Too many children in England are still “slipping through the net” and remain at risk of sexual abuse, a report says.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner report found there had been “considerable” progress in some areas of tackling child exploitation.
But “at the front line much work is still needed,” said Deputy Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, who headed the inquiry.
A Home Office spokesman said it was “determined that appalling cases be exposed” but said “more must be done”.
The latest report, called “If it’s not better, it’s not the end”, follows an Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, which was launched in October 2011.
The inquiry published six reports and made 37 recommendations.
Rates of exploitation
The OCC’s follow-up report has raised concerns about the level of progress in some areas, along with the continued “under-identification” of victims.
It said it was “worrying” that the inquiry’s recommendation to make sex education a statutory part of the curriculum had not been adopted by the government.
The report also found “vastly different” reported rates of child sexual exploitation in different parts of England.
In nine local authorities – all with similar demographics and deprivation levels – the rates of known exploitation varied between one victim and 65 victims per 10,000 children.
The report highlighted concerns that too many children at risk of becoming victims or who are already victims are not being identified.
Only 48% of local Safeguarding Children Boards said they had identified victims.
“There are still many parts of England where the identification of victims remains very low, despite the evidence we published that there are children in every part of England who are at risk or who are victims,” the report said.
Strategic objectives had not always filtered down to “front-line practice”, while information sharing between different agencies “remains a problem”, it added.
Sex education call
The report comes after abuse scandals in areas including Rotherham, where it was reported that 1,400 children were abused between 1997 and 2013.
“Organisations and authorities responsible for children’s safety must also not ignore the lessons from our inquiry, reinforced powerfully by findings in Rotherham and elsewhere,” said Ms Berelowitz.
“It is absolutely critical that they have in place ways of identifying the children who at risk or are already victims and ensuring their safety.”
She also called for “age-appropriate relationships and sex education” to be made a statutory part of the school curriculum.
“Young people need to understand what are and what are not healthy relationships,” she said.
Separately, the Commons Education Committee has said in a report that all state primary and secondary schools in England should have to teach sex-and-relationships education (SRE).
A Home Office spokesman said the government was “determined that appalling cases be exposed so that perpetrators face justice” and “vulnerable children and young people are protected”.
“We have a new, tougher inspection framework for children’s services and the College of Policing has introduced new guidance for police which moves the focus of investigations away from the credibility of victims on to the credibility of the allegation,” the spokesman said.
Home Secretary Theresa May has written to chief constables stressing “the highest standards must be met”, while plans to address “accountability, leadership and action” to support victims will be published shortly.
However, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper MP said “in too many cases” children were not being listened to, victims were not being protected and abusers were not prosecuted.