Police chiefs have been given just six weeks to improve the way that children are protected in South Yorkshire.
The warning comes in a critical report published today, just weeks after the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham was laid bare.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has set the strict deadline for South Yorkshire Police following an inspection of child protection work undertaken by officers.
It labelled the force as ‘inconsistent’ in its approach to protecting the vulnerable, pointing out ‘not all children receive the standard of treatment they deserve’.
The findings, published today, come just five weeks after a damning report found 1,400 children in Rotherham were sexually abused by largely Pakistani heritage men.
The abuse occurred over a 16-year period while authorities turned a blind eye because of sensitivities over the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
Today’s report claims the force is ‘prioritising child protection and has made some good progress’ but lists a series of improvements it must make or face another inspection.
Inspectors found the level of protection children receive depends on where they live, with ‘shortcomings’ in the protection of children in care homes one of the issues flagged up.
They found there was ‘limited understanding of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children’.
Inspectors also described the force approach to tackling child sexual exploitation as ‘inconsistent,’ with improvements called for in Barnsley and Doncaster.
Dru Sharpling, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: “The force is clearly prioritising child protection and has made some good progress, particularly in cases where concerns about children have been clearly identified at the outset.
“We are concerned force practice is inconsistent so not all children receive the standard of treatment they deserve. More must be done to improve the care of children in custody.
“We were also concerned about the lack of understanding of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children, and shortcomings in the protection of children in care.
“We encourage the force to address our concerns as a matter of urgency, and have asked that within six weeks it provides us with a plan on how it intends to act on our recommendations.”