It’s headline news: Should Shaun Wright stand down?
Important? Yes. But surely there are more important issues in this terrible story of violence, abuse and gross negligence by so many agencies.
Of course Mr Wright, as South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, must take responsibility for his failings. But is his resignation really going to make a huge difference to the victims? Also is it going to stop this happening again?
For years, the child protection system has recognized the need for agencies to work together to protect vulnerable children. The Government’s Every Child Matters programme in 2002, following the Victoria Climbie Inquiry (where a little girl died following multi-agency failings) set up Local Children Safeguarding Boards. The idea was that representatives from health, social care, education etc would meet and collaborate to ensure a more joined-up approach to protecting children.
Yet still it goes on. Agencies do not talk to each other and more importantly, do not seem to listen to young people. Certainly in Rotherham, it seems the young girls and women were blatantly ignored.
I wonder if the problem is tied up with the victims, that is, the teenage girls who are particularly vulnerable to this type of targeted grooming. They may not be a group whom some find easy to help. They may be hard to engage with. They may have poor attendance in school or have dropped out altogether. They may be highly evasive and easily led because of difficult backgrounds and limited positive relationships. It is frightening yet not difficult to imagine that some agencies could tick their own responsibility box by adopting the I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself attitude.
Although the debate around Shaun Wright’s position is useful in highlighting the extent of the failings in our system, there needs to be a big change in attitudes to young people. We need to make sure that all young people are listened to. Jimmy Saville got away with his crimes for so long because it was felt by so many victims that they would never be believed. If the agencies had listened to and acted upon the complaints of the girls in Rotherham, there’s a good chance that the pathetic number of prosecutions (9 out of 1400 victims) could have increased therefore protecting others at risk.
Lessons need to be learned from Rotherham. Young people need to be listened to and the systems set up to protect them need to be used. Otherwise we will just all be reacting to the next scandal. Wasting so much energy on scapegoating may well be counter productive. That energy could be much better used in supporting the current victims and protecting those teenage girls who could be at risk of becoming future victims.
Liz Fisher Frank
Liz Fisher-Frank is a solicitor, writer and children’s rights campaigner. She set up and ran the Lawyers for Young People project. Liz has considerable experience in working with young people in the care system - most recently as head of the legal unit at the Children’s Society - and that experience has formed the basis of her efforts to increase awareness of the problems some children do face. Liz writes about the barriers children and young people face in accessing the law. She also writes fiction for young adults.