Rotherham scandal is social breakdown at its most acute

Rotherham scandal is social breakdown at its most acute

26th August 2014

All revelations of child abuse are shocking, but the details of the Rotherham scandal are shocking on a whole new level. Not only is the scale of the abuse hard to take on board – some 1400 children were exploited over a 16-year period – but the fact that it has taken so long for the full details to become public is exceptionally worrying. Of all the horrific stories that have come to light in recent years, the stories that Prof Alexis Jay has revealed are amongst the most upsetting

Girls as young as 11 were gang raped. Children were forced to witness rapes,  threatened with guns, or  doused in petrol and threatened with be ing set alight.  As ever, very many of these children were already highly vulnerable  with perpetrators targeting  children in care, particularly those in children’s homes, promising them the love and attention that had been so denied them. In every sense,  these acts, and the failure to stop them, are  social breakdown at its most acute.
As the Centre for Social Justice’s recent work on modern slavery showed,  there  has been  an urgent need for greater leadership to  stamp out  this problem .  Thankfully the Government, acting on our recommendations, is now  starting to offer  that leadership through  its work around the Modern Slavery Bill,   but  the  Rotherham  inquiry has shown just how badly  this work has been  needed.
W hilst abusers must ultimately answer for their own crimes, when agencies  refuse  to act on reports of abuse , they too  must carry a large  share of the responsibility.  The local establishment  in  Rotherham   was blind to – or worse – turned a blind eye to an epidemic of child abuse that was taking place on its watch.
The sheer reluctance to engage is mind blowing.  Whilst 1400 children were abused, t he police , we are told,  gave no priority to child sexual exploitation and regarded many child victims with ‘contempt ’.   E lected members and officers repeatedly ignored  briefings. T hree internal reports to the police and council  ‘which could not have been clearer’  went unheeded.
As Prof Jays says:
If all of the authorities involved … had been less concerned with their own agendas and prejudices and kept their focus on the children’s welfare, some of these children might not have suffered the abuse and brutality we read about and heard about.
What this means is that somewhere along the line the fog of political correctness descended over professional  judgement . Earlier  reports suggest ed  that s ome social workers saw 14-year-olds becoming pregnant by 24-year-old men, or young girls leaving their children’s homes in the middle of the night ,  as  just young people  exercising choice. Similarly,  we are told that although ‘by far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims … throughout the entire period, councilors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue’.
As the Munro Review  argued , child protection must not be distracted from its central purpose by any other considerations than the protection of the child. The following of bureaucratic process, the fear of offending adults,  the   normalisation  of certain types of  behavio u r  – all are secondary to whether children are protected from abuse.
The good news, insofar as there is any, is that this report hopefully marks the beginning   of the purge of these practices  in  Rotherham . Yet  the end of this inquiry can not  be  a  line under the issue.  The authorities must say what they intend to do to support the 1400 children who have suffered abuse. They must explain why, given the extent of the abuse, the  number  of prosecutions remains so pitifully low (18 since 2012)  and do considerably more to raise it .  Only by helping to repair the lives that have been damaged and by bringing those who damaged them to justice can  Rotherham  begin to salve its conscience.
An excellent model which the CSJ has seen is the ENGAGE project in Lancashire . This places  social workers, youth workers, nurses,  a voluntary sector  organisation , representatives of drug and alcohol services and the police in the same office so they can advise each other and share information. Prior to its establishment, Blackburn had dealt with only one case of child sexual exploitation. Now, they iden tify around 160 suspects a year  and successfully prosecute nearly a quarter of them.
Intelligent initiatives like these sit in stark contrast to the collective inaction in  Rotherham . They show that change is possible, that children can be protected, and that the abusers can be held to account. And they offer some hope that such protracted failures in child protection need never happen again.