Hundreds in West Sussex “at risk of child sexual exploitation”

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Hundreds of youngsters are believed to be at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), according to West Sussex County Council.

The figure was revealed by Avril Wilson, executive director for care, wellbeing and education, at a meeting of the council’s performance and finance select committee on Friday (October 2).

Ms Wilson was speaking during a discussion about the need for additional funding to bolster CSE management services, and to prepare children’s services for its next Ofsted inspection.

She said: “We estimate there are probably 500 children and young people in the county who are at risk of child and sexual exploitation.”

Following the recent Rotheram child abuse scandal, a report by Professor Alexis Jay spoke of the “collective failures” of political, police and social care leadership.

West Sussex, along with many other local authorities, made child safety a top priority and reviewed how cases of CSE were managed.

A report put before the select committee said there was a need to establish a number of new posts to enhance the council’s ability to handle cases.

It stated: “In addition to an investment of £0.2m in the budget for 2015/16, further investment is now required to ensure that the council provides an appropriate service, thereby helping to keep children safe.”

The committee was advised to support the investment of £473,000 into the CSE services budget.

In addition, £679,000 was selected for Ofsted preparation work. In 2010, the Children’s Social Care Service was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and underwent major improvements to rise to ‘adequate’ in March 2013.

The council paid £17,500 to Bluefields consultancy for an audit to assess how the service would now be rated.

Bluefields said it would not be judged ‘good’ and a number of service areas would need work to ensure “a solid result of ‘requires improvement’”.

On September 29, the council hosted a multi-agency summit encouraging organisations and groups to take a stand against CSE.

Peter Evans (Con, East Preston and Ferring), cabinet member for children – start of life, said the summit was about saying with one voice CSE “will not be tolerated in West Sussex”.

He added: “CSE is not new but we are now aware of it more and more and we are looking for it.”

Explaining the need for vigilance, Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of the council, said: “We can’t be complacent because of the insidious nature of this.”

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