Calls for greater scrutiny of services combatting Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in West Sussex have been rejected.
West Sussex County Council currently has a partnership with children’s charity Barnardo’s for CSE interventions, with the contract due to cease at the end of March.
In December 2016, the cabinet member for children - start of life agreed to procure a new service costing £95,000 a year to support children and young people who are at high risk of or who have experienced CSE.
But a request by Labour and UKIP councillors to pause the decision process to allow proposals to be scrutinised was blocked by Tory councillors.
They argued that any delay awarding the contract could have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the users of the service.
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central), who led the call-in request, said: “We simply can’t be taking any sort of risks with such a sensitive issue.”
Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East), leader of the Labour group, added: “It was a very weak reason to refuse the immediate call in of the decision, this small delay to make sure we had got things right was no threat to the contract being awarded.”
The Children and Young People’s Services Select Committee heard the reasons for rejecting the call-in decision last Thursday.
In a letter to Mr Jones, Margaret Evans (Con, Chichester South), vice-chairman of the committee, explained that the decision was for the renewal of the contract, but the business planning group was minded to scheduled a review of the contract after May’s election.
She added: “Members have expressed serious concerns that any delay in awarding this contract could have a detrimental effect on the users of this service (ie our children).”
Meanwhile residents are being encouraged to be aware of the signs of sexual abuse ahead of national Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day on Saturday (March 18).
The county council and the West Sussex Safeguarding and Children’s Board are highlighting the range of resources designed to raise awareness of CSE, including information and guidance on how to spot the signs and where to seek help.
Signs of CSE might include: A change in usual behaviour, unexplained gifts or possessions, missing or skipping school regularly, concern about friends who might be significantly older, and signs of physical harm.
Stephen Hillier (Con, Haywards Heath East), cabinet member for children - start of life at the county council, said: “As a county we need to accept that Child Sexual Exploitation, sadly, poses a threat to our young people, irrelevant of their gender, race, sexual orientation or social background. We know it happens in West Sussex and the county council continues to address the issues faced, alongside its partners, through the delivery of specialist support services.”
He added: “We need them to help make West Sussex an even safer place for our young people to live and grow. Together, we have a moral responsibility to be aware of the key signs of child sexual abuse and report concerns.”
The impact of such support services has been described by a CSE victim from West Sussex: “My support worker was amazing. I got to know her which helped me to trust her and open up to her and explain what was going on. This helped me to keep safe.”
To report concerns about a child or information about a local area, contact Sussex Police on 101.
Anonymous reports can be made via the National CSE helpline 116 000.
To find out more about CSE and the support available, including a guide to keeping children safe online visit the county council’s website at www.westsussex.gov.uk/CSE
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