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5.10 Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse


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  Action to Safeguard Children
  Process of the Investigation


  1. Complex (organised or multiple) abuse may be defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of children. The abusers concerned may be acting in concert to abuse children, sometimes acting in isolation, or may be using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse.
  2. Organised and multiple abuse occur both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and within institutions such as residential homes or schools. Its investigation is time consuming and demanding work requiring specialist skills from both Police and social work staff. Some investigations become extremely complex because of the number of places and people involved, and the timescale over which the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
  3. The complexity is heightened where, as in historical cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the situations where the incidents occurred or where the alleged perpetrators are also no longer linked to the setting or employment role. Cases of historical abuse often come to light when adults disclose abuse they suffered as children whilst living away from home. Such cases should be responded to in the same way as any other concerns. It is important to ascertain if the alleged perpetrator is still working with, or caring for children.
  4. The Children's Social Care, in the area where the alleged incident took place, has case responsibility and should arrange a Strategic Planning Meeting to determine any further action required.

Action to Safeguard Children

  1. Each investigation of organised or multiple abuse will be different, according to the characteristics of each situation and the scale and complexity of the investigation. Each requires thorough planning, good inter-agency working and attention to the needs of the children involved.
  2. Once organised abuse is suspected, the Children's Social Care and/or Police must be informed as soon as possible. Within Children's Social Care, the relevant Manager must be informed. Other agencies should not make any further enquiries. The Police and Children's Social Care will liaise at senior management strategic level to consider the following issues:
    • The overall scope and management of the case, including the handling of political and media issues;
    • The deployment of appropriate resources and the support staff;
    • The need to establish a dedicated joint team who can conduct the criminal investigation and Section 47 Enquiries objectively;
    • A process of strategic review to oversee the whole investigation and to identify and act on lessons learned for future policy and procedure and practice;
    • A programme of Strategic Planning Meetings should be established to agree:
      • Terms of reference and lines of accountability and communication;
      • Sharing of information, access to, and secure storage of records. See also Information Sharing & Confidentiality Procedure;
      • Access to legal advice regarding the criminal, civil and employment processes;
      • Whether there are any children involved who need active safeguarding and/or therapeutic help;
      • How safeguarding and help can be achieved in a way consistent with the conduct of the criminal investigations;
      • How victims' needs will be assessed and met;
      • How care for the investigating team can be provided;
      • How, at the end of the investigation, it can be assessed and lessons learned for the future.

Process of the Investigation

  1. In all major investigations the CSAP organisations will aim to:
    • Bring together a trusted and vetted team from Police and social work (Children's Social Care or NSPCC or both) to manage and conduct major investigations where a criminal investigation runs alongside child protection enquiries;
    • Set out clearly the terms of engagement for the team, emphasising the need for confidentiality;
    • Ensure that the managers of the team have training and expertise in conducting investigations, legal processes, disciplinary proceedings, children's welfare and profiles and methods of abusers (in cases of sexual abuse);
    • Ensure team members have expertise in conducting investigations, child protection processes and children's welfare and are committed to working closely together;
    • Involve senior managers from involved agencies at a strategic level. The Police will appoint a Senior Investigating Officer of appropriate rank and experience;
    • Ensure that appropriate resources are deployed and staff supported;
    • Agree upon the handling of political and media issues arising from investigations;
    • Ensure that records are safely and securely stored;
    • Recognise and anticipate that an investigation may become more extensive than suggested by initial allegations;
    • Ensure independence and objectivity on the part of the social work team, where Children's Social Care staff or foster carers are being investigated;
    • Where it is practicable in the circumstances to conduct a rigorous and impartial investigation using the local authority's own staff, ensuring sufficient distance (in structural and geographical terms) between such staff and those being investigated This means that the inclusion of staff members or managers from the institution or workplace under investigation should be considered with particular care;
    • Begin every investigation with a Strategic Planning Meeting to agree terms of reference and ways of working.┬áRelevant areas for decision-making include the timing, parameters and conduct of the investigation; lines of accountability and communication; the safe and secure storage of records; the deployment of staff and resources; and a communications strategy encompassing members of staff, children and families, and the media;
    • Terms of reference should include assurances that the team will have full access to records and individuals that hold important information;
    • Secure access to expert legal advice. The inter-relationship between criminal, civil and employment processes is complex;
    • Use regular Strategic Planning Meetings and reviews to consider the conduct of the investigation, next steps and the effectiveness of joint working;
    • Always minute meetings and records actions that have been agreed with timeframes;
    • Agree clear written protocols between the Police, Children's Social Care and other agencies in relation to all key operational and policy matters including information sharing. See Information Sharing & Confidentiality Procedure;
    • Consider first whether there are any children involved who need active safeguarding and/or therapeutic help and how this should be achieved in a way that is consistent with the conduct of criminal investigations;
    • Make a thorough assessment of victims' needs and provide services to meet those needs;
    • Provide a confidential and independent counselling service for victims and families;
    • Agree guidelines with counselling and welfare services on disclosure of information to avoid the contamination of evidence;
    • Provide welfare and support for the investigation team - much of the work may be difficult and distressing;
    • Put in place a means of identifying and acting on lessons learned from the investigations (e.g. in respect of policies, procedures and working practices which may have contributed to the abuse occurring) as the investigation proceeds and at its close and at the conclusion of the investigation assess its handling and identify lessons for conducting similar investigations in future;
    • At the conclusion of the investigation assess its handling and identify lessons for conducting similar investigations in future.