The Government has been accused of a “scandalous” response to the need for cash to pay for the counselling Rotherham’s child sexual exploitation victims need, after it emerged those who ask for help are now being put on waiting lists of up to six months.
That situation may get worse as more victims and survivors are identified as a result of Operation Stovewood, the policing investigation sparked by the CSE situation, which is still ongoing and involves around 200 investigators, councillors have been told.
An application for £600,000 to help cover the costs was rejected by the Government late last year and although a meeting has recently taken place in the town involving several Government departments, the local authority is still awaiting responses about how much money they might be awarded in future.
The long term need for counselling was underestimated when current financial plans were put in place, which means spending has been reduced while the demand has remained present, leading to the waiting lists.
But the current funding arrangements will end next year and it is unclear what will happen after that point, though the council insists the need is too great for it absorb the cost without Government assistance.
Deputy leader Coun Gordon Watson said: “The lack of funding for this is nothing short of scandalous from central Government.
“Successive Governments have been good with warm words but have not come forwards with any help.”
The £600,000 bid rejected by the Government was “In central Government spending a very small amount of money. They know it is a major issue.
“Sooner or later, they need to put their money where their mouth is.
“If Stovewood increases, we could end up with more (victims) than we are aware of. It is nothing short of scandalous it has got this far.
“The Government gave us commissioners to come up with advice and this advice came from Malcolm Newson.”
He had told the Government: “This was not ‘business as usual’, it cannot come from normal budgets,” said Coun Watson.
Councillors have been told by Sean Hill, a council worker involved in commissioning the current counselling arrangements: “There is a high number of people on waiting lists and we appreciate that is not acceptable.
“It has an impact on those who have built up the courage to come forwards. We have looked at actions to mitigate that,” he said, which involved trying to find alternative services which would be suitable.
“You can see the scale of what we are dealing with. Add in the demand from Stovewood and it is difficult to see how the council will find the resources, it really is.”
Coun Maggi Clark told a meeting of Rotherham Council’s Improving Lives Board, which heard details of the situation: “It is an absolute travesty for the people of Rotherham that we don’t have that money.
“I don’t think we have a real picture of the scale of demand out there.”
Council staff have been working with the organisations involved in providing counselling for CSE victims, which is open to anyone affected, to try to ensure there is a co-ordinated approach in future.
Existing contracts were due to end in early 2019, after three years, but have been extended until next September to provide time for new arrangements to be organised and put in place to replace them.
It has been acknowledged that the finances for the current arrangement, with reduced spending each year on the assumption of reduced need, provided too little flexibility to cope with the reality of the situation.
More work could be done with potential perpetrators of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham as the town’s authorities struggle to ensure communities are kept safe from the threat.
A programme called ReachOut has been run by Barnardo’s and that has provided education for thousands of children on healthy relationships across many of the town’s schools, with the value of that work currently under evaluation.
The scale of that work vastly outweighs what has been done to tackle those who could be responsible for grooming and abusing children, however, and Sean Hill told councillors: “I think we have recognised there has been a bit of a gap around the perpetrator side.
“We will be including that in our ‘needs analysis’, going forwards. I would like to think we can start to build up more knowledge and evidence as to what works around perpetrator programmes. There is a perpetrator programme in Rotherham and we need to build on that.”