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Met’s response to HMICFRS report on child exploitation

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Met’s response to HMICFRS report on child exploitation

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) today (Friday 9 February) published a report following an inspection of the Met’s handling of child exploitation.

Today, senior officers thanked inspectors for their diligent work, acknowledged the findings are deeply concerning and laid out urgent plans to improve our service, so no child is left unsafe.

It’s a priority to ensure children and young people are protected and the Met is already making improvements since the HMICFRS identified two ‘accelerated causes of concern’ relating to how the service responds to missing children reports and investigations of child sexual and criminal exploitation.

Commander Kevin Southworth, lead for Public Protection at the Met, said:

“I’m deeply sorry to the children and families we have let down and want to reassure our communities that we are already taking significant steps to address these recommendations.

“We are putting more police resource into this area and retraining officers to have a better understanding of the complexities of child exploitation so we can continue our work to win back the trust of Londoners.”

Since October 2023, the Met has:

  • Trained more than 1200 child protection officers so they can work with children and their families to spot the signs of exploitation earlier and better support the most vulnerable across London.
  • Trained 400 officers responsible for missing children investigations around the complexities of these cases so they better understand the risks of exploitation, how to safeguard vulnerable children, and target those responsible.
  • Strengthened resource in criminal and sexual exploitation investigation teams with 36 new officers already in post and another 36 more due to start in April 2024.
  • Seen a 50% increase in child exploitation concerns being identified by officers where children are being pressured into criminality such as robbery or drug dealing, meaning officers have been quicker to recognise where vulnerable children may be being exploited. These cases are immediately flagged and escalated to specialist teams to fully investigate, while safeguarding those at risk and ensuring their welfare is put first.
  • Almost doubled the number of missing children being graded as ‘high risk’, which ensures they are immediately put to the top of officers’ priority list and ensures senior officers are more involved from the start to get children home safely and protect them from harm.
  • Improved investigations and support for missing children graded as ‘medium risk’ who may frequently go missing from homes where they aren't being cared for properly, acknowledging these children require a more bespoke response and help from expert partners such as children’s services.
  • Worked to retain experienced staff in specialist missing people roles to ensure consistency across decision making and support for training new staff to offer a better service to children and young people.
  • Piloted a ‘Central Vulnerability Hub’ which is a team of specialist officers and staff that are dedicated to changing how the Met responds to vulnerability and harm, locating and safeguarding missing children and people as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Launched ‘Right Care Right Person’ to help free up more resource to better investigate missing children and suspected exploitation, getting the right agencies working with police and children from the beginning.

In the report published today, HMICFRS highlighted concern around the use of victim blaming language in some cases involving children. The Met is already implementing training to directly address this and driving culture change so officers and staff show more compassion and understand the complexities of child exploitation from the outset of cases.

Officers will also launch the Met’s first Children and Young Person’s strategy later this year, which will support officers to see children as children first and foremost and recognise their individual needs.  The values embedded in this strategy and wider cultural reform will mean officers better understand why vulnerable children are more at risk of being coerced into criminal behaviour or at risk of being sexually abused and exploited.

In the response to the publication of the report today, the Met set out further plans for improvement as they deliver change and reform under A New Met for London.

This plan commits to £38 million to transform how the Met protects the public from harm, including bolstering teams who look after issues like missing people and child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Background

  • Between August – September 2023 202 missing children were graded as ‘high risk’. Between December and January 2024, 398 missing children were graded as ‘high risk’.

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