Monday, 23 May 2016

We all need to be vigilant of the signs of child sexual exploitation

Last week saw the successful conviction of two men for sexually exploiting children.

For many people the fact that this had happened in West Sussex was very hard to believe. However, it is a reality that child sexual exploitation can happen anywhere - even here in peaceful West Sussex.

This particular repugnant and abhorrent crime is hard to detect as it is initially hard to identify.

For example, a man takes an interest in a young teenager. He becomes a friend, a confidante. He provides treats and he makes her feel special. He encourages her not to rely on her friends or family as he will look after her. Gradually as he takes control of this person’s life then the abuse begins – and it is abuse on a ghastly scale.

It is often referred to as grooming but to me it is a pernicious form of taking over a person’s life. It is brainwashing.

Once the abuse has started it is hard for the girl or boy to break free. They suffer with mixed emotions of shame, loyalty and fear that they won’t be believed. They are also scared of what will happen to them as revenge violence can and does happen which is why reporting and gathering evidence can take a quite a time.

Since the shocking case of Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham considerable work has been going on to ensure we do all we can to raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Followers of the County Council’s Twitter and Facebook pages will hopefully have seen the strong awareness messages we have been sharing to help everyone know that Child Sexual Exploitation exists and what the signs are that people can look out for.

In December all County Councillors signed a pledge against Child Sexual Exploitation.

On top of this, we know it is essential to make sure our youngsters know about sexual exploitation which is why we have been particularly active working with schools to get the message across. Our youngsters need to know about it, understand it and look out for their friends.

This has been done through performances in schools of a play called Chelsea’s Choice which shows children exactly what it means to be exploited sexually. To date we have reached over 11,000 school children but we won’t stop there.

Parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and friends need to be aware too. We know that in the teenage years some youngsters can be quite secretive and want to become more independent – often they may not bring friends home, their lives become more erratic. People around them need to ask the question - is this normal teenage behaviour or is something more going on?

There is a wide range of information on our website including a leaflet for parents to spot the signs. There are also a number of helplines from police to confidential support numbers – search CSE on the West Sussex County Council website.

We are not asking people to become detectives but just please be aware of the signs and ask the question. If in doubt, text or call the National CSE helpline anonymously on 116 000.

We need to put a stop to Child Sexual Exploitation and we need your help to ensure we do all we can to make that happen.

Best wishes,

Friday, 20 May 2016

Welcome to our new Fire & Rescue Service recruits

We have 12 new full time West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service recruits who have just started their 14 week training. It was really good to welcome them to West Sussex County Council earlier this week.

I am extremely proud of our fire and rescue service which is part of the County Council.

One of the council’s guiding principles is that we are here for our residents in an emergency. More often than not that involves our fire and rescue officers, whether it is fire, road traffic accidents, floods or another type of emergency. The fire service is there on the front line to serve, save and protect.

The training these recruits are embarking on is very important and specialised to help them meet the demands they will face. Training will continue throughout their time with the service as new equipment and techniques come forward.

Some may undertake very specialised training sometime in their future career, perhaps to join the Technical Rescue Unit. This is a team of experts with specialist skills that can be called out to help across the county on a daily basis. The team has also been able to support national and international resilience with a key role in the UK’s International Search and Rescue Team.

Much of the work our fire and rescue service undertakes is preventative work, particularly with vulnerable members of our communities. For example, last year the service fitted 4,000 smoke alarms, fitted 3,749 community fire links (radio-linked smoke alarms for vulnerable residents which link to existing 'Careline' or 'Lifeline' monitoring centres) and carried out 6,516 home safety visits.

This community preventative work is really important. It also makes our fire service different from other models across the country as it is fully integrated within the County Council. You may not realise that currently our Chief Fire Officer is the interim Chief Operating Officer until our new Chief Executive starts next month.

Our fire service staff are also very involved in supporting the community with a range of initiatives, working side by side with our other services to support residents.

Working in this joined up way means that all the important frontline services work together and each understands the various roles of the County Council. This means a better service for our residents and is cost efficient so is better value for our taxpayer.

Nationally there is discussion around local fire services linking up with Police and coming under the local Police and Crime Commissioner’s jurisdiction.

There are quite a few ‘stand-alone’ fire and rescue authorities in the country. For these independent services coming under the local Police and Crime Commissioner’s jurisdiction may be a sensible option. However, it is clearly a matter for local determination. It is my view that for us in West Sussex, where we have a fully integrated service focused on looking after our residents, it would be a great loss if the fire service was moved away from the County Council. This is something we may be looking at in more detail at in the future.

Finally I just want to revisit something I talked about in my last blog – academisation. I am really pleased the Government listened to our views (although of course we were just one voice joining in with other counties) that we had concerns about forced academisation of local authority schools. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to email me and contact the council in support.

Best wishes,