Official Report: Minutes of Evidence
Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, meeting on Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:Ms M McLaughlin (Chairperson)
Ms Paula Bradley (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr M Brady
Mrs Pam Cameron
Mrs J Dobson
Mr Gordon Dunne
Mr K McCarthy
Ms R McCorley
Mr M McGimpsey
Mr F McKinney
Mr George Robinson
Witnesses:Mrs Kathleen Marshall, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland
Ms Sheila Taylor, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland
Mr Glenn Houston, Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland: Inquiry Team
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Professor Marshall, you are very welcome. We also have Sheila Taylor, who is an inquiry board member; and Glenn Houston, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) chief executive. We want to facilitate as much focused discussion as possible, so, in the interests of time, I ask members to keep their questions brief and to the point and witnesses to do likewise in their responses. I will hand over to you, Kathleen.
Mrs Kathleen Marshall (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland): I very much welcome the opportunity to engage with the Committee on the findings of the independent inquiry. May I allow Glenn and Sheila to introduce themselves and tell you about their background?
Mr Glenn Houston (Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority): I am the chief executive of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority. I have been there since 2009. I am also a social worker by profession and maintain my social work registration. I have worked in the service for 34 years, including four years as chief executive in the former Craigavon and Banbridge Trust and two years as director of social work in the Northern Trust.
Ms Sheila Taylor (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland): I manage the NWG Network — 600 organisations across the UK tackling child sexual exploitation. Previously, I ran a project in which we saw 554 cases of serious child sexual exploitation (CSE) in three years. I have been trying to tackle this issue since 1999.
Mrs Marshall: Glenn and Sheila are members of the inquiry board, which comprises six people. As members will be aware, the inquiry was commissioned by the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister of Justice in the wake of revelations in September 2013 relating to the alleged abuse of 22 children and young people. Subsequently, the Minister of Education joined the inquiry. A strength of the inquiry has been that we have had a lot of cooperation and work from these Departments. This inquiry was one of three responses to the revelations. There is also an ongoing PSNI investigation into the cases and a thematic review of the same 22 cases by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland. That will involve a review of the files of the individual young people to identify whether there were failings. It is about examining and evaluating.
I was asked to lead the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland last September. It did not focus on the circumstances or responses to the young people who were part of Operation Owl. We were specifically excluded from focusing on the 22 cases. Our approach was not about looking at individual cases and file reviews, and, in that respect, it is quite different from the Rotherham-type approach. In short, we were asked to look at the nature of child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland and measure its extent. Right at the beginning, when the inquiry was set up, it was acknowledged, as it is across the UK, that, because CSE has not been identified as a category and data has not been collected, figures are not generally available.
In order to measure what was happening and its extent, we tried to get the figures that were available to give us some guidance. We also engaged very widely with parents, children, young people and agencies beyond those with whom you would normally engage. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), for example, went into 20 post-primary schools and four special schools. We had clusters of professionals, the Education Welfare Service and the Child Protection Support Service for Schools, as well as children and young people. On the health side, we had a specific focus and had meetings with school nurses, the Ambulance Service and people who do not normally have a voice in this kind of engagement. On the justice side, we had interviews with front-line workers such as response police officers, right up to the higher levels in the organisation.
We tried to build up a picture of what was happening in Northern Ireland by using the figures that were available and fleshing it out with the insights and experiences of the people concerned. As you are aware, a total of 580 young people and 795 parents were involved in the work that we did. We were also to examine the effectiveness of current cross-sectoral child safeguarding and protection arrangements and measures to prevent and tackle CSE, and that is where we got the insights from children, parents and front-line workers about the barriers to addressing it in an effective way. Although it was not the specific focus of the inquiry, we were asked to look at safeguarding protection issues for looked-after children, who have been particularly vulnerable.
As members will see from the inquiry's report, we engaged with a large number of individuals and agencies, and we did extensive work across the sectors and with voluntary organisations and the communities. A number of individuals also came forward and submitted evidence or spoke directly to us. What we have added to the current knowledge base is a wider perspective from front-line workers and their experiences of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. Those have helped us to identify some clear ways forward to make the response to CSE balanced, achievable and effective. As I said, the inquiry consulted 580 young people and 795 parents, and we think that that represents a very broad spectrum. They were not just from the care sector. They were children in school and in organisations, and Parenting NI did an online survey as well as holding focus groups. They had slightly different profiles and came up with some slightly different views.
The key messages from the inquiry are that child sexual exploitation is not new, as we all know, but that advances in communication technology have made it a much more significant threat to a greater number of children and young people. People told us that there has been quite a change even in the past two to five years. The greater number of children and young people who are now vulnerable also includes disabled children and young people. Parents used to feel that they were better able to protect them when they were out and about, but, now, in the confines of their own bedroom, they can be vulnerable when using social media, for example. So, child sexual exploitation is a threat to all children and young people, not just those in care. The forms that it takes in Northern Ireland are similar to those in other parts of the UK, but, in each area of the UK, CSE is manifest at the hard level in a slightly different way depending on the environment in which it is growing. In Northern Ireland, that has emerged, in particular, in relation to the legacy of the Troubles, and there has been a lot of publicity about that part of it.
It is not possible to assess the extent of child sexual exploitation at the moment because the information is not held in a way that allows that. That was known when we started and is known now, and some of the recommendations are aimed at trying to make sure that that changes. Over the past year, awareness of child sexual exploitation has increased in Northern Ireland, and the response to it has improved. There are examples of excellent and dedicated work by a range of professional and voluntary organisations as well as the beginnings of improvement in data collection. Much more remains to be done, but there are some good foundations for that future work.
Themes from the recommendations are the need for awareness and cultural change, and we recommend a public health campaign. The message has to get through to everyone. Children and parents said that they were not aware but wanted to know and made a very strong plea for that. They wanted to know about it in terms that made sense to them. If you inform members of the public, you inform juries, for example. One of the big issues was that juries do not understand why young people go back to abusers or people who groomed them. We want a balanced approach with an initial focus and awareness of child sexual exploitation but moving towards integration with other keeping-safe messages. We want to promote confidence in children, young people and parents to say no to exploitation and report concerns. We want parents to be able to advise, support, protect and report; workers and carers to have confidence to exercise appropriate care and control and report concerns; and communities and front-line workers to identify and report.
We need a continued and reinforced commitment to improving relationships between police, young people and communities. That message came through strongly. We also need a continued and reinforced commitment to improving the response of the criminal justice system to reports of child abuse and child sexual exploitation. We need a strategic approach. Good things are happening around the region, but they are not joined up. We need a regional strategy that links in with and builds upon related strategies such as those on trafficking, domestic violence, early intervention and drugs and alcohol.
Health and education have to be recognised as significant partners in tackling child sexual exploitation. The role of schools has to be acknowledged and resourced. We are very aware that the voluntary sector has a very particular role to play in Northern Ireland. We feel that it should be recognised as an equal partner. Sometimes, there are difficulties for statutory agencies in sharing information with voluntary agencies. Such difficulties can create mystery because voluntary agencies know that things have happened, but they do not get the feedback and so there are suggestions of cover-ups et cetera.
We want provision of safe spaces for young people at risk of or involved in CSE and services to help recovery. Critically, we think that children, young people and parents need to be involved in the development of strategies and services. We believe that, through the work of this inquiry, we have started some conversations that have to continue to create services that are responsive to needs. There are a large number of very detailed recommendations in the report. We hope that once the initial publicity calms down, people will take the time to drill down into this and ensure that we have a joined-up, effective way of approaching this very difficult issue. Thank you, Chair, for the opportunity to make that opening statement. We are now happy to receive questions.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Thank you for that, Professor Marshall. I will begin by acknowledging the role that you all have played. Anybody who advances child protection issues generally is to be commended. I think that the Committee would be in absolute agreement with that.
The terms of reference of the inquiry were to establish the nature and extent of child sexual exploitation here in the North. My specific question is this: what has it told us about the extent?
Mrs Marshall: The terms of reference were to establish the nature and "a measure" of the extent in Northern Ireland. It was always acknowledged — this is acknowledged across the UK — that we do not know the exact extent. Until there is awareness, there is confidence to report and the systems are such that, if reports are made, they are flagged up as CSE, there will not be that kind of hard information. In order to get a measure of the extent, we talked to people in schools and at the front line. We heard very strong statements, for example, from people in the education sector about how, in their experience, this is a growing problem and is not restricted to children in care.
Some of the higher-profile issues that we touched on in the inquiry will, of course, get the initial response. If you think that child sexual exploitation is restricted to organised gangs, paramilitaries, the army or child sex rings, you feel that it has nothing to do with you and your family, so you can distance yourself from it. The issue that we have identified is that it is, in fact, an issue for every family and every young person. People have to be aware of that. That information came through strongly, particularly from the schools and the health and justice sectors.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): I am drilling down into this. The report tells us that there is a growing problem, but there is no real detail on the extent or on measuring the extent or nature.
Mrs Marshall: First, the report makes recommendations about how we can measure the extent. On the nature, we highlighted some of the things that parents and children need to know about — for example, sexting, which we are told is epidemic in schools. Young people send to other people indecent images of themselves that are then passed around, and they do not know what is happening. Parents were not aware of this either. When I explained to some of the first groups of young people whom I met that this was happening, some said that they were angry that they did not know about it because they needed to know about the dangers in order to protect themselves. They were also adamant that parents needed to know. The young people were very clear that their parents were the first line of defence. If information has been floating around in professional circles, it has not reached parents and young people or front-line professionals. They are the people whom we have been speaking to and the people who really need to know.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): This is not a criticism of your work, Professor Marshall, but I go back to the terms of reference, which were to establish the nature and measure the extent, and the report tells us nothing in that regard. Is that a fair criticism?
Mrs Marshall: No, I do not think that it is a fair criticism. I think that we have garnered as much information as it is possible to do to build a picture of child sexual exploitation. May I pass that on to my colleague, Sheila, who wishes to say something?
Ms Taylor: It is really important that people understand systems across the UK. The Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) inquiry found, as did many other reports, that the data has never been recorded. It is hidden under a range of crimes and abuse.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Sorry, Sheila, I really do not want to interrupt you, but that is the very point that I am trying to drill down to — the data issue. The collection and collation of data has not been dealt with. Therefore, wider public opinion is that this report does not really give us any more insight into the nature or extent because of those obstacles.
Mrs Marshall: It cannot give you hard figures because of that, but I think that we can tell you about what is endemic in schools and about the experience of people at the front line: the ambulance drivers who meet young people; what taxi drivers' experience is of party houses; and what young people say about it. We are giving you as much information as we think is available. We cannot actually do any more than that.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): I appreciate that honesty.
I want to move on to the second part of the terms of reference, which was examining the effectiveness of cross-sectoral child safeguarding and protection.
Mrs Marshall: I have to say that, in the past year, things have changed. I think that that was in response to Operation Owl et cetera. People in the health and social care field told us that there were and still are quite a lot of difficulties in working with police, but the police have become more engaged with them on this.
We found that people from agencies who make referrals to each other do not get feedback. They do not know what is happening. Ambulance drivers said that, if they come across situations in which they think that there may be an issue, they do not know who to contact, and, if they do contact somebody, they do not get a response that gives them the confidence to take it forward. We are saying that there has to be more coordination, which would not come at any huge expense. The time when young people are more critically at risk is outside business hours, when people find it most difficult to get any effective response. There are out-of-hours social work services; the public protection units told us that they have people working out of hours; and there are designated doctors. However, all the out-of-hours services, which is when young people are at their most vulnerable, need to be joined up so that, when an ambulance driver comes across a situation and has a very short time to interact with a young person, he or she can contact somebody and say, "Look, I am worried about this. What can I do about it? Where do I take it?" and get a response that makes them feel confident to deal with it.
These are the things that we have been dealing with. As I said, we looked at it at a strategic and operational level. At a strategic level, Northern Ireland is a small place, but there are so many organisations and partnerships. I remember from my prior work on the youth justice review that people would tell you that they were involved in so many partnerships that it was difficult to get time to do their day job. There is a need to streamline, and people have acknowledged that. Even trying to map it out, quite honestly, is a problem. We did not come across any such map, so we have made recommendations about that and more effective interagency working.
Mr Houston: Chair, I would like to add a couple of comments. For me, one of the strengths of the process of the inquiry was bringing together the social care/social services angle and the Education, Health and Justice Departments. As we went out to the front line and spoke to staff, we heard most particularly a very strong message that this worked best where professionals who had the knowledge, skills and expertise were working interactively, together and in a joined-up way. We heard much of that about some of the structures put in place following Operation Owl, and we heard a plea for those kinds of structures to be sustained and developed because, where that happens, the likelihood is that the outcomes for children and young people will be better.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Given the obstacles, generally, to society coming to terms with what child sexual exploitation is and the need to protect those who are most vulnerable, would it have been more beneficial if your inquiry, Professor Marshall, had had more power?
Mrs Marshall: Different formats of inquiries and reviews can do different things, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. I know that this was a particular concern of yours, Chair, when the inquiry was set up. When we started engaging with agencies, we found that, sometimes, even using the word "inquiry" put people off. Often, the very people whom we needed to talk to on the front line felt that it was rather daunting to make a submission or give evidence to an inquiry, yet they were the very people whom we needed to hear from to get an idea of what was happening. I think that we managed to overcome that, but it was quite hard to strike the balance between trying to have the authority of an inquiry and making it clear that we were open and approachable and that people who talked to us and who wanted to make submissions did not need a formal affidavit and would not appear in an environment such as this when questioned. People were anxious. The work that we did was at one level that is critical to assessing what is happening and engaging people. Had I been asked to conduct a statutory inquiry with powers, I am not quite sure what I would have had to work on. I think that, if there is a need for a statutory inquiry, it would be better held after our report and that of the thematic review are published so that you have some hard information and know what you are inquiring into. I am not saying that there is that need, but this was different and served a different purpose, and I feel that we have come up with something helpful. It is not an either/or; they are different processes.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): How do you address the observation that, had it been an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, you would have been able to compel people to provide papers and compel witnesses, and there would have been a degree of accountability?
Mrs Marshall: You are right in that. When talking about accountability, if you want a situation in which you make very critical statements, particularly about an individual's performance, it must be in an environment in which that individual has legal protection as well. You have to have all the surrounding procedures. Sometimes, that is appropriate. It is very expensive and time-consuming, and you would not have the results in a year, as we have. That is not to say that you will not want to do that at some point, but it is a different creature from what we have done.
Mrs Marshall: We have made a couple of comments about things like that and about how there was an awareness in 2006 after the Social Services Inspectorate report and a commitment to gather information about children and young people going missing from care. That was done, but it was not analysed and fed into a strategy. We have said some things about the ways in which the issue could perhaps have been identified and addressed earlier, but, as you rightly said, Chair, we did not run a public inquiry through which individuals will be named and shamed and held to account. That was not the role of this inquiry. Our view is very much a forward-looking one. Our focus is on finding out what can be known about protecting children and young people, what the dangers are to them, what needs to happen to protect them and having a way in which that can be taken forward. That has been our focus. So, we have made comments about things like that and about interagency work, but not in the way that you are talking about, Chair. You are absolutely correct to say that, if you want to identify people, it has to be in a formal structure. It is a different process with different aims.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Finally from me and in a similar vein, page 24 of your report refers to reports going back a number of years. At a policy level, Include Youth produced work in 2001, 'Out of the Shadows'. It made a number of recommendations, and you say that many are still pertinent. We also see, on page 13, mention of the 2006 report by the Social Services Inspectorate, which you just referred to. What are your thoughts on your analysis in this report that a number of these recommendations are still simply that — recommendations?
Mrs Marshall: I think that the issue, although it has been recognised, has not been given priority. It has been an issue at the side, but priority has been given to other issues. My understanding is that some things have been taken forward to a certain extent but that there has not been a focus on child sexual exploitation at the earlier stages. Some of the earlier explorations of child sexual exploitation tended to talk about it in the terms used at the time — commercial sexual exploitation and child prostitution et cetera. As time has gone on, what is happening has changed, and the way in which we look at and discuss it has changed. So, there are things that are relevant, and that is in line very much, too, with what people in the trusts have been saying. It is not new, but it has changed a lot, especially in the past two to five years.
Mrs Marshall: When the Social Services Inspectorate report came out, I imagine that the predecessors to the Health and Social Care Board, for example, might have given it more priority. Maybe the trusts could have given it more priority. Even now, there is still a debate about it. In Rotherham, for example, where there have been extreme cases, people have said that neglect or tackling drugs and alcohol etc are more important. There are lots of priorities. We have been saying that these are not competing priorities. All of these issues — neglect, drugs and alcohol, domestic violence and trafficking, which is more intrinsically linked — are related to CSE. There is always a question of where people put their priorities, and I think that it was not really identified as an emerging priority. The understanding of it has changed. People were still thinking of it in terms of a narrow model of, perhaps, child prostitution etc, and there was not a full understanding. I think that it could have been identified around 2006 and taken forward then.
Mrs Marshall: I think that it could have been, but it was not chosen as a priority at that time.
Mrs Marshall: I think that, in retrospect, that is of concern. As I said, we have had the information about children going missing. That is why we put the action plan at the back of the report. People said that they had not seen it, so we thought that we would set out, "This is what it says, and it has been partly implemented". The report states that the data has been collected but is still quite difficult to reconcile, and that has been acknowledged. It has not been analysed and the results of an analysis directed in a strategic way.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): I will go back to the original point that I was making. The information was there and was flagged up. It was highlighted in a number of reports. By your own admission, by 2006, it should have been a priority. At that stage or at the stage when your work kicked, would that full inquiry process not have been of more benefit? If it should have been a priority, it was somebody's responsibility to take it forward.
Ms Taylor: In 2006, a number of people who worked with child sexual exploitation on a daily basis knew what it was like and how serious it was, but, in reality, people have not got to grips with how serious the abuse against children is until the last couple of years. It has been the focus of media and that has turned attention to it, and I do not think that Northern Ireland, in that case, is any different from anywhere else.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): I am not suggesting that it is; I am dealing with the facts. It was flagged up in 2001 and in 2006 in a Social Services Inspectorate report. It was then flagged up with a series of recommendations — five, I think — in the Barnardo's report, the data in which went back to 2009. So, the issue was clearly being flagged up. As a society, we may not have fully understood it, but it was being flagged up, and, by your own admission, it should have been taken forward as a priority in 2006. Therefore, if there are failings in the system somewhere, we need to hold each other to account. This is too important an issue to simply have a number of recommendations in a report.
Mr Houston: That is a very important point. It is no accident that the strategy for dealing with children who are vulnerable is called 'Co-operating to Safeguard Children'. The very term "cooperating" suggests that the best results can be obtained when the organisations and agencies that work in this very difficult and challenging area collaborate and cooperate. This report points a way forward in setting the frame of reference through which that level of collaboration and cooperation can be strengthened, and that is the huge message coming out of this. It is about going forward and about making sure that the systems that we have here will work effectively to prevent something like Rotherham or Rochdale happening in Northern Ireland.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Glenn, with respect, somebody somewhere has to do that. I am hearing about protocols to increase cooperation — of course — but recommendation 3 from the Barnardo's report was about the board developing a targeted and fully resourced action plan and the need for inter-agency working. All that was flagged up at that point.
Mrs Marshall: That leads to one of the things that we highlighted in the report, which is that, in Northern Ireland particularly, voluntary organisations have a critical role to play, but we think that, sometimes, they are not recognised as equal partners. It is true that reports like that perhaps are not given the status that would be given to a report from the statutory side. We have to pay more attention to what comes from the voluntary sector, which has to be recognised as an equal partner in this whole enterprise.
Mr McCarthy: Thanks very much for your presentation and your report. I must admit that I have not got through it all, but I got the gist of it. You mentioned going forward. We all want to go forward as quickly as possible along the lines that you have recommended. I do not know how quick and efficient that will be. I have a couple of questions. How can those responsible for vulnerable people find the right balance between the provision of protection and allowing a degree of freedom for those young people? Is there anything that can be learnt from the international scenery?
Mrs Marshall: We found that people were saying that children's rights sometimes get in the way of protecting them. Coming from a children's rights background and feeling quite passionate about it myself, I know that that is not what the children's rights documents say. The children's rights documents say that, up to 18, you have a right to be protected, but the views of young people, especially as they get older, are critical to identifying the best way to protect them, because, once young people reach a certain stage, they have practical autonomy, whether or not they have legal autonomy. We had some quite interesting discussions with young people about that. People ask, "What can residential care workers do if a young person is determined to leave the house?", but when parents think about that, it is the same with them. What parents have is their relationship with the young person, which, you hope, will dissuade them. As one worker said, "A parent can bar the door and say 'I love you' and give you a hug". So there is this bit about the relationship. It is also acknowledging that young people will tell us what they need to protect them. We have to make sure, first, that they know that they are being exploited, which is a critical issue because they often do not, and some of the young people that we spoke to gave us examples of how they felt people could protect them more. I wonder whether Sheila wants to say anything about that.
Ms Taylor: It was quite sad to hear that young people only felt safe once they were in secure situations. That should not be right in our society. The focus should be on the offenders and not on the young people in quite the same way. It seemed very strange that they could only say that they were safe if they could stay in secure settings, and just go out when they wanted to, and come back and live there. It was quite poignant really. There needs to be a real focus on what young people feel they need, in order to be able to feel safe in society. That will look different for a whole number of young people.
Mr McCarthy: Just to follow on from that: what support mechanisms should be in place for those young victims of sexual exploitation, especially bearing in mind that some victims may not appreciate what has been happening to them until they are adults? Is it the case that we maybe need to make some particular or extra investments in our mental health services to young people?
Ms Taylor: Yes, this is a point that is very close to my heart. If we just look at the Rotherham case, where they talked about 1,400 young people over a 16-year period, we know that they received very little therapeutic intervention to help them recover from that. What we have here is a whole cohort of young people who have been very seriously raped and abused repeatedly, not just singularly. There has to be an investment in that therapeutic repair package, yet we are not seeing anybody investing. I think that you have picked up a very key point.
Mr McCarthy: So, there is something there for the powers that be: invest more. Mental health has always been away down in the list of priorities. Just to go back to the international scene, do you have any experience of what is being done internationally?
Ms Taylor: There are a number of projects. In Holland, there is a 20-year programme for young people that they have been working with, and they have a therapeutic repair package that has been scientifically validated and looks to be really quite robust. They call such young people "trafficked", but it is the same as "child sexual exploitation" here. In Los Angeles, Children of the Night has a very good programme of care as well. I think that there are programmes from abroad that we can build from, because, in reality, there is very little anywhere in the UK that has that follow-up for young people, once they have been traumatised through rape.
Mr Houston: I think that it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge some of the things that are happening here. I think in particular of the Safe Choices project, which is run by Barnardo's. It is an example of a support mechanism that young people valued and spoke very positively about. I think of some of the encounters that we had as part of the inquiry; going out, meeting and talking to staff on the front line. The Rowan Centre, which as you know is based in Antrim, is doing some excellent work with young people and providing support to them, as well as dealing with the issues that they need to deal with as part of the investigative process. So, I think that there are many examples of good, solid practice going on here, but we certainly can look abroad, look widely and learn from that.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Before I bring in the next speaker, I say to members that mobile phones must be near to microphones because they are picking up a lot of interference in the recording. I ask members to be mindful of that.
Mr McKinney: Thank you very much indeed, Chair. I think that you formally recorded me as being absent at the start of the meeting. I had written to you, but of course I am here.
Thank you for your presentation. I reflected this in the Chamber yesterday — the extent to which your report acknowledges the gaps in information. It says a lot about what we do not know: we do not know this; we do not know that; we do not know the character; we do not know the nature. Had Barnardo's been implemented, would we have known more?
Mrs Marshall: If the data collection etc had started then, yes, we would have known more. The delay in recording data in a way that identifies CSE could have been done earlier, and that has not happened. The Barnardo's recommendations have been partly implemented. However, you are right that, if they had been fully implemented, we would have been further down the line now than we are.
Mr McKinney: This was reflected to you in public sessions here at the Health Committee: why did you accept those terms of reference and not look back to issues of why Barnardo's and other recommendations had not been brought forward?
Mrs Marshall: I am not sure that we did not. If you look at the report, you will see that, all the way through, we reference the Barnardo's report as a starting point. I think that we acknowledged that, and we have questioned people on it, and we have taken it forward. However, what we were doing was wider than what was in the Barnardo's report. So, I am not quite sure what your point is.
Mr McKinney: Why were you not asking questions about action on data collection at earlier points?
Mrs Marshall: Well, we have been asking questions about data; it is just that people have not done it, basically. There have been delays. For example, one of the roles of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) is to give guidance on data collection, and we have been in discussion about that. There has been a delay in getting the data collection system going. SBNI, which I am sure you can talk to as well, pointed out that it has to have the cooperation of partner agencies to do that. So, we have talked about that, and we have made recommendations about data collection in the report. We did take that on board, and we have questioned people about it.
Mr McKinney: Yes, but why is it not more strongly reflected in the report that action was not taken that could have been helpful when that was pointed out at the time?
Mr Houston: Through the lifetime of the inquiry, we heard lots of challenging conversations about an acceptable definition of child sexual exploitation. When the inquiry began, there were a number of definitions of child sexual exploitation. In October this year, the Safeguarding Board published a definition for Northern Ireland. One of the real difficulties for health and social care organisations is how to collect accurate information if you have not got a definition as an agreed starting point. That is a real challenge to the system.
Mr McKinney: But your report, as you said, acknowledges, to some extent, Barnardo's, and, therefore, it must acknowledge that action should have been taken earlier. Barnardo's was three years ago and actually relied on information from some years earlier. We have not got a picture because people have not acted. Do you agree?
Mrs Marshall: Yes, but the question is whether people were mandated to act on the back of that report. SBNI has been given a remit to get the data collection; whereas, because the Barnardo's report was not a statutory one, people felt that they were not mandated. We have followed up specifically some of the data collection issues. You will see that there is quite a lot in the report, for example, about following up on Michelle McIlveen's attempts to get information on the numbers of missing children —
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Sorry, I want to come in on this, because it is an important point, although it is not your remit. The report was commissioned by the Department, and it was launched and published by the Department, so organisations and agencies were mandated.
Mr McKinney: Can I ask you a question that I asked at the time? In your estimation, how many children have been abused as a result of inaction on what was asked for years ago? Can you say?
Ms Taylor: We would not know because —
Mr McKinney: But will — sorry, I will let you finish your point.
Mrs Marshall: I do not see how we can possibly know that.
Ms Taylor: We could know that, if there was a case file review and you went specifically through each case looking for the signs and symptoms and attributing them to child sexual exploitation, but that would be a huge job, and you would have to go through —
Mr McKinney: Do you accept that your report is about trying to limit the number of people who are abused?
Ms Taylor: For the future.
Mrs Marshall: To protect more children.
Mr McKinney: Do you accept that the Barnardo's report was also similarly aimed?
Mrs Marshall: I accept that it had a similar aim.
Mr McKinney: Do you accept therefore that, if there was not any action, x number of children were abused as a result of that inaction?
Mrs Marshall: We cannot identify that.
Mr McKinney: I did not ask for a number. I am asking whether, generally, children would have been abused as a result of that inaction.
Ms Taylor: As a result of a wide range of professionals not understanding the signs, symptoms and behaviour patterns of children who are sexually exploited, there will, without doubt, be children who will have been exploited.
Mr McKinney: As a result of inaction following reports that focused on those issues.
Ms Taylor: As a result of not knowing what to look for.
Mrs Marshall: May I add to that?
Mr McKinney: The Barnardo's report pointed in the direction of knowing what to look for. Can we assume that children were abused as a result of inaction since previous reports?
Mrs Marshall: It has taken me time to interpret what you are saying and to reflect on it. I am sorry if I am delaying you. In any sense, when there has been a delay in tackling an issue and in having an action plan, that obviously means that some children will be abused or will lose protection that would have been there if the safeguards had been put in earlier. You are absolutely right in that. We cannot put a number on that. Now that we have come out, we have to make sure that that does not happen again and that what we are saying is acted on. You are right that there is a bit about looking at the past and what could we have done, but the emphasis has to be on learning from that and saying, "We have not dealt with it head-on before. We have to do it now". That was very much our focus in the report.
Mr McKinney: If you do not mind me saying so, with respect, that is convenient for you and your report.
Mrs Marshall: Convenient?
Mr McKinney: Yes, because you can reflect on it from this point forward and ignore the past. However, the children cannot. Do you agree?
Mr Houston: Mr McKinney, it is important that we acknowledge and accept that there have always been systems and processes in place to deal with children and young people who are vulnerable or are abused. On the point that you make, the great difficulty is that those systems and processes have been in place since 2006 and, indeed, well before, and there may well have been children and young people referred through the system who were placed on the child protection register, were part of social work caseloads and received that support, but the key question about this inquiry and its definition is around child sexual exploitation as an issue. What do we understand about it? I think that we understand a lot more about it in 2014 than we did in 2006. I think that we now have an agreed definition that, going forward, will be hugely important. If we were sitting here in two years' time and we could not tell you a number, that would be unforgivable.
Mr McKinney: Since you have introduced the term, I think that it is unforgivable, to be honest, that the Barnardo's report and other reports were not acted on at that time. Your report should have reflected that.
I have one more point, with your indulgence, Chair. Why was the Rotherham and Rochdale issue brought into the report?
Mrs Marshall: We refer to Rotherham and Rochdale because they are other examples of it, and we were looking to ask, "Is it the same?". We said that some things are the same across the UK and that some things are different. We have been a wee bit wrongly quoted on that. Some reports that have come out have said that there is no evidence of organisation in Northern Ireland: we did not actually say that. We said that there were levels of organisation in Northern Ireland and that there are some gangs involved in trafficking and drugs, but we said that the primary model in Northern Ireland is not the same as it was in Rochdale and Rotherham. The primary model is more that there are young people in the community who are being abused and there are groups — sometimes not that much older than the young people; sometimes considerably older than the young people — who gather around a young person and coalesce. Unless that is stopped in its tracks, some of these groups can become gangs like the Rochdale and Rotherham model. We have an opportunity in Northern Ireland, because we know about that dynamic, to intervene to make sure that that does not happen. Sheila has been more involved in the Rochdale/Rotherham issues.
Ms Taylor: We picked that up from quite a number of people whom we spoke to as well. They said that this is not like Rochdale and it is not like Rotherham. That was the feedback from the people to whom we spoke. I would be concerned that we did not take on board the fact that some of it is very organised, some of it is loosely organised, some of it is just groups that come together and become organised as they get into it, and, finally, there are individuals, which means that there are different levels of organisation.
Mr McKinney: Do you accept that, by saying that it is not as bad here as elsewhere, it might give the perception locally that the problem is not as bad here?
Ms Taylor: I do not think we said that it was not as bad.
Mrs Marshall: We did not actually say that. What we said was that, when we started talking to people, they told us that it is not like Rochdale and Rotherham. The PSNI said that it was not organised. The HSCB said that it was not organised. The trusts were telling us that it was not organised. Then we say that, nevertheless, the more we got down into the grass roots of the community, the more we began to identify levels of organisation. People can get confused about organisation. I have seen records of meetings at which people have talked about scenarios involving a number of young people and have come to the conclusion that they do not fit a particular definition of small-scale or large-scale organised abuse. That can be a red herring. There are levels of organisation. Take a house party: someone will organise the alcohol, the drugs and even the taxis. We are saying that you should not just pigeonhole organisation. Somebody described that to us as the "seduction of labelling": "This is Rotherham/Rochdale; this is not Rotherham/Rochdale. This is organised abuse; this is not organised abuse". There are levels of organisation. People were talking to us about Rotherham and Rochdale, and we are saying that, although there are some gangs, it is not the primary model. There are levels of organisation in what is happening, and we have to intervene now to make sure that we can disrupt that organisation and stop it gaining a proper foothold in Northern Ireland.
Mr McKinney: I understand the thinking, but I put it to you that there is at least the potential out there to influence perception —
Mrs Marshall: Absolutely.
Mr McKinney: By saying it is not, people might think that the problem is not, and —
Mrs Marshall: That was a concern that we discussed because we picked that up from the way in which some of it was reported. You are absolutely right that to say that it is not as bad could lead to complacency. In the report, we say that, although there are some gangs and levels of organisation, it is not primarily like Rochdale and Rotherham. However, if we do not act on it, it will grow and take more of a foothold in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Dobson: I have been that busy scribbling down comments, I could keep you here all day with my questions.
It struck me, Kathleen, that, in reference to ambulance drivers, you spoke about interviewing people who do not normally have a voice. Although I very much welcome that, my fear is for those many vulnerable children who do not have a voice. You touched briefly on disabled children and how they are vulnerable to social media in their bedrooms. It strikes me that what can start as bullying for those most vulnerable children can become exploitation, and already many of those children are dealing with low self-confidence and self-worth. I deal, as do other MLAs, with many parents who fear that, as their disabled children get older, the comfort blanket of the relationship that they have had with their special schools, where they have had wonderful experiences, is gone. For so many, when they turn 18, all they do is sit in their bedroom feeling isolated. Can you comment on that? Do you have any further detail on those children and what we could do to protect them?
Mrs Marshall: When people were talking to us about disability, they used it as a general term. However, there are whole levels of disability. Some of the particular concern that was expressed was for those who had mild learning difficulties, which were not diagnosed and did not attract particular support. There have always been issues about the transition of disabled children from childhood to adulthood and adult services.
Mrs Dobson: That is a big bugbear of mine, considering the volume of parents who report problems.
Mrs Marshall: It is a huge issue. One of the things that we have recommended involves the definition of "vulnerable adult". We received a lot of comments from different sources about how the definition of "vulnerable adult" is too narrow to accommodate a lot of those young people. Towards the end, we discovered that there is some work being done on that and a new definition, "adult at risk", is coming out. So, I think that the question when that comes out is how we can make sure that it is going to pick up and support young people who are vulnerable to CSE.
One of our recommendations is that the Education Department should give guidance to schools, in general, about how they can support parents to learn more about this and how they can protect their children, and, in particular, how they can support the parents of disabled children. Because such parents have childcare responsibilities, they do not find it easy to go to an evening session at a school. So, we looked at that — trying to build up how you support parents — as well. It is critical. As you say, young people are so vulnerable, and they want to be normal, and somebody will come online and tell them that they are beautiful and ask to be sent a photograph and all that sort of thing. One of the comments was that, because people assume that young people with disabilities are not going to have a sexual life, they are not prepared for that sort of thing. Parents just cannot protect disabled young people to the extent that they were able to do in the past. That is a critical —
Mrs Dobson: Alarmingly, parents have contacted me and are majoring on social isolation for their disabled child. They have not raised the issue of sexual exploitation. That is another deeply concerning issue that the parents have not even realised that their children are vulnerable to. That is something that certainly has alarmed me. I have written down so many details. You looked at the nature of child exploitation, and it seems to be a more generic approach. We need to delve deeper into the detail, particularly around disabled young people. I am so concerned about that aspect. The report refers to "the journey". How long do you envisage it taking before it results in action and practical help to protect our young people?
Mrs Marshall: The awareness-raising part is already under way. We know that SBNI is already involved in the awareness-raising issue, and we hope that that will make an impact. We heard references to the material. Awareness raising is the first thing. If your parents of disabled children realise that this issue is there, they will try to do something about it. One of the things that we found in general was that parents were not really aware of the dynamics of what is happening and they want to be empowered and supported. So, I think that awareness raising is the very first step towards that. Parents will be able to do some things to protect their children.
Mrs Dobson: As their fears will be raised, they need to know that there is practical help and guidance about where they should go and how they can address that.
Mrs Marshall: That is right. I think that the schools are very willing to be involved in that. As I said, one of the great strengths of the work was education being involved to such an extent and being a significant stakeholder in it. Also, parents and children said that they do not want it to be put in a way that scares children. It is quite a delicate balance; you do not want children to be suspicious of any relationship. There are some good things in life, you know? It has to be a balance. Schools will be doing something, but I imagine that when SBNI is doing its awareness-raising campaign, what we have thrown up here — it has been identified both in disability organisations and in special schools — is that there is a very particular issue for the parents of disabled children that needs to be addressed, so that they have at least some guidance, perhaps in addition to what is there for parents generally.
Ms Taylor: Let me just add that I would be very concerned if you were only looking at the transition into adult services for children with disabilities, because, actually, children who are sexually exploited continue to be exploited and often are subjected to many other things, like domestic violence, past 18. What we see is services just shutting down at age 18 and those young people being left.
I see the importance of establishing something concrete for disabled young people, but there has to be transition and support for all young people who have been sexually exploited.
Mrs Dobson: I totally agree. Kathleen highlighted that in one sentence about disabled young people.
The Minister detailed the pubs and clubs culture that operates in some areas in which young girls or boys receive a tap on the shoulder and are singled out to stay behind. I asked the Minister whether the details of such clubs have been passed on to the PSNI for investigation. I did not get an answer. Can you provide any more clarity?
Mrs Marshall: The report explicitly states that people who spoke to us about this issue deliberately did not give us names and locations to hand on, because they felt that they would be at risk if they did so. When we felt that certain issues had to be checked out with the PSNI or the authorities, we did that, but we were not given locations. The communities said that the dogs in the street know what is going on, and that is reflected in the report. There is a feeling that people know what is going on. All sorts of people said that they know and that this is nothing new. If they know, why are they not passing on the information to the authorities? If the police are not getting the information, do the police know? Some communities thought that the police knew and were not doing anything, which the police adamantly deny. Do other people know? Do the press know? A journalist told me that he knew about all these pubs and clubs. If he knows that, has he passed on the details to the PSNI? If other people in communities know, have they passed on the details? If they have not done so, why not? If people in a position of power have not done so, how can you expect people in the communities to do it when they feel that they are in danger? There is a real issue. I hope that a lot of the recent publicity will empower people to come forward in a way that makes them feel that they will get an appropriate response. Young people in these communities cannot wait, and if people think that everybody knows what is going on and that nothing is happening, that is disempowering and disrespectful, and it is not good for children or their parents.
Mrs Dobson: I totally agree. Were you able to pass on any suspicions that you had?
Mrs Marshall: We passed on anything that we knew. It was important to state in the report that nobody gave us details on names and locations. People were adamant that, if there was any suspicion that they had passed on details and spoken to the inquiry, they would be in danger. Nobody gave us information — for very good reason — so we did not pass on the names of any pubs or clubs.
Ms McCorley: Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Thanks very much for your presentation and for the report. As Jo-Anne said, the report has so much in it and raises so many issues that, to be honest, I have not had the time to read even half of it.
I will touch on broad topics. Previous reports flagged up issues, and this report talks about failings in the system. It strikes me, for instance, that there has been complacency and a "couldn't care less" attitude to missing children. If children go missing from care establishments or environments, why are people not alarmed? I find it alarming that something has been going on. Previous reports gave commitments to gather information, but your report refers to:
"The inability of the authorities to give this information".
That beggars belief. I do not know what that means.
Mrs Marshall: Sorry, where is that?
Mrs Marshall: Is it in the summary or the main report?
Ms McCorley: It is in the executive summary under the heading "Vulnerability to CSE".
Mrs Marshall: Yes. At that point, the authorities said that they could not break it down and that it would be too expensive to gather the information. People hold the information in different ways, including manual files, and they have to go through individual case files to get it. The response from the authorities was that they could not get the information without inordinate expense. As a result of that, you may remember that Michelle McIlveen asked a series of questions and then proposed a private Member's Bill. The proposal was withdrawn on the basis that there would be an administrative system for collection and an action plan. The action plan is appended to the report. Our conclusion was that there was an action plan, which, even now, has been only partly implemented. It was never regarded as an ongoing action plan, but it is still not finished.
Although data was collected — you are now able to answer the question of how many young people were missing from care and to break it down by trusts — the information has not been strategically analysed and directed towards this issue. It has been partially implemented, but it has not gone far enough. The issue of lack of analysis was a theme throughout the whole inquiry. We heard it very strongly from the police, especially from front-line police officers, who gave us a strong impression that they were picking things up and passing them on, but they did not think that anyone was taking an overview.
With Operation Owl, some of that has changed in the past year. We have seen the benefits of that, but it needs to be done in a more committed and strategic way. There has to be a commitment to analysing the information and, as we said, building on the good work. Operation Owl has now stopped, but we are told that it has been subsumed into other parts of the public protection units' work. Many people to whom we spoke were keen to ensure that the benefits of that approach in Operation Owl were recognised and continued, because it was showing results and building up a picture of what was happening across Northern Ireland.
Ms McCorley: At the same time, however, people in positions of authority felt unable to, could not or did not really want to go to the bother of trying to create a system that would bring out the information that would protect children from exploitation. Nobody seemed to think that someone should be held to account for that. I find that inexcusable. How do you respond to that? You were uncovering that, obviously.
Mrs Marshall: In the report, we recommend that the action plan should have been implemented. We point out that, although the data was gathered, it was a halfway measure. It was gathered, but it was not analysed or used. We have not identified a person, and it is not our purpose to do that. If you want to carry this on — I know that you are meeting other agencies, asking them why they did not do it and why they did not think that it was a priority — that is a clear role for this Committee. We are told that the action plan was not consulted on or disseminated, so we appended it to the report so that people can see it. We say that it has to be taken forward further.
Ms McCorley: I understand that you were compiling information, so you are not at fault, but why should we and society here in general feel confident that something different will happen and that child sexual exploitation will be treated differently?
Mrs Marshall: It is now a question of monitoring, which is what the Minister said yesterday. He set out some quite tight timescales. The situation has to be monitored to make sure that the same thing does not happen again, when issues were flagged up but were not followed through. There will be a Health and Social Care response by January 2015 and an implementation plan by March. I imagine that the Committee will be interested in making sure that those issues are taken forward and implemented from now on and that we have learned lessons from the past.
Mrs Marshall: That is the number in total, including the schools, and we had a number of consultations with young people.
Ms McCorley: Were all those people affected by exploitation?
Mrs Marshall: No; a number of them were, but we might not know about it, and they might not even recognise it themselves. Quite honestly, when some young people were discussing exploitation, a light bulb was coming on in their head about what was happening. They were absolutely adamant that other young people needed to know about it, and they were going to tell their friends. That was exactly it: we were focusing not only on people who were known to have been sexually exploited but on other young people. This whole process has raised awareness. Parents said that they were going to tell other parents, and young people said that they were going to tell other young people. It was certainly a matter of great interest to them.
If we had focused only on children who were known to be sexually exploited, we would not have got a picture of what is happening. We were asked to find out how widespread the exploitation is, as far as we can know, what is happening, and what do children have to be aware of to prevent their getting drawn into something. In other words, what are the danger signs, and what do parents have to know about what is happening out there so that they can advise and protect their children? That is what children wanted them to do. The prime message from children is that parents have to know about this.
Ms Taylor: It is important to recognise that, in some of our interviews with young people who had been exploited, it was not until they had had work done with them, quite often by someone in the third sector — Safe Choices or another organisation — to explain what was happening to them, that they recognised that it was very exploitative and abusive. It is quite a journey for those young people to reach conclusions that this is not normal or acceptable. While they are doing that, they are susceptible to other types of exploitation.
Ms McCorley: How significant is social media in the exploitation of children?
Mrs Marshall: It is a really key issue. Social media has grown very rapidly. A lot of parents know about putting parental controls on the Internet on their PC at home, but they do not think about it with their mobile phones, tablets and so on. A lot of education is needed, directly with young people and parents, about setting controls and what can happen, for example, to a photograph. The fact that apps can locate where a photograph was taken and that people can track you to that point is not widely known. Social media is really difficult, as is sexting. The minute that that happens, a photograph can be used to bribe and coerce children into acts that they would not normally take part in, because they fear what will happen to them if they refuse.
Ms McCorley: How confident are you that measures can address those very real concerns?
Ms Taylor: I am quite confident. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre has the Thinkuknow programme, which is all about Internet access, reporting abuse and parental control. The key is that professionals also understand the issues so that they can deliver that as part of their role in working with children and families.
Mrs Marshall: It is also about trying to ensure that young people get a proper response when they admit that they have done something like that. They can be overwhelmed by feelings of shame for having done it. It can also lead to self-harming. Consistent with the normal principle that you cannot consent to your own abuse and that you have been manipulated, when young people say that something like this has happened, they should get a supportive response, whether from parents, carers, teachers or whomever they choose to tell.
Mr Dunne: Thank you very much for your work in bringing out the report. We appreciate it.
Reports of missing persons are, I suppose, mainly managed by the PSNI.
In my experience, agencies and the public want to inform the PSNI when someone goes missing. I want to know how we will close the gaps after that, because the PSNI tells us that it has limited resources, and it probably has limited skills about how to deal with such cases, so I believe that there are major gaps. We are aware of it locally for people going missing. Once agencies inform the PSNI that someone is missing, they tend to step back and leave it with the PSNI. Is that a risk that needs to be addressed?
Ms Taylor: When somebody from the public — a parent or a concerned member of the public — puts that call in, it is really important that the first point of call is somebody from the PSNI who can screen that call effectively and ask questions that will highlight not only the vulnerabilities that that young person may face but child sexual exploitation. A lot of police forces are beginning to see that that needs to improve, but there is still some way to go. There then has to be a quick and efficient referral pathway into the PPU if concerns about child sexual exploitation are flagged up through that screening process.
Mrs Marshall: There is guidance on that for police and social workers. One of the problems is that it was always meant to be backed up by joint training, and that has never happened, which would have helped. We found that the police are utterly frustrated about it, but residential care workers told us what their approach is and how they will try to dissuade young people and follow them and take them off buses and trains, although sometimes that will not be possible. We did a snapshot survey of children's homes over two 24-hour periods — one during the week and one at the weekend — and found that some children's homes had only two members of staff on duty, so if one of them goes out, there is only one member of staff left. Very worryingly, two children's homes had only one member of staff on duty. So there are things like that about the capacity to respond. When we went around the trusts, trust management was adamant that its workers in residential care were well trained and supported to deal with those issues and had confidence with them. When we spoke to young people and other people in the community, there was a feeling that some staff were not confident, and the police certainly thought that they passed the risk over to them as soon as possible.
Mr Dunne: There are inconsistencies across approaches.
Mrs Marshall: There are inconsistencies. It may sound strange, but the report states that, if management is so adamant that staff are well trained and supported, it should make an explicit statement of support for its staff so that, if staff have done their best and it has not worked out, the accountability is with management. One of the young people made a pertinent comment about that. We asked, "What is the difference between a care worker and a parent?", and this young person said, "Your parents care about you; the staff care only about themselves". I do not think that that was meant in a dismissive way in the sense that staff do not care, but there are more implications for staff if something goes wrong, and they are protecting themselves in a way. With that insight, you might say, "You are absolutely right in what you have said". So if management is convinced that staff are well trained and supported, it has to deal with that. I was reflecting back on years ago, when Edinburgh was the capital of HIV/AIDS for a while, and I was doing work on that, and staff who were working in schools felt very supported by a statement from management that said, "We realise that our staff are working in a very difficult environment and often on the verge of legality, and we support them". They had confidence in them. Staff at the front line need to be well trained and supported and need to feel that, if something happens, and they have really done their best in accordance with the guidelines and the training that they have had, they are not the ones who will be held accountable for that.
Mr Dunne: That takes me on to my second point. Glenn, perhaps you have an input. We are talking about care homes, and key recommendation 5 refers to the need to upgrade standards of inspection in care homes to ensure that they:
"promote a culture conducive to respect the best interests of the child".
Surely all of us expect those standards to be in place already in care homes. What assurance can you give us that the RQIA will be proactive in monitoring, managing and auditing homes to ensure that standards are maintained?
Mr Houston: That is a very important point. Let me say first that, currently, there are standards for the inspection of children's homes. The recommendation is aimed at revising those standards. When they come to be revised, they should be revised to take account of all the issues that are set out in the report. In particular, Mr Dunne, it will look at the way in which staff respond to situations of children going missing. Some of the children have said that going missing does not necessarily mean that they are placing themselves in harm's way. However, it is also clearly a signal that some young people may be extremely vulnerable to others who might be more predatory towards them.
We currently undertake regular inspections of children's homes. Given the issue of confidentiality, unlike our other inspections, we do not publish those reports on our website, but we make them available to the organisation with responsibility for running the children's home, and we have a thorough follow-up system to make sure that the recommendations that we set out in those reports are implemented.
Mr Dunne: It is not just about looking at the standard of care and cleanliness; it is about process, procedures and management.
Mr Houston: These standards will deal with things like the nature of relationships between staff and young people. This report states that one of the biggest safeguards against children being exploited or vulnerable is having a trusting relationship with an adult. It would be remiss of us not to say that, when we met with and spoke to front-line care workers, they told us about the efforts that they go to to build trust and confidence in working with children and young people. My eyes caught a phrase on page 15 of the executive summary, when a member of staff said:
"We care enough to say no".
Sometimes, imposing the boundaries raises the challenge. We heard some incredible stories about how staff tried to manage risk when they believed that children were being exploited through the use of mobile technology, and they went the extra mile, as Kathleen said, in trying to bring people back when they have gone absent, if they know where they are. It is a very complicated and challenging business. Certainly, from our point of view, we want to make sure that not only are staff supported but they have the resource and capacity to do what they need to.
Mr Dunne: The report mentions that the Department:
"should issue a circular and associated guidance stating how these issues should be taken forward."
Committee members are fairly hardened, but issuing a circular seems to be a rather light way of dealing with it.
Mrs Marshall: That is in the meantime.
Mr Dunne: Everyone issues circulars these days, and not many of us take notice because we are overloaded with them.
Mrs Marshall: That was in the meantime. What we were getting at is the culture in children's homes. You can go somewhere, inspect and check all the standards and all that — I do not know much about it — but we heard about ways of assessing the culture in children's homes by looking at other things. It is not just the fact that something was recorded, but how it was recorded — for example, how did the staff refer to the young person in that record? Ways are emerging of assessing the culture in places like children's homes that build on that kind of thing to try to get to the quality. How do the staff talk to the young people? Is it an environment that is respectful and affectionate and is not just a tick-box exercise but is trying to get a feeling for the fabric of what is going on? That is what we were trying to get at. We know that there are discussions about that type of approach. There are comments in the report about young people who were not happy in their placements and who felt that they were chaotic. From their point of view, being with the abuser was a better place to be. We have to try to ensure that the children's home is an environment in which they are truly valued, and they feel valued and safe. We are looking at other ways to do that in order to enrich current standards.
Mr McGimpsey: Thanks very much. Your report is a very important piece of work, for which we are very grateful.
The police appear to be saying that they are making progress. They are talking about some 2,000 cases with a 10% conviction rate. There are big problems with reporting and prosecution leading to convictions. Again, it relates to the voice of the children and young people who are the victims here. It is looking to a way to get youngsters to report a situation and what is happening to them. There is clearly a major role for the Departments of Education and Justice; it is not just about the DHSSPS. It is an indication of the direction that we need to go in to give a voice to children and young people and to get them to report.
Ms Taylor: A key issue is their experience when they go to court, what has happened to other young people, and how they can be discredited and made to look really bad in the court process without recognising any of their vulnerabilities. Without doubt, that experience spreads from child to child so that children will not want to report because they will not want to be in those situations themselves. It is not just about education. You have to look at the whole process and make it easier for young people to attend court and not to have to stand up in front of somebody who has raped, abused or subjected them to physical violence and a range of other things, allow processes that enable them to give that information in court without being exposed and give them all the support to do that. I do not just mean hand-holding on the day but the luxury of time that you have to give a child to be able to take him or her through that process, not just the minute that a court has finished and found guilty, not guilty or whatever, but to continue that work to help to keep a child stable. That is the message that will go out to other young people. It will enable young people to come forward because they know that they will be supported.
Mrs Marshall: May I make a point about that? We have made some very particular recommendations about how court cases are handled. We have recommended statutory case management and time limits. Case management is quite important. In a different way, it is part of the legacy of Northern Ireland, whereby everybody is concerned about independence and ensuring that all the legal personnel have their say. Judges are perhaps more reluctant to intervene in cases, whereas we heard that, in the case management system in England, judges are more likely to intervene to stop counsel from wearing down a witness. That is important, and we have to say that this society is moving on. We have to try to look again at the tensions in the system and say how we will ameliorate them to ensure that the system is suitable for a young person.
I asked a question of one of the young people. This young person had started to report and had then withdrawn. I asked him what the nightmare scenario would be. He said that it was being at court, even if you were not in court but on live TV, being questioned about intimate details of your private life and everyone watching you. That sort of thing weighs heavily on a young person's mind. There is an issue about ensuring that the legal profession really understands not only child sexual exploitation but child abuse. Members of the public will serve on juries and will not get special training, but if there are general messages about what grooming means — this goes back to the public health campaign — the whole dynamics and young people's concerns would feed into the process as well. We made a number of recommendations on that.
Mrs Marshall: Yes, and people ask, "What is the point?". It is very hard to report, and young people then have to go through the process of making a statement. In case members do not understand, a young person will make an initial statement, and maybe what they see later does not exactly tie up because they were a bit hesitant with the first statement. What then happens is that a prosecutor says, "We cannot prosecute that because you made two conflicting statements and the defence will make mincemeat of you". It is about understanding the processes that young people go through and trying to ensure that that can lead to a system of prosecution that will target the perpetrators and not let them off.
Ms Taylor: It is also important to understand the tactics used by those who abuse young people. Plying them with alcohol and drugs means that, quite often, their memory is not clear, so, when they come to make a statement, it will move around, because they will remember different bits. It does not mean that they are not telling the truth or that what they are saying is not right; it means that somebody has used substances to disinhibit them and so make them witnesses who are not quite so credible at the end.
Mr McGimpsey: In general, children who are vulnerable to child abuse appear to have a background of domestic violence, drugs, alcohol and mental ill health in the home. Is it fair to say that those factors weigh as heavily with children subject to sexual abuse as they do in general for child abuse, or are we looking at something different here?
Ms Taylor: It would be fair to say that there is over-representation of children who have other vulnerabilities in their background. Child abuse, drug and alcohol issues or bereavement — bereavement in a child's early years is a big factor — or various other things, like disabilities or mental health issues in a family, make a child incredibly vulnerable to CSE. What we need to be very clear about is that it is not exclusive: it could be my daughter or your daughter. You do not have to have a vulnerability other than just being a teenager and not understanding that somebody else is manipulating you to a position that is beneficial for them.
Mrs Marshall: That is the message that we have got from schools and other agencies. They are identifying more young people without those known vulnerabilities who are getting involved with things like sexting and party houses that, for some young people, might escalate — they are bad enough as it is — or turn into other things. That is a message that we have to get out without panicking or frightening people. There are things that we can do about it. Knowledge is power. Young people are not stupid. If they know the dangers and are alert to the signs, there are things that they can do to protect themselves.
Ms Taylor: It is also valuable to say that young people are often identified as victims of child sexual exploitation if they are known to a service; for example, a professional who has had training may pick up the indicators. If you are family not known to services, you may be reluctant to have social workers or police coming to your house. There is a barrier to engagement there that makes it difficult for families that do not have engagement with services in any other capacity to come forward.
Mr Brady: Thanks very much for your report and the presentation; it follows on from what Michael said about perpetrators. It seems to be a huge disincentive. There does not seem to be any great number of perpetrators prosecuted for what is a serious crime. In recommendation 9 you talk about the Department of Justice having an inter-agency forum. I was listening to an item on the radio on the way home yesterday that struck me. They were talking about the report, and the police were saying how difficult it was to prosecute in those cases. If you have organised gangs, which may happen to some degree, they will not necessarily worry about doing what they are doing, because they do not seem to be affected in that sense. So, in a sense, there has to be a double-edged sword — you have to deal with the issue through prevention, but it also has to be made extremely difficult for perpetrators; they should be made aware that they will be prosecuted, that it is a serious offence, and that they will do serious time. That does not seem to be happening.
Ms Taylor: You are bang on the button. All the focus is on the victim; the offender is some shadowy figure in the background who not enough attention is paid to. If we do not remove them, then this is just a conveyor belt. If you protect one child, they will just get another; it is a conveyor belt of children. There has to be an equal, if not bigger, focus on those who offend, and you have to develop the systems that allow you to investigate it in a whole range of ways. We do not explore the legislation on trafficking enough. There is quite a range of legislation that has not been used effectively over a number of years that we could use. It is about getting better at using the legislation available to us. I do not believe that the legislation is not fit for purpose; I just think that we do not understand it enough to use it for the benefit of this area of work.
Mr Brady: There is a myth that this is a subculture, but it is not; it is not that hidden any more. The report highlights very clearly that it is more than that. You are absolutely right: the emphasis, rightly so, should be on the victims. However, the perpetrators seem to be doing it almost at will and getting away with it.
On a final point, at a recent meeting of NEXUS, which deals with cases of sexual abuse, we were told that there are virtually no counselling facilities available for under-16s. I am sure that many young people who are being abused or exploited have nowhere to turn to. That is something that needs to be addressed as well.
Ms Taylor: That links to Mr McCarthy's earlier question about what we have to do with these young people when we know that they have suffered abuse; we need to protect them, and we need to prevent it from happening. However, if we have not prevented it from happening, then that therapeutic response, and I am not just talking about therapeutic support, which a lot of people do, I am talking about some sort of recognised programme that will help somebody to get over this in the best way they can and make the most potential of their life from that point onwards.
Mrs Marshall: In the report, we also mention adults who spoke to us who were exploited as children. They made the point strongly that the lack of support for them has made it difficult for them to protect their own children. That is another angle. We have to make sure that we support all these people.
Ms P Bradley: I agree with Michael in welcoming this report. I believe that any report, that comes before us and gets into the public domain, gets debated in Committee and in our Chamber, and that highlights the issues around child exploitation, is to be welcomed as it starts off another debate outside the Chamber and the Assembly. It starts off a debate around our dinner tables at home, in schools, in care homes or wherever it may be. That has to be welcomed.
As part of my role here, I chair two all-party groups: one is the all-party group on sexual health; the other is the all-party group on women, peace and security. The former has had several witness sessions, one of which was from the Brook advisory group. It had completed a piece of research by asking questions to the young people who were coming through their doors. The findings that came from that research were that many of those young people were being subjected to sexual exploitation; those children did not know or realise that.
Only last week, I was at a Women in Politics event in Belfast with a group of very well-educated young women who knew where they wanted to go in life and were quite politically motivated. They were in the 14-to-19 age group and from across our community. I brought up the issue of revenge porn, and they said, "Yes, that happens in our school." It was not a reaction of shock or horror, it was, "This happens, it is part of life."
I wanted to ask about the moving-on period. I agree 100%; we need to do something about this. We were speaking about elder abuse only a few weeks ago, and the fact that we needed to look at something to do with that also. I want to look at relationship and sex education in schools, which is a big issue. We do not have a robust statutory obligation to provide either sex or relationship education in our schools. From speaking to social workers in care homes and children in care, I know that there is not a statutory obligation there either. Many of our children will have parents like many of us around this table and many people I know, who can have discussions and can talk about anything. However, that does not happen in every home; it certainly does not happen in every statutory care home either. I want your opinion on that, because we need to take something forward on that. I genuinely believe that that is where we need to start; we need to teach our children about relationships. It is not even about sexual health; it is relationships. We are happy to send our daughters out the door on a Friday night and tell them to be careful, to watch what they are doing, to not let such-and-such happen, to make sure that they get a taxi home etc. However, when our sons go out, do we tell them that, if they see a girl who is in trouble or if they see a boy who is in trouble, they should get them into a taxi and get them home? Sometimes we have double standards.
Ms Taylor: You are absolutely right. This is about healthy relationships and what a healthy relationship looks like. However, I think that it goes one step further, because places that do healthy relationship education often focus on the normal heterosexual relationship and never touch or mention same-sex relationships and what a safe, healthy relationship looks like. Moreover, we often do not deliver it in a way in which somebody with a limited capacity to understand can grasp it. It is delivered in a very singular fashion, and we have to explore all ways of teaching young people about respect, about a normal healthy sexual relationship and about consent. The biggest thing is about what consent is and what coercion is, and, for many of our young people today, that is really muddled up. Therefore, I absolutely agree; it is fundamental and it should happen in every school. It should also happen in every special educational provision for young people, because there are young people who are particularly vulnerable who do not attend main-stream schools; it also needs to happen in our private schools, our academies and wherever else young people attend.
Ms P Bradley: Following on from the point that Jo-Anne made, we have the idea in our head that people who have physical or learning disabilities do not have sexual emotions or sexual feelings, which is a total nonsense. There is a whole range of people that we need to capture. However, I believe that we need to start teaching relationship advice at a young level. I am glad that you brought up the point about same-sex education, because statistics show that there is a group of young people who are being exploited because they have nobody to talk to and nowhere to turn. They need somebody older to give them that reassurance and to help them through their thoughts and feelings. We are failing our young people in so many ways.
I am encouraged by that. As a Committee, we need to take that up again. Two years ago, the Committee looked at the subject of relationships and sexual health in our schools, and we need to start and get in early with that.
Ms Taylor: But it needs to be mandatory.
Mr Houston: For the work that you are doing in the cross-party groups, I commend to you one of the supplementary work streams of the inquiry, which is the evaluation undertaken by the Education and Training Inspectorate of preventative education as part of the statutory curriculum. I read that report and was fascinated by what it told us about parental knowledge — and lack of knowledge. Like yourself, when listening to the radio recently, I heard two very articulate young ladies being interviewed about the subject, and they talked about how they kept themselves safe. There are very good mechanisms and strategies for young people to keep themselves safe in the school environment. We need to make that more widely known.
Ms P Bradley: Sorry, Chair, if you will just indulge me a little bit longer. I follow a really interesting Twitter feed called EverydaySexism, where you have people of all ages — it is generally women, and a lot of them are young girls at school — saying things like, "Today, again, I heard 10 jokes about rape" and about how funny people thought that this was. What are we teaching our young boys? What are we, as responsible adults, teaching our young boys about how to treat women and about relationships? Those young boys are going to become the young men of the future. There is so much for education to do here.
Mrs Marshall: There is. There is one other important point there. We have talked about schools delivering education, but we need to assist parents to deliver that education as an everyday drip feed in the home. That is not something that we do. Parents are very uncomfortable about it, especially if they have been victims of sexual exploitation themselves. They do not understand what is normal; they do not know how to do it. People are afraid to talk about what a healthy relationship is. Some assistance should be given to parents as well to enable them to do that in their own home as a drip feed every day. One lesson once a year is not enough; we have to talk regularly to children about what is acceptable. Consent is really important; it has to include consent.
Ms P Bradley: That is something that we can take forward in our citizenship and sexual education. We have taken it forward in my all-party group, but I know that this Committee is instrumental in taking it forward.
The next point that I want to make to you is about the other all-party group that I chair, which is on women, peace and security. We have had many witness sessions with women in Northern Ireland, albeit that those have been in closed sessions. I want to follow on a wee bit from what Fearghal was saying earlier about our organisations in Northern Ireland — and I am talking about paramilitary organisations — and about abuse that has taken place and, even more importantly, abuse that is still taking place. As any woman in this room who works along with women's groups and community groups will know, women are coming forward and telling us that this is happening. I know from some of the reports that I have heard in our media that this has not been specific. You said in an answer to Fearghal that some things had not been put across —
Mrs Marshall: We are very clear that it is something that is happening now and has to be addressed. Somebody whom we met said that there were four generations of it in her family and talked about how difficult it is to deal with when it is part of the culture and even, in some cultures, about getting status. There is a whole mixture of emotions. If you live in such a community, it is very hard for young people to know what is normal. It is very concerning.
Ms Taylor: The mechanism of it all is really quite complex. People have to understand all the different complexities to work with the community and move on.
Ms P Bradley: What was even more startling to me in what came out in some of our witness sessions was that the exploitation of children, young women and young men has got worse since we had the cease-fires in 1998.
Ms Taylor: What you have just said about our young men is really important, because there is a significant under-reporting among and recognition of young men. It is doubly hard for them to come forward if they have been made to have sex with other men. They are often perceived as having been exploring their sexuality. It may not be that at all; it may just be that they have been raped. They find it incredibly difficult to come forward and are far less likely to disclose their abuse or even to push it as far as going for a prosecution. Under-reporting from LGBT groups and young men is significant, and we have to look at that.
Ms P Bradley: Again, through relationship and sex advice in schools, you could —
Mrs Marshall: We have made a lot of recommendations about that.
Ms P Bradley: — be told, "This should not be taboo; this should not be something that you should hide from. This is something that has happened to you that was not your fault. Someone else took control of your life." It should not be a taboo subject. It should be something that we are talking about at our dinner tables at night with our children, brothers, sisters or whatever it may be. I want to thank you, because a lot of the information in your report has given me food for thought for the two all-party groups that I chair. It will help us as we move that further along. As I said before, any research or anything at all that comes out when this subject is being discussed, not only in the Assembly but outside, can only be positive. We have to welcome that.
Mrs Cameron: Thank you very much for your presentation. It was probably not the report that most of us were expecting; it maybe does not give the opportunity for political point-scoring that we expected. It really puts the issue of all types of abuse before us and shows it for what it is. There is a responsibility on each and every one of us. I have been involved locally with Women's Aid for a number of years and am well aware of the issues of abuse and the fact that most of it happens in our own homes. It is the same with elder abuse. It is people known to us and close to us; it can be carers. There are so many versions of abuse, so we should not be surprised to realise that child sexual exploitation is something that we all need to deal with. The report is very good, and we have learnt an awful lot from your presentation and your time with us today. Thank you for the very welcome work that you have done over the past year.
Paula touched on it, but you speak in the report about there being a particular dimension for Northern Ireland as regards child sexual exploitation. I am trying not to say CSE, because it kind of sounds like an exam or something not as important as it is. You say in the report:
"We heard about the threats posed by powerful individuals with links to paramilitary organisations. Communities are reluctant to report these for fear of reprisals and because they do not have confidence in the ability of the statutory authorities to respond appropriately and effectively. The fact that some offenders in the past were dealt with illegally by paramilitary organisations, means that there is no record of their offending behaviour that would link them into the protections afforded by the Sex Offenders Register and the provisions for sharing information about individuals posing a danger to children."
That paragraph looks as if it could have come directly from Maíria Cahill, which has been a very big subject. It has been good as another route to raising awareness of the subject. It is fantastic that Maíria has come forward and highlighted the issue. I know that we are talking about facts rather than figures today, but to what extent is it an issue in Northern Ireland? How big a problem is it?
Mrs Marshall: We heard that it was not just in rural areas and that there were villages that were dominated by powerful individuals. Until people start to talk about it, I do not think that you will know the extent. People will know what is happening in their own community but not necessarily what is happening in other communities. Some of the people who spoke to us were adamant that we had to speak about this. Their perception was that, if it was brought out into the open, other people would feel empowered to speak. I suppose that that is what is happening, because it is not possible to say what the extent is.
We have started a conversation on this. Members, too, have to have conversations with their communities to find out what it will take to help people to feel confident to speak up. We have also made a recommendation about statutory and voluntary agencies working with communities. Somebody talked about a meeting in their community that was held in inappropriate premises that the community did not feel confident going to. There is this whole thing about trying to do this from a position where the communities feel comfortable about it and know what will happen. We cannot answer how prevalent it is. We just know that we have had strong representations about it being almost a way of life, quite honestly.
Ms Taylor: We asked one of the organisations what percentage of its cases was represented by that model, and it was quite a small percentage. They talked about sexting, peer-on-peer pressure, the internet and social media as bigger factors.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Suffice it to say, too, that in the Minister's statement, he used the words "may cause" and may be a factor in causing.
Pages 47, 48 and 49 of your report say:
"It was not possible for the Inquiry team to accurately identify the prevalence of paramilitary influence."
"No-one who spoke to us identified CSE as a targeted activity".
I do not like that term "CSE". Again:
"there was no evidence of organised paramilitary activity".
So there are references that state that there is no direct connection. There is a sense of it.
Mrs Marshall: As we said in the report, we felt that what people said to us was persuasive and powerful; we felt that it was very credible and it came from different sources as well. One of the interesting things about this is the way in which people talked to us about it. People came to talk to us about it, but when we held meetings and gatherings with statutory and voluntary agencies, sometimes someone would mention it or put something up on the board, and it was discussed at some of our meetings. However, it was one of those things where people came up to us afterwards and said: "You have to talk about this". There were discussions about it in our meetings with the trusts, but often people would come up to us on a one-to-one basis and express their deep concern. From that point of view, that was quite a universal experience that we were having about that. They would come to us after events.
Ms Taylor: We were left with no doubt that what they were telling us was a true representation of what was happening to them in their communities.
Mrs Marshall: They told us: "People will say to you, 'Where is your evidence?'. That is what they always say"; however, the evidence in the way that people want it will not come out until people feel comfortable talking about it. At the moment, that is still a very difficult thing for them to do.
Mrs Marshall: Yes, but particularly here because they fear reprisals. People actually said to us "We would be shot". They put it as brutally as that. That is why we have been so careful about not identifying who has spoken to us, and we have been very clear that they did not give name or location.
Mrs Cameron: This is my last comment, Chair, because I know that we are well behind time. The education part of your recommendations is vital. I speak as a mother; my youngest is 18 and an adult now. There is a huge fear among parents, who may be only just getting to grips with technology. You talked about safeguarding and computers and devices; that is a scary new world. If we do not know about something, we tend to avoid it or leave it for somebody else to look after. Education is so important and, as you say, it is not just the education of the children but of the population and parents in particular, as they will have to bring children up from now on. It is getting worse. It is a different world from my childhood when we had little access to anything. As adults, we are not well experienced in these things. We need help; we need to be educated so that we can help the children of today to get through what will be very difficult years.
Mrs Marshall: Can I refer to one recommendation that has not yet been discussed? It is about involving young people in a review of youth services. We received a lot of comment about that and about what else there is for young people to do that is more attractive. They go to the party houses because it is fun. One young person said very explicitly, "Once you are 16, you get fake ID and you go to clubs. Before that you go to parties". It is the 13-, 14- or 15-year-old age group that seems to be very vulnerable. I am aware that some people regard youth services almost as a kind of frivolous icing on the cake, but it is absolutely critical.
It is not necessarily a huge investment. People have said that there is a big investment in youth services, but it is in a 1970s model. Buildings are underused, and some youth workers have said that. We have to find out from young people what services they would use if we used public funds more wisely. Not only would it be a good alternative activity, it would allow them access to youth workers. Some young people have said that maybe the youth workers could mediate with the PSNI. It is another route for relationships. I am only saying that because nobody has mentioned it and I would not like you to think that this is just the icing on the cake. It is pretty central to addressing the issue.
Ms Taylor: It goes one step further in so much as, if a child has been sexually exploited, there is a very negative stimulus around that child. There is the excitement of party houses, drugs and alcohol, but you remove the child from that position and put them somewhere else. They are then in a vacuum and you have to surround them with positive activities and experiences. You have to invest in that. Otherwise, they will be easily pulled back into that world again because there is nothing much there to support that exit from that lifestyle.
Ms McCorley: The Maíria Cahill case was raised and has been in the media for a long time, and some very salient facts and factors get lost. The most unfortunate thing is that, because those allegations were not proceeded with, it has led to a possible abuser being free before the law, because he has been declared innocent. That was unfortunate, and we do not know if that was ever going to be proven right or wrong. The relevant factor is that the alleged abuse in that case took place in a family setting, and the remit of this report largely deals with children in care and in unsafe situations beyond the home. There is a difference. It is very difficult to bring in procedures to cover the family setting. I do not know how you do that. You can bring in measures for public bodies and statutory agencies and you can give advice and all, but when it is happening in the family setting, it is more difficult and it is different.
Mrs Marshall: We are very clear that child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse, and that some of the learning from this will feed into child abuse generally. We talked about the out-of-hours issue and the need to join up the services, but we are saying that that is not just for CSE, because people might not even identify and it would not perhaps be a very good use of public resources to have one little CSE resource like that. It would be for people who have concerns and do not know what to do. So there are going to be crossovers in this.
Mr G Robinson: I will be very brief; I know that the day is getting on. I thank Kathleen and her team for the excellent presentation, and the report as well. Apart from the Maíria Cahill case, is there any record of how many perpetrators have been apprehended for this horrific crime and what jail term was handed down? My personal opinion is that anybody who is apprehended for this horrific crime should have the full rigours of the law imposed on them.
Ms Taylor: We are back to the reporting issue. Until we start collecting data efficiently against what we know to be happening, we will not have the numbers. We do not have direct numbers from this, but we are back to the fact that it is only over the last couple of years that people have understood how important it is to collect the data and that it has been sidelined everywhere.
Mrs Marshall: There is also the fact that CSE is not a specific crime. We have heard about the whole spectrum of activities that can be part of CSE. People will not have a conviction for CSE; they will have a conviction for something else. In the data collection there should be a system for flagging these things up as a CSE-related crime, even if it is prosecuted under something else. That has to be part of the data collection. That makes it difficult to say how many people have been prosecuted for CSE. We have only really got the underlying things, like trafficking. Also, sometimes when they have a number of charges they will prosecute on the basis of the most important one, and the ones underneath do not actually get flagged up. Maybe one of those is grooming. There is a whole issue about how the system can actually make sure that the information comes through and is flagged up, even if it is not a specific crime.
Ms Taylor: It is very much the Al Capone method: get them for tax evasion, if you cannot get them for anything else.
Mr G Robinson: In my honest opinion, they should be made an example of.
Mrs Marshall: They should. I think the bit about making Northern Ireland a hostile environment for people who exploit children is a very strong point, making it clear that it is being taken very seriously here and that people will address it.
The Chairperson (Ms Maeve McLaughlin): Folks, thank you. It has been a useful discussion. You have been very honest and generous with your findings and your time. It is somewhat outside your remit, Professor Marshall, but it remains of concern to me that these issues have been flagged up for a considerable time in advance of the report, by your own admission today, which may have put more children at risk of exploitation or abuse. I thank you for your time today.
Mrs Marshall: Thanks very much, Chair and members.