‘We can’t relax when it comes to child abuse’: Camden leads London in crackdown on child sex exploitation

Camden's multi-agency sexual exploitation board works to prevent abuse and identify potential victim

Camden's multi-agency sexual exploitation board works to prevent abuse and identify potential victims - Credit: Archant

Camden is at the forefront of London’s crackdown on child abuse as the only council to have a dedicated expert working alongside police to prevent the rise of child sexual exploitation.

In the wake of child abuse scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale, the council has appointed someone to gather intelligence on child abuse cases to help police learn about underground networks linking victims with abusers and to identify exploitation hotspots.

It is believed to be the only local authority to develop this approach to preventing child abuse and identifying potential victims.

In a report presented to a scrutiny committee at Camden Town Hall last week, council officers found that “good progress” has been made in identifying those most at risk of sexual exploitation in the borough as a result of the appointment in June.

The report states: “Camden data shows the scale and nature of the problem here is not the same as that reported nationally and in areas such as Rotherham.

“Nevertheless, there is no place for complacency.”

Anne Turner, assistant director for the Children, Schools and Families department at Camden Council, said at the meeting: “There is a bigger problem with grooming and abuse in Haringey and Islington but it is attracting children from Camden to go across the border into this area.”

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In the last year, 15 young people have been identified as at a high risk of abuse. They are all on a programme to help them recognise sexual exploitation.

Between March and September, 18 people were referred to the council because of concerns about child sexual exploitation.

For every child identified as at risk of sexual abuse, Camden’s expert – known as a multi-agency sexual exploitation (MASE) analyst – builds a profile of information about the amount of time a child spends away from home, details of the child’s friends and associates, and places where the child is known to visit regularly.

The analyst, funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, then passes the information onto police to help them locate the potential abuse victim when they are missing from home, and to ensure that they are kept safe from abuse.

The role is a joint partnership between Camden Council and Camden police.

However, council cuts threaten the long-term viability of the role, and funding is only secured for the next year.

Cllr Angela Mason, cabinet member for children, told the meeting: “We have the MASE analyst for one year and then there is no more funding.

“That is a problem. It would be my wish to step in and provide that funding, but obviously that will be quite difficult for us.

‘‘The lack of police resources and the cuts will impact on this area of work.”

Cllr Mason is concerned that there are not enough resources within the police to sustain efforts to tackle the problem of child abuse in Camden over a long-term period.

In the last year, the report found that Camden police has arrested and deported one man for sexual assault, and sent out two search warrants relating to potential child abuse.

The MASE analyst has also identified potential victims living in Camden who are members of Facebook pages where young people post “provocative images”.

Scrutiny committee member Cllr Andrew Mennear said: “We should not be complacent, regardless of the fact that we think children’s services in Camden are generally very good.”