A police force is not effectively investigating child neglect and abuse cases, the police watchdog has said.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published its report into Thames Valley Police.
It said the force was “letting down children” in too many cases. Half of the investigations examined were rated “inadequate”.
Thames Valley Police said it had taken “significant steps” in response.
The National Child Protection Inspection was carried out in May, looking into 70 cases in which the police had identified children at risk.
The force’s child protection practice was assessed as good in 19 cases, requiring improvement in 16 cases and inadequate in 35 cases.
‘Voices weren’t heard’
Inspectors found investigations to locate missing children were “ineffective” and there was an unacceptable number of overdue visits to registered sex offenders.
In one case, police failed to search the bedroom of a 13-year-old vulnerable girl until 15 hours after she was reported missing and did not call her mobile number for seven hours.
In another, no safeguarding assessment was carried out into a man who was arrested for drug driving with a one-year-old baby in the back seat, despite the “obvious risk of significant harm” to the child.
The speedy arrest of two parents after a nine-month-old baby was reported with unexplained injuries was, however, described as a “good child-centred investigation”.
HMICFRS also said it had found some good child protection practices with dedicated officers and staff who had built strong professional relationships with other safeguarding organisations.
The inspectorate had set the force an action plan to address issues.
‘Some good work’
“We are concerned that frontline and specialist officers have variable knowledge and understanding of good child protection practice.
“In too many cases children weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force,” it concluded.
Following the report, Thames Valley Police said: “We are fully committed to making the further necessary changes to address the areas for improvement diligently and expeditiously.
“We will continue to build upon our strong collaborative relationships with key partners to ensure TVP practices adhere to the highest standards of quality and integrity and we remain resolute in our commitment to place victims at the centre of our work and improving our service.”
Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber said: “The report does recognise some good work being done… but there are clearly some serious concerns that need to be addressed by the police.
“I’d expect the chief constable to be making those changes as quickly as possible.”
HMICFRS is inspecting the child protection work of every police force in England and Wales.