Senior public officials and councillors who fail to protect children from sexual exploitation will face up to five years in jail under a new criminal offence being considered by the Government.
Under proposals to be unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron today, the crime of ‘wilful neglect’ will be extended to cover children’s social care and education, with unlimited fines for individuals and organisations shown to have let children down.
A new national helpline will be established to help professionals blow the whistle on failings in care for children.
And senior staff who leave councils after abuse scandals could see their pay-offs clawed back if it is shown they failed to protect children under their responsibility.
The measures are due to be announced by Mr Cameron at a child protection summit at Downing Street today, aimed at bringing together police, council chiefs, healthcare experts and ministers with victims and their representatives.
The summit was called in response to a series of damning reports of sexual exploitation of up to 1,400 children over 16 years in Rotherham.
Child sex abuse has now been prioritised as a ‘national threat,’ meaning that police forces, chief constables and police and crime commissioners have a duty to collaborate with each other across boundaries to safeguard children.
Mr Cameron said: “We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country.
“Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet - often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness.
“That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated.
“Today, I am sending an unequivocal message that professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.
“Offenders must no longer be able to use the system to hide their despicable activities and survivors of child sexual abuse must be given the long-term therapeutic treatment they need to rebuild their lives. But it is not just about introducing new policies. It is about making sure that the professionals we charge with protecting our children - the council staff, police officer and social workers - do the jobs they are paid to do.
“We owe it to our children, and to the children who survive horrific sexual abuse, to do better and ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated again.”
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “I applaud the Prime Minister’s initiative. It will help raise awareness of the continued existence of child sexual exploitation across the country.
“I became Police and Crime Commissioner as a result of child sexual exploitation issues and it is a top priority for me. Therefore, I welcome any new measures that will help to strengthen the systems in place to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and to bring more offenders to justice. I will do whatever I can to enable South Yorkshire take advantage of any new funding being offered.
“We should not forget, however, the measures that have already been taken.
“For South Yorkshire Police I have committed 62 additional staff to work in the unit that deals with child sexual exploitation. This is a big commitment and comes on top of other posts agreed last year. It would be helpful if the government recognised this by funding these posts otherwise, with big reductions in the police grant this year, resources will have to be diverted from elsewhere in the police budget to pay for them.
“I have also formed a victims and survivors panel as a result of which we are building a picture from their perspective of how policing can be improved if they are to be helped sensitively and effectively.
“We are beginning to see in South Yorkshire many more people having confidence to come forward and speak to the police – though that remains a difficult journey for many to take.
“The government needs to act speedily, however. There are organisations in Rotherham that work with victims and survivors that are struggling to keep going and need funding now.
“We desperately need to turn a corner in Rotherham and that can happen if we have in place adequate funding, the right attitudes on the part of professionals and a willingness to listen to victims and survivors and learn from them. I look forward to working with the new Commissioner for Rotherham, Sir Derek Myers.”
A report last year by Prof Alexis Jay found collective failures of the care system, police and local politicians in their response to hundreds of cases of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over a 16-year period.
It was followed last month by a report by Louise Casey, which found authorities in the South Yorkshire town were ‘in denial’ about the shortcomings exposed by the Jay Report, prompting ministers to send commissioners in to take direct control of the council.
Prof Jay is among those due to be attending the Downing Street summit, along with Home Secretary Theresa May, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion and Commissioner for Rotherham Sir Derek Myers.