Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) report into Child Protection, published today, 25 November 2016, has some tough messages for the Metropolitan Police Service. The Met is determined to work hard and make the changes needed to continue to keep London's children safe.
Children are among the most vulnerable in society and their welfare is a priority for the Met and all our partners across London.
The Met has been working closely with the HMIC since the inspection and appreciate the time and effort they have taken to look at this most complex area of work.
Our aim is to provide the best possible protection to children and we are sorry that this has not always been the case, especially, to the children involved in the examples highlighted in this report.
However, since the HMIC inspection we have revisited all the cases they examined. We have identified no further harm to children and no further offenders have been charged or cautioned as a result.
Whilst HMIC has highlighted important areas for improvement, we are pleased they have recognised the contribution of our staff who work "with genuine commitment, dedication and empathy to protect and help children and young people" in a challenging area which is "frequently distressing, often hard, and seldom straightforward."
The context of policing London must be considered alongside this report.
Within the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command alone there are more than 1300 officers. In addition to this there are locally based investigators within every London borough. All are dedicated to protecting vulnerable young people in their day to day work.
Whilst all these resources are under the leadership of chief officers, we have now identified a single Management Board lead - Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt - to ensure all our efforts across the Capital are co-ordinated effectively.
Today the HMIC report references a prioritisation by the Met on volume crimes and asserts that this has meant child protection has not had the required focus.
It is important to understand that whilst those crimes did not fall within the specific remit of this inspection, significant reductions in violence with injury and personal robbery are crimes where children are disproportionately victims.
The Met has seen significant reductions in these crimes. An example from 2011 to 2015 we achieved a 67 per cent reduction in child victims of robbery. This is critical work, and additionally, our considerable efforts against gang crime are also preventing children being drawn into criminality and personal danger.
HMIC also highlight the issue of children being held in custody and again context is important. All custody cases reviewed by HMIC were cases where the child had been charged. In many circumstances there is simply no suitable accommodation where these children can be placed, a fact acknowledged by the HMIC within the main body of their report.
Moving forward the Met would welcome joint agency inspections to provide the best understanding of the child's journey and offer the greatest opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of young people. By focusing on the complex issues faced by one part of the system an incomplete picture is presented.
This report is a significant moment for the Met as it has reinforced the need for the plans already in place to make changes to help provide a better service to vulnerable people, which includes children, across the capital.
The Met will be using the report as a launch pad for a force-wide movement to change the approach to child protection to ensure that every member of staff is a safe-guarder, no matter what their policing role.
To help take this forward, the Met is creating a dedicated internal team for continuous improvement and scrutiny - this will look at how we go about the day to day work of protecting children. They will look at similar cases to those identified by the HMIC in order to identify any further risk and opportunities to improve the service provided to young people.
Immediately after the inspection the Met set up an independent scrutiny group which includes third sector representatives and academics who will challenge us as we develop a more robust safeguarding approach. The Met will continue to work with all partners, including the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, to ensure that we provide the service that London's children deserve.
This is reinforced by fundamental organisational changes to how we work.
The changes see the bringing together of teams that investigate sexual offences, domestic and child abuse to ensure there is a more joined up approach to investigations that overlap. This will ensure a single point of contact for both families and local authorities and allow all those involved in a child's care to have a single view where a child is at risk, allowing our officers a better understanding of each child's individual circumstances.
Officers working in schools and with young people are vital to identifying those most at risk, raising awareness, and preventing harm - as a result the number of police officers in these roles will be increased. Additionally, the Met is increasing the number of dedicated ward officers who also interact with vulnerable children to spot early warning signs.
A new training programme to help officers better understand the complexities of children who go missing and how to intervene if they are felt to be at risk is under development and will be rolled out.
The HMIC will revisit the Met in the coming months and we look forward to meeting with them to demonstrate the progress we have made and for advice on how we can continue to improve the lives of children in London.
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said:
"Child protection often involves complex social problems which cannot be solved by the police alone, however we have an important role to protect them from further harm as often we arrive in a child's life when they are already in crisis.
"We have re-thought how we go about our work to protect London's most vulnerable. As this report shows, there is still a lot of work to be done, we have made significant changes already and we are committed to continuing to rise to this challenge."