Child abuse report criticises South Yorkshire Police
Children in care homes were left vulnerable to abuse because of "shortcomings" by South Yorkshire Police, a report has found.
The HMIC investigation was carried out in May - just months before a report found 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham.
It also criticised South Yorkshire Police for "unnecessarily" holding children in custody overnight.
But inspectors praised recent progress made by the force.
HMIC said in some cases, officers interviewed children sensitively, pursued evidence from a range of sources and made detailed searches of homes and computers.
South Yorkshire Police welcomed the inspectors' recommendations and said inconsistencies highlighted by the report about the force's response to child sexual exploitation were being addressed.
Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee said steps being taken to address the issues included:
- A central unit for referrals relating to children
- Multi-agency teams in every district
- A liaison officer to engage with children in care in Doncaster
- Polygraph (lie-detector) tests for known sex offenders
- More information about child sex offenders and domestic abuse shared with the public
ACC Lee said: "We've certainly got some things wrong. We need to make sure victims are supported so they have the confidence and courage to come forward."
She said if the police force found evidence appropriate action had not been taken by South Yorkshire officers, it would be dealt with "properly and robustly."
HMIC inspectors were concerned by an incident where police and social workers dismissed possible sexual injuries to a four-year-old girl as eczema.
In another case, police failed to investigate men who had allegedly given drugs to a girl in exchange for sex.
'More must be done'
HMIC found that while some investigations were thorough, other cases of missing children resulted in little police activity and no search for suspects.
"We are concerned that force practice is inconsistent so not all children receive the standard of treatment they deserve," said Dru Sharpling, of the HM Inspector of Constabulary.
Children in care were found to be particularly vulnerable. One 13-year-old girl was found, with condoms, at the home of a sex offender.
There was no record of social services or her parents being notified, or of any inquiries about the man at whose home she was found, the report said.
Children in care were sometimes found to have breached bail and were placed in custody, often "unnecessarily", investigators found.
Ms Sharpling said: "More must be done to improve the care of children in custody."
The force was "clearly prioritising child protection" and had "made some good progress", he added.
Christine Empson, divisional manager for Victim Support in South Yorkshire, said children in Rotherham who were sexually exploited were "badly let down for a long time".
"Improvements have been made to the extent that police in Rotherham were not singled out in this inspection.
"But clearly more needs to be done across the county, and the country, to make sure the same mistakes are never repeated," she said.