Sheffield has been reassured it is not facing a Rotherham-style child sex exploitation scandal after new figures revealed more than 200 city children were at risk of abuse.
A new report praising city agencies for their efforts in tackling the crime revealed today that 213 children in Sheffield were recorded as being at risk from sexual exploitation in the last 12 months – a 150 per cent increase on the previous year.
Referrals to the city’s specialist sexual exploitation service increased from 85 in 2012/13 to 213 in 2013/14.
Of those referred last year, 52 were classified as being at ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk of being abused.
The figures were revealed in a new report commissioned by the Sheffield Council in the wake of the Jay report, which exposed the abuse of 1,400 children – largely by men of Pakistani descent – in neighbouring Rotherham over a 16-year-period.
The report, carried out by Dr Kathryn Houghton of Safer Outlook Consulting, found the strategies of Sheffield agencies in tackling grooming problems are ‘breaking new ground’ and ahead of other cities and towns in dealing with the issue.
Ordered in direct response to the shocking findings of the Jay report which uncovered the ‘blatant failures’ of police and council bosses in Rotherham to tackle grooming, it said neighbouring Sheffield was more ‘advanced’ in its attempts to deal with the crime.
While Professor Jay uncovered years of inaction by councillors and senior managers in Rotherham, as well as failures to confront the Pakistani backgrounds of many abusers, Dr Houghton reported an ‘ethos of questioning and professional challenge’ from city councillors.
She said: “Although geographical neighbours, there are a number of significant differences between Sheffield and Rotherham.
“Sheffield has a history and evidence of being willing to tackle and confront difficult issues, regardless of any gender or ethnicity implications.
“Sheffield councillors represent and advocate for all the community and act as gateways to reach out to ethnic minority groups.”
Her report also found the Sheffield’s sexual exploitation service’s current practices ‘strongly comply’ with recommendations made to Rotherham Council in the Jay report.
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Jayne Ludlam, Sheffield Council’s executive director of children, young people and families, said the increase in referrals over the past year could be put down to increased awareness of sexual exploitation issues and improved staff training.
She said: “We are viewing it as a positive. It is more people coming forward asking for help, advice and support.
“There is an increased awareness, locally and nationally.”