Child protection initiatives of Cleveland Police have had mixed results according to a report by the force’s watchdog.
The police force’s policies and procedures were inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in May last year.
It found the force had a widely recognised ‘clear and unequivocal commitment’ to protecting vulnerable children.
But inspectors noted it needed to take action to strengthen safeguarding, some of it urgently, to protect children most at risk.
Failures included poor supervision and record-keeping that had undermined decision-making and safeguarding measures in a ‘significant’ number of cases.
The inspectorate has now published an updated report after reviewing the force’s progress.
It says while the force has implemented new measures to address previous failings, it is too early to tell if some are helping children get the support and protection they need.
Cleveland Police say it is committed to protecting children, but add they can only do so much with their limited resources.
Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said children in custody are now treated better and the force takes on board the views of children affected by domestic abuse.
He said: “It has shown a genuine commitment to do better, introducing its own child protection case audits to keep track of its own performance.
“That said, there are some areas where the force has made slow progress. For instance, Cleveland Police has introduced new guidance to help officers respond appropriately to missing children incidents.
“But when we looked at eight cases involving missing children, we found the force’s response was inadequate.
“Cleveland Police immediately took steps to address our concerns and take corrective action.
“Whilst encouraging, and I welcome the force’s willingness to respond to our feedback, it is too soon to be confident these new processes are having a positive impact on outcomes for children.”
A new priority system intended to speed up response times in domestic abuse cases produced a backlog of almost 500 cases in its first three weeks.
Mr Gormley added: “The force accepts it has more work to do and is striving to improve.
“With this in mind, I am confident that Cleveland Police is making every effort to enhance the service it provides to vulnerable children.”
Cleveland Police Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin said: “We have dealt with over 6,500 cases of children and young people who have been reported missing since early 2017 with each case having individual complexities and needing varying degrees of specialist resource.
“Our staff and officers are committed to safeguarding our children; however they can only go so far due to the limited resources that we have available to us.
“There are increasing demands upon the Force around child protection and safeguarding matters, however we do not work in isolation and it is a partner agency responsibility.”
He added the force is going through ‘substantial change’ to better manage demands on it, including removing two ranks within its structure and is quickly streamlining processes.
He said: “We also launched a Missing from Home Improvement Team to audit cases and share learning.
“The Inspectorate identified that we are going in the right direction and this is reflected in the report.”