Questions over how Staffordshire Police is held to account after child protection concerns

Concerns about Staffordshire Police’s work to protect children have sparked questions about how the force is being held to account.

Staffordshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Ben Adams was quizzed by a member of the public about his actions in the wake of an inspection of child protection services.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said “fundamental changes” were needed “to improve the force’s overall approach to child protection.”

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said: “Staffordshire Police has some areas of effective practice in child protection, and the force has shown that it understands the benefits of working closely with other local safeguarding organisations. However, Staffordshire Police urgently needs to make fundamental changes to improve many of its child protection arrangements and practices.

“While officers and staff who manage demanding child abuse cases are doing their best, some don’t have enough knowledge or understanding of good child protection practice. The effectiveness of the force’s systems and processes must also be improved to better support its staff.

“We have made a series of recommendations which, if acted on, will help to improve outcomes for children in Staffordshire. We will be closely monitoring the force’s progress.”

A question on the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC)’s actions was raised by a member of the public ahead of Monday’s Staffordshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel. The questioner asked: “What exactly is the PFCC doing to bring the force to account?

“What significant, specific, measurable, publicly accountable, actions are being taken by the PFCC? We don’t want to hear from the Chief Constable, as this is irrelevant due to the understandable widespread mistrust of the police, as recognised by the government, Home Affairs Inquiry, etc. We have seen no proportionate response locally.

“HMIC’s conclusions, even with their restrictions, come after previous inspections assessing our police force as falling short in their care for the vulnerable, therefore leaving this for them to resolve is unacceptable. Particularly concerning is that with Stoke-on-Trent Children’s services still in special measures after six consecutive Ofsted inspection failures, the city now has no agencies capable of keeping children and families safe.

“We need visible, concerted action, urgently.”

Staffordshire PFCC Ben Adams

The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner’s office responded in a statement: “In response to HMICFRS Inspection Findings, the force has initiated a Child Protection Improvement Programme along with command arrangements to oversee its implementation. The programme consists of detailed actions designed to deliver the required improvements in response to the individual recommendations made by HMICFRS.

“All actions are specific and have clear ownership and time frames. The Commissioner holds the Chief Constable to account for performance at a monthly Strategic Governance Board and Public Performance Meetings held three times a year.

“Progress in implementing the Child Protection Improvement Plan is a top priority in this scrutiny and accountability process. The Chief Constable provides written and verbal updates to these meetings on progress against all actions in the Improvement Programme.”

Staffordshire Police has been placed in “special measures” by HMICFRS after a number of failings were identified. It is one of six forces across the country currently in the watchdog’s Engage phase of monitoring.

In his annual report, presented at Monday’s panel meeting, Mr Adams said “significant work” was under way to address the concerns raised in the child protection inspection.

He said: “New and refreshed child protection training is being delivered to officers and staff, and the force has reviewed processes and procedures around missing children. There are also technology upgrades and investment in areas of highest demand, to protect and safeguard children at the earliest opportunity.

“The force has undertaken a large-scale review of its local policing model, which will see significant changes in how policing is delivered in communities and for victims of crime. The force is investing in hundreds more officers for its frontline response teams, and moving from three hubs to ten local bases to ensure officers can reach our local communities faster.

“These changes will also see enhancements to existing functions within the Contact and Control Centre, protecting the vulnerable as soon as they contact the Police for support.”

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