This brief is based on the findings from a Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR) undertaken by the Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership. The purpose of a CSPR is to learn lessons and improve future responses to situations whereby a child has experienced serious harm as a result of abuse and / or neglect.

What happened?

Ruby (not her real name) is a White British girl who disclosed that she was pregnant and requested a termination. Due to Ruby not being of an age where she could legally consent to sexual activity a referral was made to Childrens Social Work Services. Whilst Ruby initially said that the father of the unborn child was a boy her own age, genetic testing established that her legal guardian (referred to in the review as Matthew) was the father. The subsequent police investigation, through disclosure by Ruby, established that Ruby had been subject to repeated serious sexual abuse by Matthew over a period of years.

What did the review tell us?

When Ruby was 1 year old her mother began a relationship with Matthew, a registered sex offender who as a teenager, had been convicted on 4 accounts for sexual offences against young boys. Matthew had served a custodial sentence in relation to the sexual offences and was subsequently managed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and assigned a police Public Protection Officer.

Matthews oversight in relation to his previous offending included ongoing assessments by both the Police and Probation services. The purpose and categories of risk were different for the different assessment processes. However this was not widely known or understood by practitioners, with practitioners potentially not understanding the rationale and category for another organisations assessed level of risk.

  • All agencies should ensure that practitioners are made aware of, and understand the assessments processes used by that agency, including how outcomes are measured and what they mean
  • All practitioners should ensure they have a good understanding of differing agencies assessment process including what the outcomes mean.

Professionals asked Matthew questions in relation to his past offending and the safety and welfare of the children, and Matthew actively engaged in processes to safeguard the children such as Child Protection Plans. However his appearance of co-operating with agencies served to dispel professional concerns and ultimately, lessoned professional involvement. This disguised compliance was often a prominent barrier to professional curiosity.

  • Practitioners should be open to the potential of disguised compliance, use professional judgement, listen to your intuition, and not accept everything on face value
  • Practitioners should use supervision to be professionally curious, considering and test out all information available.

Matthew underwent two specialist assessments in relation to the potential risk he posed. The first was in relation to any risk to his biological daughter (by a previous relationship) and niece. It concluded that it was safe for him to have contact with them if supervised by a competent person. The second was with regard to the potential risk he posed following Ruby’s mothers request for help with childcare. This assessment did not identify any ongoing sexual interest in children. There was an overreliance on these assessments which had been undertaken some years previously, and they were often quoted out of context to the situation the assessments were assessing, potentially providing an undue level of reassurance.

  • Practitioners should recognise that risk changes over time with changing circumstances, and that assessments are time and circumstance bound. New assessments should be undertaken to reflect circumstances.
  • Practitioners should not refer to previous specialist reports within their assessments without first seeking authorisation from the author

Although there were opportunities whereby Ruby may have disclosed what was happening to her, for example sex and relationship education in both primary and secondary school, Ruby did not disclose. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period Ruby ran away and knocked on the door of a stranger’s house petrified . As she was not reported missing Ruby was not contacted by the Local Authority Return Interview Service which is offered to all young people who run away. This could potentially have been an opportunity for Ruby to disclose what was happening to her.

  • Practitioners who are aware a child has gone missing, but is not reported as such, should provide an opportunity for the child to talk about the circumstance of them going missing, including reasons they went missing and any support which could be offered.

Following the breakdown of Matthew’s relationship with Ruby’s mother Mathew gained a Child Arrangement Order for Ruby and her younger half-siblings. Despite practitioner’s concern in relation to this decision by the court the decision was accepted, and professionals did not seek advice with regards to their concerns.

  • A practitioner with concerns about a resulting court order should seek legal advice and in line with safeguarding processes, consider a referral to the local authority or the local safeguarding children partnership.

The review has posed a series of questions to the Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership (LSCP) in relation to the learning. The LSCP have developed an action plan to address these.

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