And with a Head of Children’s and Young People’s Directorate, Andrew Webb, with views like these what chance have kids got?

“Care home girl abused by 25 men in 2 years


Last updated at 11:32 27 August 2006

A 14-year-old girl placed in a council children’s home was prostituted to a group of depraved middle-aged men because staff were powerless to stop her going out.

The horrific story of ‘Becky’ is highlighted in a BBC programme presented by Fiona Bruce this week which reveals how she was sexually abused by 25 men over two years – despite being known to social services and having been placed on the Child Protection Register.

Even when she was put in a children’s home – six months after her earliest allegations of abuse -staff allowed her to be used as a prostitute for fear their intervention might infringe her human rights.

The investigation has been drawn from her case notes. The local authority cannot be named in case it identifies the child, now 16, and living with a foster family.

Initially, Becky went to the police claiming she had been sexually abused by her stepfather – but they said there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

She then sought solace at the home of one of her mother’s friends.

But even when police and social services became aware the woman’s boyfriend was a registered sex offender, with a predilection for underage girls, they did nothing to remove Becky.

Only after she complained she had been raped by the man and then turned to drink and drugs and began to self harm – slashing her wrists – did social services move her to a children’s home.

There, however, Becky was allowed to run riot – even being picked up from outside by a man 22 years her senior who forced her to have sex with him and his friends.

Becky absconded from the home 36 times and confided in a staff member what was happening to her – yet at no time was any recommendation made to place her in a secure unit, or restrain her from going out on the streets.

One staff member at the children’s home was concerned, but the case notes reveal she was told by colleagues she was powerless to restrain the teenager. The staff worker, who has since resigned, took the notes to the BBC.

Andrew Webb, director of the Association of Social Services, when confronted with the findings of the investigation, defended the actions of Becky’s carers.

He said: ‘We are bound by regulation not to curtail young people’s liberty – they have rights. Human rights. The issue isn’t one of the care home – it’s an issue of the men who are prepared to have sex with children and pay money to have sex with children.

‘The law takes the balance of civil liberties and human rights and says there has to be a really strong case… (to restrain a child).

‘The law prevents an ordinary community children’s home from locking the doors and preventing children leaving…if you wanted to…prevent a young person from being sexually exploited in conditions that you’re describing then you’d have to apply for a secure accommodation order.’

But Liz Davies, senior lecturer in Social Work at London Metropolitan University, who has been involved in many investigations of child abuse, says Becky was let down by a crumbling social services system.

She said: ‘Becky told a wide range of professionals over many months that she was suffering sexual and physical harm from abusers in her family as well as by strangers and known child sex abusers.

‘At every stage it appears the authorities were letting Becky take responsibility for her problems, rather than trying to help her defeat them.

‘She was expected to pull herself away from the most terrifying number of serious sexual predators – a network of abusers from the way she spoke.

‘That’s pretty scary for a 14-yearold child and is symptomatic of a system which is being run down by Government policies.

‘It is becoming a disaster. There are too many performance targets which say every child should be monitored by the local authority rather than focusing on those most likely to be abused or who are being abused.

‘Removing the Child Protection Register – which will happen by 2008 – effectively cuts spending but at what cost?

‘The focus is being taken away from detecting paedophiles and child abusers outside the family.

‘There were viable and valuable systems in place which involved all the agencies liaising to investigate whether abuse was taking place –and then dealing with it.

‘But these appear to be being ignored, or not being put into place – the consequences are that more children like Becky will slip through the net.’

Becky’s shocking story is symptomatic of widespread sexual exploitation of troubled young runaways, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s – which says up to 100 ‘Beckys’ are fleeing to the streets of Britain every week.

A spokesman said: ‘Every year we are helping 2,000 young people who are being exploited in this way across the UK.

‘And that is only in small pockets where we have enough money to help. So you can imagine the numbers of young people at risk who are not getting the help they need.’