Thames Valley Police is not effectively investigating child neglect and abuse cases, a police watchdog has said.

The examination by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) took place in May 2023 looking into the effectiveness of the police's approach to child protection in 70 cases.

The force's child protection practice was assessed as good in 19 cases, requiring improvement in 16 cases and inadequate in 35 cases.

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In response to the report, Thames Valley Police said it had taken "significant steps" in response.

Inspectors looked into how children held in custody were treated and the strategic structuring of the force relating to its child protection services.

These include child-centred investigations, efficient tackling of domestic abuse, appropriate use of custody and well-judged decisions around a child's safety.

The most concerning revelation was the neglect of child interviews in domestic abuse cases which wasn’t adequately challenged by management.

One example in the report revealed how a father of a four-year-old contacted the police about concerns for the welfare of his son, who lived with his ex-partner. The police systems showed a previous call had been made three days earlier, reporting domestic abuse.

An officer spoke to the father on the telephone four days later. But officers didn’t see or speak with the child and didn’t visit the home address.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “During our inspection, we found that Thames Valley Police has a committed and dedicated workforce, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances.  

“While we found some areas of effective practice, we also saw inconsistent practices and decision-making.  In too many cases we examined, children weren’t being seen, their voices weren’t heard, and they weren’t being appropriately protected by the force.

“Thames Valley Police needs to ensure that its commitment to improving the service leads to better results, and it provides a consistently good service for all children.

“We have made a range of recommendations which, if acted on, will help improve outcomes for children. We will continue to work closely with the force to monitor its progress.”

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Thames Valley Police must provide an action plan within six weeks of the publication of the report setting out how it intends to respond to the inspection recommendations.

Matthew Barber, police and crime commissioner for the Thames Valley, said: "I am committed to the protection of children and vulnerable people and I recognise the effective practices that are being delivered by Thames Valley Police to keep children safe. 

Witney Gazette: Matthew Barber, police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley Matthew Barber, police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley

“It is clear from HMICFRS’s Child Protection Inspection however that areas of improvement are required to ensure Thames Valley Police is providing a consistent service to its communities.

“The protection of children is of the most serious of issues and any potential weaknesses in systems need to be closely examined. 

"I will be exploring the recommendations made by the Inspectorate in more detail and monitoring their implementation with the chief constable.”

Deputy chief constable Ben Snuggs said: “We have carefully reviewed the findings of the National Child Protection Inspection report released by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) on November 7 and we take its conclusions seriously.

"We appreciate the efforts made by HMICFRS to provide this comprehensive insight into our Child Protection practices across Thames Valley.

"We are pleased the report recognised the determination and dedication of officers and staff to develop innovative practice and a positive child-focused culture within the organisation.

“Since the inspection in May, we have taken significant steps to address the concerns and recommendations highlighted in the report and we are fully committed to making the further necessary changes to address the areas for improvement diligently and expeditiously.

“We will continue to build upon our strong collaborative relationships with key partners to ensure TVP practices adhere to the highest standards of quality and integrity and we remain resolute in our commitment to place victims at the centre of our work and improving our service.”