AUTHORITIES in Oxfordshire have been praised for their reforms to tackle child sexual exploitation in the wake of the Bullfinch child abuse scandal.

Following a serious case review into how seven men – who were jailed for a minimum of 95 years - were allowed to groom, sexually abuse and prostitute six young girls in Oxford, child protection specialist Sophie Humphreys was asked by the Government to oversee a further report of what progress had been made to tackle the issue.

This was after the serious case review exposed how authorities – principally the police and Oxfordshire County Council's children's services – ignored warning signs and failed to understand how grooming gangs worked until 2011.

More on Operation Bullfinch

The new report, published this morning, says there has been “good progress” in tackling child sexual exploitation but also identifies five key areas for improvement.

They include calls for better regulation of taxis transporting children, profiling of people who sexually abuse children, and much improved therapy services for former victims of child sexual exploitation.

In her accompanying report published this morning, Ms Humphrey’s said there had been “solid progress made in how child sexual exploitation is understood and responded to in Oxfordshire” and that she had “witnessed no complacency”.

But she agreed there was still a need for improvement, particularly with how thousands of children were transported in taxis every day and “are in contact, usually alone, with predominantly adult males”.

She added: “This is not vilifying taxi drivers as a profession. It is about having the necessary oversight.”

Ms Humphreys also raised concerns about therapy provided for young adults who were victims of child sexual exploitation, which she said was currently “sparse, and often not adequate”, and called for those who carried out the sexual abuse of children to be profiled.

She added: “Tackling child sexual exploitation is undoubtedly complex and the clear focus of the OSCB and partners in making sure the local response is robust, is absolutely the right thing to do.

“Practitioners across the system must remain alert, anticipating and expecting the ‘unexpected’ in whatever guise child abuse presents itself.”

Ms Humphreys’ findings came after the 114-page serious case review exposed how the authorities – principally the police and Oxfordshire County Council's children's services – ignored warning signs and failed to understand how grooming gangs worked until 2011.

That report, published in March, also revealed more than 360 Oxfordshire youngsters were suspected to have been abused or in danger of being groomed.

Speaking in the House of Commons afterwards, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced Ms Humphreys’ appointment and said the new assessment would “gather the evidence on the effect of reforms to front-line practice.”

This morning the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board (OSCB) has published its review in full and Ms Humphreys’ own commentary has been released alongside it.

Maggie Blyth, chairwoman of OSBC, said: “The partnership in Oxfordshire has moved a long way together to address the problem of child sexual exploitation, identify collective solutions and produce some tangible evidence of impact.

“The stocktake report also describes the need to continue to prevent abuse and exploitation and notes there are five areas in particular that require further work.

“These include the regulation and use of taxis; a greater understanding of who the perpetrators of CSE are; and the commissioning of services to provide help and therapy for children into adulthood.

“Oxfordshire County Council has set a high bar for ensuring the children it is responsible for are transported safely, but maintaining such standards requires robust oversight.

“District councils as licensing authorities need to share information about drivers, delegate enforcement powers and require taxi drivers to complete safeguarding training as part of any knowledge test.

“Likewise, NHS organisations and adult social care need to work together to make sure that similar approaches to supporting victims of abuse, as those used in the Kingfisher team, are made available to adults who disclose historic abuse.

“And above all Thames Valley Police with the support of the partnership needs to continue to investigate and bring the men who commit these crimes to justice.’’

In May 2013 seven men arrested as part of Operation Bullfinch were convicted at the Old Bailey of child sexual offences against young girls in Oxford.

The offences dated back to 2006 and the men received sentences totalling 95 years.

TVP Superintendent Christian Bunt said: "In recent years there has been a significant amount of progress in the way we prevent, identify, disrupt and investigate child sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire and across the Thames Valley.

"As LPA commander for Oxford City and chairman of the OSCB Child Sexual Exploitation sub group, I welcome the findings of the report (opens new window), which recognises the solid progress made by Thames Valley Police and our partners and accept its recommendations.

“Child sexual exploitation is and will remain a local and force wide priority.

“My officers and staff deliver focused work with schools, business and the wider community to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation.

“Our operational policing is based on intelligence about children who may be vulnerable to this form of abuse, suspected perpetrators and potential hot spot locations.

“In Oxfordshire, we have a dedicated unit, the Kingfisher team, where police officers, social workers and health and education professionals work together to encourage victims to come forward, provide them with support and identify and prosecute offenders.

“This approach has led to us bringing more perpetrators to justice.

“There will always be more work to do in this important area and we will continue to work tirelessly to tackle child sexual exploitation in order to safeguard victims and bring the men who commit these crimes to justice.

“I would encourage victims of child sexual exploitation to come forward and speak to us. We will listen to you and support you. It is the courage of victims that helps us to successfully bring offenders to justice.”

In a joint statement the leaders of Oxford’s four district councils, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council said they were working to develop a better system for transporting children and young adults around the county.

Matthew Barber, John Cotton, Ian Hudspeth, Barry Norton, Bob Price and Barry Wood said their councils were working with the police after transporting young people was highlighted as an important safeguarding issue by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board’s report into child sexual exploitation.

Their statement said: “A working group over seen by OSCB has already been set up to develop a single, county-wide approach for vetting taxi drivers and proprietors and other transport providers, as well as introducing compulsory training for all drivers.

“Our aim is for every driver and every escort to have completed all the necessary assessments, vetting and safeguarding training as a condition of receiving his or her licence.

“It is important to stress that this approach is not about placing blame on taxi drivers.

“However it is vitally important that we have a robust system that reduces the risk of unsafe drivers obtaining licences.”

Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said: "No child should ever suffer this horrific abuse. So many important lessons have been learned across the UK, and this momentum must continue. There is no room for complacency as perpetrators continue to be prosecuted for sexually exploiting children.

"Everything possible must be done to protect children from manipulative sexual predators, to stop this crime happening in the first place. But if a child does become prey to sexual exploitation, having the right specialist support in place can stop abuse sooner.”