Inevitably the finger will point at those in high authority (and this is always right - if you doubt this read Lord Carrington's letter) but there is, for me, a much deeper malaise in social services. Perhaps it relates to the way in which social workers are taught or trained - my feeling is that the left wing sociology dominating social work courses, a sort of Heinz Kiosk "we are all guilty" approach, has contributed. But there's no doubt we have a problem and the Serious Case Review into grooming and abuse in Oxford reminds us (it should also remind us that the problem isn't party political - Oxfordshire has a Tory leadership after all):
Blyth said that from 2005-10 there was sufficient knowledge about the girls, drugs and prostitution and their association with adult men to have generated a rigorous and strategic response from police and social workers.
This knowledge included many “worrying” warning signs over a number of years involving more than one girl, multiple alleged perpetrators, who were usually Pakistani, and a strong association with children in care. But this was not passed on to the highest levels of management or acted upon until 2011, when police and social services finally started to piece together the organised grooming and sexual exploitation.
So for perhaps as long as six years, social workers in Oxford simply allowed what was happening to carry on. The abuse was in front of their eyes but was not seen as a problem worth reporting to senior management. This may be true but it must raise serious questions about supervision, management and appraisal within Oxfordshire social services. And at the heart of this is a culture that - as the report makes clear - tolerated under age sex and seemed not to understand that, in UK law, having sex with a minor is always a crime.
However, the fundamental problem here is that authorities simply believed there was nothing that either could - or in some cases even needed to - be done:
The fact that scores of professionals from numerous disciplines, and tens of organisations or departments, took a long time to recognise CSE, used language that appeared at least in part to blame victims and see them as adults, and had a view that little could be done in the face of ‘no cooperation’ demonstrates that the failures were common to organisational systems.
The shock of the public at failings of this sort has begun to change how local authorities view child sexual exploitation and, in particular, the situation where that exploitation involved girls in their mid-teens. Every example of street grooming throws up the same limitations - girls making complaints then withdrawing them, other girls denying there's any problem and the police or social services not following through where they know the situation is exploitative.
In the end (which is the point Lord Carrington made) accountability is absolute. But this means that political leadership in social services needs to be clear - it isn't because successive national governments and the social work profession has undermined it - and prepared to challenge the decision-making of professionals. I don't think, for example, that the leadership of Oxfordshire County Council would consider underage sex as something to be tolerated, to be understood, yet that is precisely the view taken by those acting on that leadership's authority.
The problem in the police is less clear. The move to Police and Crime Commissioners should act in time to make accountability clearer but the situation remains that the police are simply not accountable - in corporate terms - for their operation decisions. We have seen local councillors in Rotherham resigning. Senior council officers resigning. The elected police and crime commissioners for South Yorkshire (eventually) resigned. Yet not one senior police officer in the South Yorkshire force has gone despite so many of the poor decisions and service failures landing at that force's door.
This situation is a reminder of what you get - and let this be a warning to NHS campaigners - when you allow public services to operate without effective political scrutiny. Yet this is the reality across many of our locally delivered services - there is either no realistic scrutiny or else (as with response to child sexual exploitation) scrutiny is simply not possible or even allowed.