Thames Valley Police has recently undergone a close inspection of its child protection services, revealing paths to major improvements.

The examination by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) took place in May 2023 delving into the effectiveness of the police's approach to child protection.

Inspectors looked into how children held in custody were treated and the strategic structuring of the force relating to its child protection services.

Despite some recent changes in senior leadership, Thames Valley Police demonstrated a profound commitment to protecting vulnerable individuals, including children.

This resolution resonated through from the chief constable, his senior team, down to the police and crime commissioner.

Reading Chronicle:

Working effectively in collaboration with other agencies, the force has fostered robust relationships with safeguarding partners, with collaborations extending from strategic to practitioner level.

The force's dedication to keeping children safe is demonstrated both institutionally and at an individual level, with committed officers and effective procedures.

These include child-centred investigations, efficient tackling of domestic abuse, appropriate use of custody and well-judged decisions around a child's safety.

However, failings were also identified.

The force showed inconsistency in child protection governance, inadequate utilisation of intelligence and ineffective auditing of children's voices.

It was also found lacking in handling child neglect cases and managing visits to registered sex offenders.

Furthermore, the methods employed to find missing children lacked focus on risk assessment.

In the 70 cases involving at-risk children examined during the inspection, just over a quarter were assessed as sound.

A larger segment, half of the cases, fell short, with inspectors describing their handling as inadequate.

More consistency across the board is needed to ensure all vulnerable children receive the same level of protection.

Furthermore, children were not always seen and heard, nor were they adequately protected.

However, the force didn’t evidence victim-blaming language, a significant positive showing a child-centred approach.

The most concerning revelation was the neglect of child interviews in domestic abuse cases which wasn’t adequately challenged by management.

A keen lack of verbal interaction between officers and exploited or neglected children was evident.

For example, the report reveals how a father of a four-year-old contacted the police about concerns for the welfare of his son, who lived with his ex-partner. The police systems showed a previous call had been made three days earlier, reporting domestic abuse.

An officer spoke to the father on the telephone four days later. But officers didn’t see or speak with the child and didn’t visit the home address.

The inspection urges that immediate action is taken by force leaders to rectify these issues.

A senior leader told inspectors they felt "officers still weren’t aware of their safeguarding responsibilities for children at domestic abuse incidents."

The inspectors also noted how a 15-year-old girl with a history of mental health struggles went missing.

Her mother, having voiced fears about her journey to a known danger zone, repeatedly phoned the police after the girl's phone turned off.

Despite revealing that her daughter was in a "cheap hotel" with an unknown individual, the risk wasn't reassessed by police.

The police response was sluggish without prompt enquiries. and only the next morning did the force ramp up the investigation, upgrading the risk to high.

The girl was subsequently found on train tracks with visible injuries from
self-harm. She was taken to hospital where she disclosed a sexual assault.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “During our inspection, we found that Thames Valley Police has a committed and dedicated workforce, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances.  

“While we found some areas of effective practice, we also saw inconsistent practices and decision-making.  In too many cases we examined, children weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard, and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force.

“Thames Valley Police needs to ensure that its commitment to improving the service leads to better results, and it provides a consistently good service for all children.

“We have made a range of recommendations which, if acted on, will help improve outcomes for children. We will continue to work closely with the force to monitor its progress.”

Thames Valley Police must provide an action plan within six weeks of the publication of the report setting out how it intends to respond to the inspections recommendations.