As a report into the child exploitation scandal in Rochdale reveals a series of “missed opportunities” to stop the sexual abuse of five girls aged 13 to 15, education correspondent Victoria Leggett looks at what is being done in Norfolk to safeguard our young people.

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A review into child sexual exploitation by nine men in Rochdale has found failings in the safeguarding procedures for young people.

Social workers, police and the Crown Prosecution Service all missed chances to intervene, as officials failed to act on information given to them about girls as young as 10.

Of course, we would all like to think what happened in Rochdale could not possibly happen here.

But those charged with monitoring the procedures and organisations which should pick up on risks say they cannot afford to be complacent – or even claim to be confident.

Caroline Ball is the independent chair of the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board.

She said: “I don’t think any local authority can possibly be confident it’s not happening. At the moment we don’t have any evidence of it happening but it wouldn’t be right to say we’re confident. That’s why we’re doing this work – and doing it as a matter of high importance.”

One of the key messages of the Rochdale review focuses on the response by police, children’s services and other key organisations to information that indicated abuse was taking place.

Dr Ball said she believed, in that situation, the outcome would be very different in Norfolk.

“If any of the sort of information that was coming to the police and... children’s services in Rochdale arose in Norfolk, there would be a very swift and multi-agency response to that,” she said. “Those mechanisms are well in place.”

The Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board has a host of sub groups responsible for particular areas – like monitoring and evaluation or staffing and training – or particular groups of vulnerable people from children who are out of school or those living away from home, to privately fostered youngsters and young carers.

As of this year, there is also a sub-group looking specifically at child sexual exploitation – led by the police but made up of representatives from a host of different partner agencies.

Dr Ball said: “That group is working on identifying groups of vulnerable children. We are mapping where there may be concentrations of those children. We are overlaying that with police information where there are suspicions.”

All that aims to ensure the board has a proper overview of what is happening at the moment so it can decide what training is needed, what preventative work can be done, and be ready to take action if evidence of a problem does come in.

The board made the decision to form the sub group off the back of a number of cases elsewhere in the country – and in particular following the discovery of child exploitation in Oxford which, like Norfolk, was previously considered somewhere “unlikely” to be affected by such a problem. Although not a statutory requirement, Dr Ball said the creation of the group had been encouraged by the government and she hoped other local authority areas were doing similar work.

- If you have concerns about the safety or well-being of any child or young person in Norfolk, contact child protection on 0344 800 8014.

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