Local authorities up and down the country are asking for help in tackling child sex abuse to avoid being implicated in another Rotherham scandal, according to the organiser of a major conference taking place in Leeds this week.
A range of high profile figures, including Alexis Jay, whose bombshell report into grooming gangs in South Yorkshire resulted in several high profile local resignations, will be appearing at the Coming Out of The Darkness event on Friday.
Organiser Adele Gladman, a safeguarding children consultant, said she wanted to hold the event in Yorkshire as the region had been the centre of some of the oldest projects tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the country.
And she said that in the aftermath of the revelations about abuse in Rotherham, where hundreds of young people were abused by grooming gangs as police and social services turned a blind eye, councils had been asking for help to improve their services.
A watchdog revealed this week that West Yorkshire Police was still failing to properly record concerns about vulnerable children despite being told to improve in 2014.
Mrs Gladman said: “I work all over the country and do a lot of case reviews. I have noticed an increase in local authorities saying ‘can you come and see what the issues are in our area?’
“In response to the Jay and Casey reports a lot of local authorities and police forces are looking at themselves and thinking ‘are we going to get criticised for our practices further down the line’.”
She has organised the event alongside Jayne Senior, the head of the “Risky Business” project at Rotherham council who first raised concerns that child sex abuse was going unchallenged in the town.
One of the keynote speakers is Andrew Norfolk, the Times and former Yorkshire Post journalist who broke the Rotherham story after being contacted by Jayne Senior.
Other speakers include Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the 2014 report into Rotherham sex abuse, and Louise Casey, whose report the following year resulted in Rotherham council being placed under the control of Government-appointed commissioners.
John Drew, an independent author and social worker who is carrying out a review into South Yorkshire Police’s responses to CSE, will also be speaking.
A panel of survivors from Rotherham will be offering a personal perspective of their experiences of abuse; and the work they have been involved in since the Jay report, including work with government commissioners and South Yorkshire Police.
Other confirmed speakers include Zoe Lodrick, a nationally recognised sexualised trauma specialist; DI Gemma Booth of the highly regarded CSE team from Derbyshire Constabulary and David Greenwood, a legal specialist in Child Abuse negligence cases.
Neil Moore, Legal Advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions will be present as well as other senior figures from the Department of Education, and a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mrs Gladman said: “We need to take stock about what went wrong in Rotherham but also take a look at good practice.
“We wanted to host it in Leeds. In the history of CSE, Barnardo’s of Bradford were the first charity to talk about this in 1989. This was an issue that was first identified following that work in Bradford.
“Yorkshire remains a centre of excellence in responding to CSE, some of the oldest projects in the country are in Yorkshire. We wanted to celebrate that.
“I have worked in all areas of the UK, rural areas, poor areas and affluent areas and it is there. We need to get much smarter about educating young people and the public.”
For more information about the event visit www.comingoutofthedarkness.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.