A report into child abuse in Greater Manchester has revealed 650 runaway children were at risk of sexual abuse in less than one year. The report was commissioned in the wake of the Rochdale abuse case and shows a total of 3,242 children were reported missing between January and September this year.
The report author Ann Coffey MP said that many of the children involved were “very vulnerable” as they were in care. She claimed they were “at significant risk” of being sexually exploited by predators. In many cases the authorities had no idea where the children were or whether they had become victims of sexual offences.
In the last six years there have been 1,000 convictions for serious sexual offences against 13,000 children. But many cases still go unreported, meaning that offenders often have a free rein to exploit children for long periods of time.
Ms Coffey concluded that around one in five of the children that went missing were at risk of sexual exploitation and of those who went missing 530 were in care. Police do not classify every incident of a child being away from their home as missing, they also categorise some children as being absent. The total number of absent children for this period was 4,923.
In the report, Ms Coffey said: “There must be concern about the high number of looked after children who continue to generate multiple missing reports, as these children are particularly vulnerable to CSE.”
She said she had “strong concerns” that some of the independent private children’s homes in Greater Manchester were “flaunting government guidance, which says they have to notify the local authority when a child moves in from another area”.
“We have, in the North West, about 25 percent of all private and independent children’s homes in the country so authorities, often from many miles away, place children in the Greater Manchester area. These are very troubled children who have been moved to get them out of a situation where maybe they have been at risk.
“Those children don’t necessarily want to be in Greater Manchester and one of the ways in which children demonstrate they don’t want to be somewhere is that they run away. There is a significant risk of CSE of children who go missing from care, [as they] are very vulnerable children and are often preyed on by predators who understand this.”
The report warned that some private children’s homes are not doing enough to protect vulnerable young people. Coffey recommended that police should do spot checks on all homes to ensure all the children that lived there were accounted for.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk has said that the report is flawed, however. Speaking to Sky News, he said that it failed to blame the perpetrators of the crimes and didn’t mention any details about them, including ethnicity.
He also accused it failing to properly criticise police, saying that they showed “lack of enthusiasm” in prosecuting the abusers, thus letting them get away with their crimes for far too long.