An under-fire police force is still not effectively managing children at risk, a report has concluded.
Northamptonshire Police were told there were a number of areas to improve in child protection in 2018 – including managing sexual and violent offenders and responding to missing children.
However, the 2019 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) viewed 21 child protection case files and rated all of them as either “requires improvement” or “inadequate”.
The inspection flagged new problems such as inconsistent supervision of investigations, ineffective partner organisations, substantial delays and backlogs, and concerning decisions regarding the management of registered sex offenders.
In the findings of the report, HMICFRS said: “Although the force has made a number of recent changes, overall progress since our initial inspection has been slow.
“As a result, in some areas, the force is not effectively managing risk yet.
“Overall, Northamptonshire Police recognises the challenges it faces. It also understands what it must do to provide consistently good outcomes for children.
“But significant risks remain, due to limited progress since our 2018 inspection.”
The report continued: “While we are assured the force continues to focus on child protection matters, we remain concerned about the areas outlined within this report.”
The report follows a review from the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB), which said the force had “missed opportunities” in relation to two deaths in the area.
Two-year-old Dylan Tiffin-Brown and one-year-old Evelyn-Rose Muggleton were killed by father figures in December 2017 and April last year.
Dylan’s father, Raphael Kennedy, 31, and Evelyn-Rose’s mother’s boyfriend, Ryan Coleman, 23, were both jailed for life for murder.
Coleman was bailed to a non-specific address after initial questioning and returned to Evelyn’s mother’s home – which was in breach of his community order.
The review said that, despite Coleman not complying with the community order, a risk assessment was not followed up after further offending and despite his “significant” criminal history.
Concluding its latest report, HMICFRS also recognised the findings of the serious case review.
It said: “This report highlights that, despite some progress made by the force, we have not seen the improvements needed to provide consistently good outcomes for vulnerable children in Northamptonshire who need help and protection.
“While we are assured that the force continues to focus on child protection matters, we remain concerned about the areas outlined in this report.
“Considering this, and that many of the areas of concern we found mirror those identified in the recently published serious case reviews, we will revisit the force no more than 12 months after publication to further assess progress.”
Commenting on the report, HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said: “Child protection work is one of the most important duties of a police service.
“It is crucial that forces have in place adequate means of safeguarding and protecting vulnerable and at-risk children.
“Other partners, like local authorities, also have a vital role to play in partnership with the police. It is notable that, in the recent past, other public agencies in Northamptonshire have been found to be failing the communities they serve.”
She continued: “Our 2018 inspection should have been an urgent wake-up call. But too frequently Northamptonshire’s most vulnerable children are still being poorly served by those who should protect them.
“We are especially concerned to see a continuing problem with delays and backlogs, particularly with online investigations. We identified many of these issues during our previous inspection and so it is disappointing to see them still.
“The force is working hard to address a legacy of long-term under-funding and some areas of improvement are evident.”
In response to the report, Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley said: “We welcome the report by HMICFRS and we are pleased that inspectors have recognised our commitment to improving our services for the protection of vulnerable children.
“The force has recognised the need for change and many of the issues raised in the report have been, or are being resolved and addressed.
“Work is well under way to address each of the report’s recommendations and the force is committed unequivocally to carrying out all necessary improvements to ensure children are better protected in this county.”
He added: “We are confident this is a force which safeguards and protects children, and we are giving our officers and staff the tools they need to enable them to do this even more effectively.”