Martin Kimber made the apology on Tuesday afternoon, when he was called to give evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee about the sexual exploitation of children in the town.
He told the committee: “I would apologise to young people and families where they have been let down.”
“I don’t think that’s ever as a consequence of individual failure, it’s nearly always systemic failure.”
Mr Kimber said that ‘shared responsibility and accountability’ with other agencies was the way to tackle the issue and added that the situation had improved in the past few years.
Mr Kimber was called to give evidence by committee chairman Keith Vaz MP who said MPs continued to be ‘concerned’ by the situation.
Allegations that child sex grooming by Asian men against young white women was not being taken seriously emerged following a national newspaper investigation last year.
The hearing was told South Yorkshire did not prosecute anyone successfully last year for child sexual exploitation offences, compared with Lancashire, where 100 people were convicted.
Mr Vaz said 600 child victims of sexual exploitation in Rotherham have been identified by the council over the past decade, but that only eight men had ever been arrested – for offences against just four children.
Only a single successful prosecution has taken place.
“We’re talking about hundreds of victims, of vulnerable young girls who have not been protected,” he said.
“Why has Rotherham failed so dismally to deal with the issue of child grooming?”
Joyce Thacker, Rotherham Council’s director of children and young people’s services, said the figures were ‘deeply disappointing’.
But she said securing convictions in exploitation cases was ‘notoriously difficult’, and disrupting the activities of the criminals was more important in protecting potential victims.
“Prosecution is the icing on the cake,” she said. “Prevention is actually the key issue for me. Prosecutions are very hard to achieve in child sex exploitation.”
Other officials could be called to give evidence at a later date.