Northants Police has been told it needs to make more progress before it can offer assurance that children at risk in the county are being adequately protected.
In January, as part of a pilot inspection of child protection arrangements in Northamptonshire, the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that Northamptonshire Police was not giving sufficient priority to the protection of children in the county.
The pilot found that child protection arrangements in Northamptonshire were wholly inadequate.
A further inspection by HMIC in March found the force had developed a plan for how it would improve its approach to child protection.
But, there were still concerns and HMIC considered that more progress should have been made.
The most recent revisit by HMIC in June found that the force had made extensive changes, investing significantly in child protection and developing a comprehensive plan designed to ensure the required improvements are made.
However, HMIC concluded it is too early to say whether the force is doing enough to properly protect children at risk within the county.
The inspection in January identified that the force was not allocating enough resources to child protection, and staff had received insufficient training in how to safeguard children.
HMIC found unacceptable delays in sharing information about children at risk with other agencies and that police officers were not recognising potential risk to children when they attended incidents.
They were also failing to make referrals to either police child protection specialists or to other agencies such as children’s social care.
HMIC immediately engaged with the force to establish what remedial action it would put in place to address the issues raised.
HMIC will continue to monitor the force and will carry out a full re-inspection of child protection arrangements in October 2013 to assess if the force has made improvements and if this can be sustained.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said: “Our inspection in January found that Northamptonshire Police was not giving sufficient priority to the protection of children in the county.
“We found that child protection arrangements were wholly inadequate, and that children at risk within the county were not being properly protected by the police and other agencies. This is simply unacceptable.
“Following our initial inspection, the force recognised changes needed to be made and our revisit in March found they had developed a plan tackle the issue.
“The force has demonstrated it is taking child safeguarding seriously. But there is still much to do before it can offer assurance that children at risk are being adequately protected. We will return to the force in October to inspect what progress has been made.”
Northamptonshire police commissioner Adam Simmonds says improvement is still needed in the police’s performance on child protection.
Mr Simmonds said: “I was disappointed to read the HMIC follow up report concerning June’s re-inspection of Northamptonshire police child protection arrangements.
“I know how hard many people in the police have been working and how many significant improvements have been made in child protection.
“But the HMIC report states that they cannot offer assurance that children at risk are being adequately protected.
“So, given the possible vulnerability of potential victims, I have asked the chief constable to ensure that we have the right people, doing the right things, to get the right pace into progress.
“I am therefore looking to the chief constable to build on the good work already done over recent months, and achieve an improved standard of service in respect of all policing aspects of safeguarding children for the re-inspection by HMIC in October.”
Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster, who has recently joined Northamptonshire Police, has assumed responsibility for ensuring the delivery of the recommendations set out in the report.
He said the county force has fully embraced the recommendations and he has provided an unequivocal commitment to working with partners to ensure that the appropriate structures, staffing and processes are implemented to maximise the protection of children at risk across the county.
The initial inspection by the inspectorate “alarmed” Northamptonshire Police, Mr Foster, and the force immediately responded to concerns.
He added: “I am confident that the joint action plan will ensure that each of the recommendations made will be delivered prior to the anticipated re-inspection by HMIC in the autumn of 2013.
“However, any transformational change takes time to fully embed and work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“I will take personal responsibility for continually monitoring and reviewing progress to maximise opportunities to protect children at risk living in our communities.”