Child sexual exploitation: assessment of needs for therapeutic support

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 12th April 2016.

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‘(1) Where police or a local authority have received a disclosure that a child who has been sexually exploited or subject to other forms of child abuse, police or the local authority must make a referral to a named mental health service.

(2) The named mental health service must make necessary arrangements for the child’s treatment or care.

(3) The Secretary of State must by regulations—

(a) define “named mental health service” for the purpose of this section;

(b) specify a minimum level of “necessary arrangements” for the purpose of the section.”

This new clause enables the Future in Mind report’s recommendation that those young people who have been sexually abused or exploited should receive a comprehensive initial assessment, and referral to appropriate services providing evidence-based interventions according to their need.—(Mr Kevan Jones.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 47— Child sexual exploitation: duty to share information—

“The local policing body that maintains a police force shall have a duty to disclose information about children who are victims of sexual exploitation or other forms of abuse to relevant child mental health service commissioners in England and Wales.”

See the explanatory statement for NC46.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:30 pm, 12th April 2016

The new clauses are probing. This afternoon we have talked about some of the issues surrounding child exploitation. This is about the support that should be given to the victims of child exploitation. The NSPCC and the Children’s Society have been campaigning very hard to ensure that victims of sexual and physical abuse have access, as a matter of course, to therapeutic services. It is true that these things are costly—we talked about that this morning—but in my experience of talking to organisations that deal with such cases, proper, early intervention, especially with young victims, can save money in the long term, by preventing greater trauma many years later.

New clause 46 says that where police or others receive a disclosure that a child has been sexually exploited or subjected to other forms of child abuse, they should refer them to mental health services. It comes back to the question we asked this morning about whether reference to mental health services is a police function. Yes, it is, in terms of investigating the crime that was committed, but how do we then put the holistic bubble around the victim and support them? We need to ensure that the perpetrator of the abuse is taken to court and dealt with, while making sure that the individual gets the emotional and mental health support that they need. Is that naturally a police issue? Directly, no, it is not, but as the Minister said this morning, it is about how we create a link-up between the police service, the health service and other support services.

I accept that some of the services will be provided not by statutory services but by the voluntary sector. A great organisation in my constituency called the Just for Women Centre works with women who have been victims of domestic violence or abuse. It was very interesting listening to the debate this afternoon about victims coming forward. The spike in Durham has come out of the Savile revelations, but it is not about well-known individuals; the issue in that local group is the number of people who have come forward to report family members who abused them over many years.

There has been huge concentration, nationally, on the more high-profile figures, but in local areas a lot of victims who have never come forward before have now done so and are in need of a huge amount of emotional support. This provision refers to children, but without the support given to many of the women at the Just for Women Centre in Stanley in my constituency, early abuse would have led to other problems. Talking to those individuals, we hear that their problems throughout life stem from the fact that they were abused as youngsters. I commend Durham police for their proactive approach to investigating such cases and ensuring that victims get the proper emotional support.

New clause 47 is about information sharing. It says that local policing bodies shall maintain a duty to disclose information about a child who has been a victim of sexual exploitation to the relevant mental health services. I can hear minds crunching among the civil servants in the room, saying that there are obviously problems about sharing information and so on. I accept that, but if we are to ensure that those young people do not fall through the cracks between our statutory services, some method of getting that information to the services that count needs to be put in place.

I accept that ultimately, victims cannot be forced to accept help, but it must be on offer for them. Many of the women whom I have met who have been supported by the Just for Women Centre in my constituency had years of anguish and torment, the root cause of which was not getting help and assistance when they were young. If we can put in place a system that prevents that for future generations, that early intervention could prevent a lifetime of mental health issues, relationship problems and other things. As I said, these are probing amendments to explore how we can put in place practical support for victims of sexual and physical child abuse.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

New clauses 46 and 47 act on a recommendation made in a joint report by NHS England and the Department of Health in 2013 called “Future in mind”, which argued that we need to ensure that those who have been sexually abused and/or exploited receive a comprehensive assessment and referral to the services that they need, including specialist mental health services.

In 2014, the NSPCC produced a summary of the academic literature on the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and victims’ later mental health. In each instance, the NSPCC offered a conservative estimate of the known impact of one on the other. Despite that effort not to sensationalise, the numbers are truly shocking. Children who are victims of sexual abuse are twice as likely to suffer from depression as those who are not victims. They are three times as likely to attempt suicide, to self-harm or to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lifetime and twice as likely to become dependent on alcohol, meaning that their physical health as well as their mental health is endangered.

All the evidence shows that the trauma and emotional confusion that follows childhood sexual abuse leaves victims more likely to suffer from poor mental health. We should, as a matter of course, do all we can to prevent that from happening, or at least to ensure that those mental health issues are made easier for victims to manage. That involves high-quality and appropriate mental health treatment and professional emotional counselling. There is evidence, for example, that abuse-specific therapeutic interventions relieve depressive symptoms among victims.

New clause 46 would require police or local authorities to make a referral whenever they receive a disclosure that a child has been the victim of sexual or other abuse. They would have to make a referral even if they do not believe there is enough evidence or grounds to take further legal action. That is important, because the burden of proof necessary for law enforcement to use its full array of powers is obviously higher than the level of suspicion needed for our full safeguarding and health measures to be utilised.

The NSPCC has found that delays between children suffering from traumatic events and receiving treatment lead to exacerbated mental health issues and we know that victims of sexual abuse have often had difficulty in being believed by the professionals charged with their care and protection. Duties to refer are not new to our legal system when dealing with safeguarding measures. For example, some employers must refer an individual to disclosure and barring services whenever an allegation of a sexual or abusive nature is made. The provisions in the new clause would not charge local authorities or the police to carry out the task of diagnosis, which they are not trained to do. It would be a precautionary measure that applied to all those about whom they receive a disclosure, not just those they believe to be suffering from a mental or emotional health issue. It is a sensible proposal, in keeping with established safeguarding practice and the assignment of appropriate professional duties.

The proposals are also well thought out. New clause 47 would put a duty on the police to share information with the relevant mental health service commissioner in their area. I believe that that new clause would work with new clause 46 to create a culture of collaboration between law enforcement, health agencies and local government, which is needed if the victims of child sexual exploitation are to be given the care and support that they need.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Member for North Durham for again raising a very important issue. He is absolutely right. We must make sure that vulnerable or traumatised children must never fall through the gaps between services. I would appreciate it if, when we meet, we could discuss the way that that might best be addressed, because I am not convinced that the best way is a mandatory way. For example, some young people who are abused or exploited do not develop mental health problems and I have a nervousness about intervening unnecessarily, which could create unintended harms. We need to make sure that we intervene where we need to and that each child is treated as an individual and has the care that they need; I do not think that it should be mandated.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I take the Minister’s point. We cannot force anyone to have treatment, but the offer of some support for individuals would make a real difference.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would really appreciate talking this matter through outside the Committee, and I would like the shadow Minister to attend that meeting as well. There is work being done. The shadow Minister mentioned the “Future in mind” report, which the Department of Health is working on to ensure that an emerging workforce strategy is put in place. Perhaps we can discuss that privately.

The hon. Member for North Durham referred to civil servants getting slightly scared about the idea that personal data should automatically be disclosed to third parties. I appreciate the good intentions, but I do think that that is a dangerous road to be travelling down. We need to have a conversation about how best to manage that.

It is right that we need to make sure that children get support. I have talked about the children I have met who have experienced abuse. They need the right support. At what point do they go into recovery? At what point can they lead a functioning life? It is clear from the work we are doing through the troubled families programme that in the families who have gone through the programme, there are multiple problems—mental health, abuse, domestic abuse and other problems. We need to tackle all of those. I know these are probing amendments and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow us to discuss them at length outside this room.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I thank the Minister for her reply. Discussing these issues is worth while. I know there is an onus on things somehow being about cash, especially in a time of austerity, but I have to say that, if properly implemented, the new clause would save money in the long term as well as help individuals. Nevertheless, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 51