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Wiltshire Police improved child protection, inspectors say

Wiltshire Police is improving at keeping children safe around the county – but inspectors are still concerned about the force’s work on domestic abuse investigations.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) revisited the force to see how it had responded to an inspection carried out in March 2022.

During this latest review in April 2023, the oversight body audited 12 good child protection cases, four that required improvement, and 14 that were inadequate.

The findings of that review, which were published on Friday, show that the force has made improvements in the last year or so.

Frontline staff are now better at identifying risks to children, investigators take more prompt and effective action when dealing with child abuse investigations, and the Sentinel team that is responsible for dealing with child sexual exploitation received praise for its good efforts despite its reduced staffing numbers.

But there are still significant problems to deal with, including an inconsistent response by police staff to reports of missing children, the similarly inconsistent management and supervision of registered sex offenders, and the fact that domestic abuse incidents are sometimes being investigated by staff who are not appropriately trained.

A HMICFRS spokesperson said: “We were pleased to see that Wiltshire Police has committed considerable time, resources and energy to improving outcomes for children and making changes in line with our recommendations.

“It has carried out a review of its trained investigators, and reallocated officers and staff based on risk. This has led to more investigators dealing with child abuse investigations

“Investigations involving child protection have improved in terms of quality, timeliness and supervisory oversight.

“Specialist training has been given to the multi-agency safeguarding hub staff to improve decision-making and risk management in the protection of children, and it has provided training to frontline officers and staff on the importance of listening to children.

“This has improved the information recorded and given to children’s social care services.”

The report details that Wiltshire Police’s management of sexual offenders and violent offenders lacks co-ordination and the appropriate oversight needed to drive activity.

It recommends that the force should review how it allocates registered sex offenders to offender managers to make sure it is using resources effectively.

The force control room still does not appropriately consider vulnerability and risk when receiving reports of missing children, which affects the initial response to those reports.

Flags and warning markers are being applied and maintained appropriately, but the content of trigger plans is still inconsistent and they are not being used to inform activity to trace children who are reported missing.

Control centre supervisors are said to be slow to review decisions about open incidents and are not escalating risks in line with force policy and procedure.

The HMICFRS spokesperson added: “Since April 2022, Domestic Abuse Matters training has been given to 1,079 frontline officers and staff. It is also provided to new recruits.

“However, there is no co-ordination of training requirements at a force level.

“This means the force may be missing opportunities to understand gaps in knowledge and to produce appropriate training plans.

“For example, much of the training about vulnerability has been identified, organised and provided by managers within the PPD without the involvement of the learning and development team.”

More police interactions with children are being recorded now that more training of frontline officers and staff has been carried out, but there are still some incidents where children were either not spoken to or not recorded when asked about their views.

Assistant Chief Constable Deb Smith said: “Protecting children is one of the most important things that we do, so I am pleased this updated report acknowledges the improvements we have worked hard to implement.

“Following our inspection in this area last year, we took prompt and comprehensive action to address a number of issues.

“This included a significant investment in and delivery of enhanced training across the organisation – from our call handlers knowing what signs of vulnerability to spot in children right through to over half our organisation receiving intensive training around domestic abuse -specifically on the impacts of domestic abuse on children.

“We have reintroduced detective roles back into our Child Abuse Investigation Teams and we’ve invested in our auditing functions so we have a richer understanding of the quality of our investigation work.

“As an organisation, we are determined to improve our service and deliver improved justice outcomes.

“Although there are many green shoots of positive practice within this report, we will not become complacent and we will continue to invest in and prioritise the way we protect children and vulnerable people.”

(Source: Wiltshire Times)

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