Too many children not being protected or heard by Thames Valley Police, report finds

Inspectors found it did have some good practices, however in too many cases children "weren’t being seen and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force". Credit: ITV News Meridian

Thames Valley Police have been told they need to make further improvements to protect children.

The force was visited by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) between 15–26 May.

Inspectors found it did have some good practices, with dedicated staff and officers, however in too many cases children "weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force".

In 70 child protection cases assessed by inspectors, they found 19 were rated good, 16 require improvement, and 35 were inadequate.

Concerning investigations into missing children, inspectors highlight one case in which a 13-year-old girl was reported missing by her carers.Police systems showed that the child was on a child protection plan and at risk of sexual exploitation.

She had previously told the police that she talks to older men on social media and had been subject to sexual encounters to obtain drugs. She was also a victim of rape.Three hours later, officers completed a risk assessment, grading the risk of harm as medium.

It was over 15 hours before the child’s bedroom was searched and the police trigger plan wasn’t used to help find her quickly. The carers had given the police a mobile number for the child, but no one called this. Seven hours later officers sent a message to this number to try and locate the phone and help find the child. The girl contacted her carers the following night to say she wanted to return home and was later collected and taken home.

The inspection found the following for improvement:

  • the governance of child protection is inconsistent and there are no clear reporting structures

  • the force does not consistently listen to and record the voice of the child 

  • the force is not effectively investigating cases of child neglect 

  • there is an unacceptable number of overdue visits to registered sex offenders

  • investigations to locate missing children are ineffective and not focused on risk; and the use of intelligence is not effective

The inspection found the following areas of good work:

• specialist child protection officers carry out high-quality and child-centred investigations• domestic abuse is triaged promptly in multi-agency safeguarding hubs, which supports better joint working to safeguard children• children are only held in custody when necessary• decisions to take a child to a place of safety are well-considered and made in the best interests of the child

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “During our inspection, we found that Thames Valley Police has a committed and dedicated workforce, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances. 

“While we found some areas of effective practice, we also saw inconsistent practices and decision-making.  In too many cases we examined, children weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard, and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force.

“Thames Valley Police needs to ensure that its commitment to improving the service leads to better results, and it provides a consistently good service for all children."

Thames Valley Police says they are taking the findings seriously.

Deputy Chief Constable Ben Snuggs said: "We appreciate the efforts made by HMICFRS to provide this comprehensive insight in to our Child Protection practices across Thames Valley. We are pleased the report recognised the determination and dedication of officers and staff to develop innovative practice and a positive child-focused culture within the organisation.

“Since the inspection in May 2023, we have taken significant steps to address the concerns and recommendations highlighted in the report and we are fully committed to making the further necessary changes to address the areas for improvement diligently and expeditiously.

“We will continue to build upon our strong collaborative relationships with key partners to ensure TVP practices adhere to the highest standards of quality and integrity and we remain resolute in our commitment to place victims at the centre of our work and improving our service.”

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