By Mary Glasgow

LAST week the news headlines were once again dominated by the horrific failure of both police and social work in Manchester to adequately protect dozens of children, who had been identified as being groomed and sexually abused by gangs of men.

The children who were failed include a 15-year-old girl who died of a drugs overdose after being repeatedly raped and injected with heroin by a man who was 35 years older than her. The stories of what children went through are shocking. What is even more shocking, is that while the perpetrators of such abuse operated in what the report describes as “ plain sight”, very few of them were brought to justice.

As someone who has worked to protect children for 30 years the report makes devastating reading. It is also a wake-up call, which challenges us all to ask how we can do better for children.

In 2014 following the scandals in Rochdale and Manchester, the Scottish Government published a national action plan to prevent child sexual exploitation. A great deal of work is being done to ensure police, social workers, teachers and other professionals can identify this form of sexual abuse. What was once seen as young women with older boyfriends is now increasingly recognised as vulnerable children being sexually exploited by older men.

But one of the most troubling aspects of the Manchester review remains the failure to bring the abusive men to justice. While the circumstances are different, the failure to bring abusers to justice is not new. For almost a decade now, the failure of systems and society to respond to historic child abuse in show business, in institutions and in sport have repeatedly made the headlines.

And, what we hear at Children 1st is that even when children’s cases do get to court, the experience of giving evidence can be more traumatic for a child than the abuse they suffered. Our current systems are not only broken, they are breaking children.

If children are to get the protection, support to recover and justice, which they tell us they want, and which more importantly is their right, we need to fundamentally transform our systems.

At Children 1st our ambition is that when a child discloses abuse the system will wrap their arms around that child to keep them safe from further harm, get them justice and help them to heal.

That’s why we are working with the Scottish Government, police, judiciary, health and child protection to exploring a more joined-up system of support, which places children at its centre, based on the Scandinavian approach, known as Barnahus or Child’s House.

The Barnahus, first developed in Iceland, brings all the services child victims and witnesses need together under one roof. It ensures that the best evidence is collected through a single pre-recorded interview, that serves the needs of the courts, as well as police, health and social work. It also ensures that the most appropriate support is put in place in the short and long term for children and their families, so that they can repair from the terrible things that have happened to them.

There is a shared commitment from the Scottish Government and leaders in the justice system to develop the Barnahus here. The wake-up call to us from Manchester is to accelerate the pace of change, so that every child can heal.

Mary Glasgow is Chief Executive, Children 1st