A top Home Office troubleshooter has been parachuted in to get to grips with child abuse after a number of shocking cases in which local agencies failed youngsters.
But Home Office director general of crime and policing Stephen Rimmer says all of society now needed to play its part in tackling problems like trafficking, online grooming and domestic abuse.
Mr Rimmer stressed the level of child abuse in the West Midlands was no worse than anywhere else, but praised the political leadership for recognising that they need a coordinated response to deal with it.
His appointment, which will oversee communication between councils, police and other agencies, is the first of its kind in the UK and he will be on secondment in the West Midlands for two years.
Serious case reviews into child deaths such as those of Coventry boy Daniel Pelka and Birmingham toddler Keanu Williams have highlighted the lack of communication between social services, police, schools, nurseries and health services.
Mr Rimmer aims to encourage greater reporting of abuse, and hopes that cultural changes after the Savile scandal will see more people come forward.
A “180-degree turn” in Crown Prosecution Service attitudes after the Rochdale grooming scandal means vulnerable children are now more likely to be believed and seen as credible witnesses, he said.
“We can’t get into a situation where people say nothing because they believe no one will pick it up. All the agencies are determined to do these things in a different manner,” said Mr Rimmer.
“All forms of violence perpetrated by people in power against people who are vulnerable are under-reported. All child abuse, domestic violence against partners or children, child sexual exploitation, trafficking or forced marriage involve people being picked on because they are vulnerable.”
Studies suggest the 15,000 domestic violence cases reported in the West Midlands each year account for about ten per of the real total, and Mr Rimmer believes a similar conclusion could be made about the 1,000 child abuse cases, especially as three-quarters of those happen in a family setting.
“These types of crime are systemically under-reported,” he said. “In some cases they are connected to other social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, and issues around mental health. There are issues around gangs and organised crime, too.”
Mr Rimmer arrives in the region with a strong background in crime and policing. He joined the prison service in 1984 and worked his way up to governor, including a spell at Wandsworth Prison.
More recently he was interim chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency during its transition to the National Crime Agency.
A key worry for law enforcement in the pursuit of paedophiles is the challenge of the internet, he explained.
“The scary thing for most people is how technology fuels this child sexual exploitation,” he said. “There is an assumption in the term ‘grooming’ that they develop and manipulate a relationship over time, often using a false identity.
"Actually some of that is happening very quickly, that’s a real challenge for law enforcement, parents and children themselves.
“These interactions move from general chat to sexually explicit chat very quickly.”
He also blamed the prevalence and easy accessibility of online pornography among the young for skewing their view of sex away from relationships.
He said: “This does not mean everyone who views online porn will commit sexual offences, but it certainly means that the normalisation of porn generates and assumption that you can do what you like to some girls or vulnerable people, treat them as disposable commodities.”
He said that there was no magic internet block or filter, and that governments working with Google or Facebook can only go so far.
Instead communities and leading agencies need to play their part in allowing victims to speak out and talking about healthy relationships.
Another part of Mr Rimmer’s role will be to oversee the development of Mutli-Agency Support Hubs, known as MASH, across Birmingham and other parts of the West Midlands to help the various child protection agencies get a grip on the problem.
Birmingham’s children services remains rated as ‘inadequate’ and other authorities have struggled, and in almost all cases the issues have been about sharing of information.
Mr Rimmer believes the MASH model offers a good opportunity to reverse that trend.