Highland Council refers child exploitation allegations to police

17th November, 2021 2:37 pm

Highland Council has confirmed it is referring child protection concerns to the police.

In an emergency statement to a meeting of the health, social care and wellbeing committee on Thursday November 11, the chief social work officer and chairwoman confirmed that serious allegations have been made regarding drug gangs and child exploitation.

Chairwoman Linda Munro said she was in the ‘deeply troubled position’ of having a list of allegations that suggested young people were experiencing harm and are ‘not where they should be’ in the care services.

‘I don’t have any evidence and having been passed this list I don’t know how many young people are involved. I don’t know the ages of the young people, whether they’re still within our services or if they’re even in Highland. No matter. The fact is, these allegations suggest that within our care all is not as it should be,’ she said.

‘I have taken advice, I have considered this matter, I have reconsidered this matter and it is my decision that at the conclusion of today’s committee I will be handing this to Police Scotland. I’m not going to discuss it any more.’

The details of the allegations are extremely serious. The written report for the committee states that new data has emerged showing drug gangs are targeting young people in care.

The report says the council has commissioned two independent reviews which will report back in February 2022.

However, Fiona Duncan, as executive chief officer and chief social work officer, took a more grave tone in her emergency statement.

‘You will see from my report that there has been an increase in the number of child concern referrals, as well as complexity of needs, across all areas of Highland,’ said Ms Duncan.

‘Further, data suggests that the prevalence of ‘County Lines’ and child exploitation has increased, with particular focus on our care experienced young people in residential houses. These increases are consistent with experiences across Scotland.’

Ms Duncan highlighted that any child protection concerns should be referred to social work or the police for investigation. Ms Duncan said she could not discuss the specific allegations that have been brought to the attention of the service.

However, she stated: ‘I can confirm a number of processes have commenced. These include whistle blowing – which is an independent process – the grievance procedure, and the complaints procedure. While these are initiated for different reasons, all should result in an outcome which normally includes an action plan and learning outcomes.’

Ms Duncan confirmed two independent reviews have started. The first review involves two external social work professionals engaging with staff to examine practice within children’s services. The second looks specifically at residential services and is led by an independent, experienced social work manager.

In addition to reporting back to the health, social care and wellbeing committee, the report will go to the child protection committee (CPC).

‘The CPC is responsible for multi-agency policy, procedure guidance and practice,’ Ms Duncan explained. ‘If any action is required to improve practice or service delivery this will clearly be stated by the CPC.

‘It also has in place mechanisms to decide whether or not to trigger a learning review. This will give the committee the assurances it requires that services are responding appropriately to the issues impacting on – and the needs of – our young people.’

Asked to comment, Detective Chief Inspector Donnie Macdonald of the Highland and Islands Public Protection Unit, said Police Scotland is committed to tackling child abuse and exploitation in all its forms, both physical and online.

And he added: ‘Partnership working is key and we work with a range of agencies to reduce risk and ensure the right support is in place to prevent children becoming victims of people who seek to exploit them.

‘Child sexual exploitation is often hidden, with perpetrators using violence, coercion and intimidation to exert power over children. Children may not realise they are being exploited or may be too afraid to ask for help.

‘We are also committed to bringing offenders to justice and urge anyone with information or concerns about anyone’s activity around children to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

‘We also recognise the risk to young people posed by ‘County Lines’ operations using them to transport illegal drugs in and out of the Highlands.

‘We devote considerable resources into disrupting the activities of the people who operate these gangs, which cause considerable harm to the young people involved as well as the wider community.

‘Again, we urge anyone with information to contact Police Scotland or Crimestoppers with any concerns.’

Source: Oban Times

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