The police force at the centre of the Rotherham abuse scandal still needs to make “major improvements” to some child protection procedures, a report has found.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) criticised South Yorkshire Police last September.
A post-inspection review, conducted in April this year, found “significant concerns” remained.
There have, however, been “tangible signs” of progress since, HMIC said.
The watchdog published its original findings weeks after a report found 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham.
April’s review aired concerns over the force’s failure to recognise risks to children, and found recording practices remained poor, limiting the ability of staff to make “good decisions”.
HMIC report: Summary of findings
- Officers failed to identify young men who were sexually abusing girls of a similar age
- Risk to children frequently reported missing from home was not always recognised
- Details of strategy discussions, actions and meetings not always recorded for children considered to be at risk of serious harm
- Progress to reduce children being held in custody “unnecessarily” was slow
- An increase in the number of child abuse investigators from 56 to 81
- Training and guidance for control room staff resulted in a better understanding of a child at risk and in need of protection
- Developing new joint working arrangements with local authorities
- Review any concerns raised about children in care homes across the force area and brought to police attention
- Review plans for identifying, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators involved in child sexual exploitation against children in care homes
- Ensure that police officers know how to escalate concerns about children at risk, and that senior officers raise these concerns with relevant agencies
Inspectors also found there had not been improvements to practice in relation to children in care homes.
Mike Cunningham, of HMIC, said: “It is common knowledge that South Yorkshire Police’s approach to protecting children has been severely lacking.
“In September last year HMIC raised serious concerns about the way the force was approaching this kind of work, which was undermining the service it provides to children.
“We carried out this post-inspection review in order to understand what progress South Yorkshire Police had made since our initial inspection, and we found there were still areas that need major improvements.”
Improvements included the force’s initial response when attending incidents involving children at risk, child protection being prioritised, and “a strong desire to improve outcomes for children who are at risk of harm”.
South Yorkshire Police’s assistant chief constable Ingrid Lee said the force had “made significant progress” but she agreed with the HMIC that “more needs to be done”.
“There has been a considerable increase in the number of police officers and staff in our public protection units, and also staff dedicated to tackling child sexual exploitation,” she said.
“We are absolutely committed to achieving justice, stopping harm and preventing future offending.”
HMIC’s report in September stated South Yorkshire Police had failed to properly tackle men who were sexually exploiting young girls.
Inspectors had found the force had “limited understanding” of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children, while officers showed an inconsistent response to child sexual exploitation.
One survivor of sexual abuse in Rotherham, who now helps other victims in the town, said the police still needed to do more.
“The police are responding a lot quicker but what I have noticed is that they’re not treating victims as they should and they’re still getting things wrong,” she said.
“And I think what the problem is with the police is they now know about grooming but they don’t understand it and they can’t tackle this situation until they understand the grooming process.”
HMIC said the review of the inspection included an audit of 28 child protection cases which related directly to the areas for improvement identified in last year’s inspection report.
The inspectors found two were assessed as good, 19 requiring improvement and seven inadequate.
South Yorkshire Police is currently at the centre of two separate investigations.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating how officers dealt with cases in Rotherham, while the National Crime Agency has started a major inquiry into allegations of child sexual abuse in the town.