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Missed opportunities highlighted in published report

A report by the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership into the historical sexual abuse of a young girl identified missed opportunities by agencies that may have prevented the extent of her abuse.

The report traces the experience of a young girl, identified as ‘N’, who lived with her parents and elder sister.

Aged 19, N disclosed to her mental health worker that she had been sexually abused between the ages of 10 and 16 by a man 10 years her senior. That man has since been convicted of multiple offences against her and has received a lengthy custodial sentence.

As a child, N was known to a number of different agencies including health, mental health, police and children’s social care.

But the report found that her sexual abuse, which began more than a decade ago, was not identified or responded to, even when her abuser openly declared their sexual relationship.

It states that as a result of her abuse, N has suffered significant and ongoing mental health problems including previous attempts at self-harm.

The report says that at the time there were failures by the agencies to recognise indicators of neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation; that there was a failure to appreciate adolescent risk in the context of neglect; that multiple changes of staff at the agencies prevented N from disclosing her abuse at an earlier age; that staff were not ‘hearing’ disclosure; and that there was poor information sharing and working together in the context of complex and multiple risks.

But the report acknowledges that since that time much has been done across Devon to improve safeguarding of children, with particular attention to neglect and sexual abuse.

It says that the independent inquiry in 2014 into Child sexual Exploitation in Rotherham led agencies across the UK to focus much more on detection and management of CSE. In Devon, the report says, that inquiry led to ‘considerable improvements since the time when N suffered her abuse – in both knowledge about CSE and how to disrupt the perpetrator’s activities in order to protect the victim.’

It says that the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership, which includes Police, health and children’s social care, now have a well-established CSE subgroup, and that its partners have made significant improvements to practice over the last two years. Policies have improved, staff are well trained, and there are multiple independent organisations in the county that provide targeted support and advice for young victims of exploitation and abuse.

Jo Olsson, who chairs the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership, said:

“This is a tragic case of a young person who suffered sexual abuse as a child at the hands of an abuser who groomed her and her family. At the time, the agencies missed opportunities to pick up on the abuse and to intervene to prevent it. Agencies did not have then the same focus on child sexual exploitation and abuse as they do now.

“The learning from this case will serve as a reminder to all agencies of our shared safeguarding obligations and for the need for practitioners to be alive to situations that could lead to disclosure.

“Today, Devon is better placed to recognise child sexual exploitation and abuse, with policies and sharing of information across partner agencies, and staff who are expertly trained.

“But this alone does not prevent abusers from exploiting the vulnerable, and all agencies should continue to work ever more closely to improve their practice.”

This article was first published on the Devon County Council News Centre, 12 April 2019.