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Rotherham’s Collaborators

The helping professionals didn’t help; the caring professionals didn’t care

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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Jay needs only about 10 pages of the 119-page body of her report to tell the big story: 1,400 victims neglected, mistreated, and betrayed. Every agency contributed to silencing the whistleblowers and abandoning the girls. Parents who acted to protect their daughters were ignored, harassed, even fined and arrested. Rotherham Council ignored their pleas and continued to give contracts to the taxi firms whose owners and drivers were the perpetrators, and in whose cars no teenager in town would ever willingly travel. 

The remaining pages offer material that is, in a way, even more horrifying, because in them Jay patiently, plonkingly details the organizational behavior of perhaps half a dozen stakeholders in the tragedy, as seen through some 16 reviews, audits, and assessments by governmental supervisory agencies and private experts from the child protection establishment. Thanks to Jay’s work, we can at least answer the question of what those who were responsible for protecting the girls of Rotherham thought they were thinking. They thought they were thinking very hard and caring very much about CSE, and doing so in the way that they had been instructed was the proper and professional manner to do so. The politicians, social workers, police, and medical professionals had every reason to believe that their efforts​—​which in fact were completely nugatory​—​demonstrated the “best practice,” or as the British more modestly say, “best known practice” on the subject. Jay demonstrates that the public services of England have been marinated in a managerial culture that makes it almost impossible for a frontline institution​—​local government, social services, the police force, schools, private charities, and the NHS​—​to see that they and their partners are doing virtually nothing at all about CSE.

Jay surveys the results of planned and unannounced inspections by government agencies, including the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) and Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education): “a full inspection in 2003, a follow-up in 2004, a full inspection in 2008, a ‘monitoring visit’ in 2009, an unannounced inspection in August 2009, a full inspection in 2010, an unannounced inspection in 2011, and an unannounced review of child protection services in August 2012.” In addition, consultants from the venerable charity Children First reported on Rotherham’s child protection efforts in 2009; inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) reported on the South Yorkshire Police in 2010; the well-regarded child protection charity Barnardo’s conducted a “Rotherham Practice Review” in 2013.

The inspectors told the various players in Rotherham that ever more must be done to deal with CSE​—​but just as urgently, the agencies must also create initiatives to prevent CSE, to create awareness of CSE, to ensure that the focus on girl victims of CSE isn’t so exclusive that boy victims of CSE and LGBT victims of CSE don’t have their own solutions. (Outside reviewers warned Rotherham agencies not to neglect male and LGBT victims as early as 2002, and frequently queried them about it thereafter; perhaps the nagging worked, because there have never been any reported.)

The individual girls who were victims and the particular men who picked them up in taxis from their middle schools and preyed on them in public places all over town lose their specificity. The inspectors continually praised the “focus” and “commitment” of the city and its agencies, but made victims and perpetrators vague and fuzzy categories. The weapons they recommended to fight the evil were even more abstract and ineffectual. The activity the inspectors prescribed and praised in the most lavish terms will be familiar to anyone who has ever been in private business: It consists of nominating teams from different departments to tackle a certain problem on a coordinated basis. Rotherham was urged above all to “develop multi-agency responses to CSE.” The goal was multitudinousness itself: Where two or three agencies are gathered together in the name of tackling CSE, there must be something productive going on. In business, after a point, the teamwork approach will be measured against a goal that can be enumerated: Sales must grow or production time shrink. If the goal is not attained, the collaborative effort withers away. But no social agency, policeman, town councillor, or inspector ever mentioned a numerical goal, such as reducing the number of victims or increasing the number of arrests—with the exception of adequate budgeting for staff.

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