a jerk to the schools to look at what they doing and councillors need to have CSE training too.
“If we can’t get on top of this, how can we preach to other people? No-one’s child or grandchild is immune.”
He added: “It’s all very well and good us making these recomendations, but the council now needs to make room in the budget for them. It needs to put its money where its mouth is.”
Fellow committee member Phil Gomm called for an apology from the council, for how the issue has been handled in the past.
He said: “This committee should never have had to be involved in the first place.
“Why should it take this committee to come along and see things differently? This council should apologise to every one of the young people that this applies to.”
During the course of the inquiry, committee members heard from a spectrum of professionals involved in the fight against exploitation.
Another recommendation is to include sexual health services accessed by young people in the list of agencies which work together to alert each other to vulnerable young people.
Val Letheren, chairman of the committee, said: “Child sexual exploitation is something we should all be more aware of, particularly following the recent number of high-profile cases across the country, including in Buckinghamshire. Although I found this to be the most difficult inquiry I have ever chaired, it was without a doubt the most important.”