Organised and Complex Abuse
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides a procedure for agencies about the investigation of complex and organised abuse and information about what action they should take if they suspect such abuse. All agencies, including those from the voluntary and community sector, who may be asked to contribute to complex abuse investigations, need to ensure that they follow this procedure. Registration authorities should also adhere to this procedure in cases where continuing registration of a setting may be affected by the investigation.
For further guidance see also College of Policing: Managing Complex Child Abuse Investigations
These procedures must be implemented in conjunction with the procedures on abuse by those working with children where appropriate.
AMENDMENTThis chapter has been amended in November 2018 to reflect changes in the manner and extent of Child Protection responses to organised and complex abuse.
Complex and organised abuse may be defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of abused children. Complex abuse would only usually apply when the abused children are not living in the same family. However, there may be cases when the complex and organised abuse procedures may be applicable and a discussion with a senior manager should take place. The adults concerned may be acting jointly to abuse children, sometimes acting in isolation or may be using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse.
Such abuse can occur both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and within institutions such as residential settings, boarding schools, in day care and in other provisions such as youth services, sports clubs, faith groups and voluntary groups. There will also be cases of children being abused with no physical contact via the use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, computers, games consoles etcetera which all access the Internet.Although in most cases of complex and organised abuse the abuser(s) is an adult, it is also possible for children / young people to be the perpetrators of such harm, with or without adult abusers.
Each investigation of complex and organised abuse will be different, according to the characteristics of each situation and the scale and complexity of the investigation. But all will require thorough planning, collaborative inter-agency working and attention to the needs of the child victim/s involved.
The investigation of complex abuse requires specialist skills from both police and social work staff who will need to consider the needs of victims for therapeutic services. The consequent legal proceedings may add to the timescales of such investigations.
Some investigations become extremely complex because of the number of places and people involved, and the timescale over which abuse is alleged to have occurred. In these circumstances a specialist Investigation Management Group (see Section 7, The Investigation Management Group), as well as a Strategic Management Group (see Section 6, The Strategic Management Group) may be set up.
The complexity is heightened where, as in non-recent cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the setting where the incidents occurred or where the alleged perpetrators are also no longer linked to the setting or employment role. These will all need to be taken into consideration when working with a child.
A senior Police Officer may convene a Gold Group if a particular investigation merits senior oversight from a police perspective. Police may invite senior members of staff from all agencies, so that information can be shared and strategy agreed. It is not the remit of the Gold Group to direct investigations. These meetings are minuted and those minutes may be revealed to the prosecution, should criminal proceedings be undertaken.The confidentiality of the information relevant to any Section 47 Enquiry, LADO Investigation or criminal investigation must be strictly maintained by those involved and must not be disclosed to others, including others within the agency, unless absolutely necessary.
3. The Child or Young Person
The single and most important consideration is the safety and well-being of the child(ren) or young person(s). In non-recent cases this may also include victims who are now adults. Please also see Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Non-recent / Historical Abuse.
In reconciling the difference between the standard of evidence required for child protection purposes and the standard required for criminal proceedings, emphasis must be given to the protection of the children as the prime consideration.
The investigation and enquiries must also address the ethnicity, religious, cultural, language, sexual orientation and gender needs of the child, together with any special needs of the child or young person arising from illness or disability.
A victim support strategy and protocol should be established at the outset. Support will be required in pre-trial, trial and post-trial periods if the case/s proceed to court. Minimum periods for contact should be established. It is clear from experience in research about complex investigations that many victims and families feel strongly that it is important that they remain in contact with the same staff throughout the investigative process.
When receiving information or a referral, which may indicate complex and organised abuse, the recipient should immediately refer the matter to the police and a manager in their Local Authority Children's Social Care:
Luton – Luton's MASH: 01582 547 653 during 9.00 – 17.15
Bedford Borough – The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH): click here for Are you worried about a child?
Central Bedfordshire - Central Bedfordshire Access and Referral Hub on 0300 300 8585 (during office hours).
If there is any suspicion that any managers currently employed by a social care agency are implicated or a member of the police, the matter should be referred to the Chair of the Luton/Central Bedfordshire/Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board's and reported to a Senior Officer within Bedfordshire Police of the rank of Inspector and above and to a senior manager (Service Manager level) within relevant children's social care department. The matter should also be referred to the Local Authority Designated Officer.
For Bedford Borough: Click here for how to contact the Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board.
For Central Bedfordshire: Click here for how to contact the Central Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Board.
5. The Strategy Meeting
At any point within an investigation, strategy meeting discussion or at any point in an agency's involvement, information or intelligence emerges which warrants consideration of organised and complex abuse procedures, an urgent discussion should be had with senior managers in children's social care and Bedfordshire Police.
A Strategy Meeting should be arranged to take place as a matter of urgency to assess the need for future action to be taken and, in particular, whether a criminal investigation should take place.
The Strategy meeting, chaired by a senior manager of Luton, Bedford Borough or Central Bedfordshire's children's social care, must take place within one working day of the receipt of the referral and be formally recorded. Consideration should be given to informing the Safeguarding Children Board Business manager and the Independent Chair of the relevant LSCB, if it is felt appropriate.
The nominated senior staff of Luton, Bedford Borough or Central Bedfordshire's children's social care and the police should attend the meeting. The meeting will involve senior staff from health, education and other agencies as required and, where necessary, must ensure coordination across local authority boundaries.
The Strategy discussion/meeting must carefully note:
- An assessment of the information known to date:
- The children/young people named;
- The children/young people who may be in current contact with possible abusers;
- Children/young people who were, but no longer are, in contact with possible abusers;
- Possible victims who are now adults.
- Decide what further information is required at this stage;
- Decide which Local Authorities need to be invited (which may include other Local Authorities);
- Arrange for its gathering;
- Establish if / to what extent complex abuse has been uncovered;
- Undertake an initial mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation and possible individuals implicated as well as prepare:
- Interviews of children/young people;
- Interviews with witnesses;
- The timings and arrangements for interviews.
- Consider a plan including resource implications, for investigation to be shared with the senior management in each Local Authority area;
- Consider any immediate protective action required.
A strategic decision will need to be made by senior managers from the involved agencies as to whether the social work input into the enquiries/investigation can be managed in the conventional way or whether a specialist approach is required for example from a dedicated team outside the service.
This will usually depend on the number, geographical spread and age range of potential interviewees, as well as whether those implicated are foster carers or employees of any member agency.
Where the Strategy Discussion confirms that the investigation will relate to complex and organised abuse, it will appoint a multi-agency Strategic Management Group (see Section 6, The Strategic Management Group) to oversee the process.Where a member of staff of any agency is implicated in the investigation, his or her line manager must not be a member of the Strategic Management Group.
6. The Strategic Management Group
The Strategic Management Group will be chaired by a senior officer in Luton, Bedford Borough or Central Bedfordshire's children's social care and will:
- Complete the mapping process started by the Strategy Discussion as set out in Section 5, The Strategy Meeting;
- Establish ownership of the strategic lead in the investigation;
- Decide the terms of reference and accountability for the investigating team, including the parameters and timescales of their enquiries/investigation;
- Bring together a team of people with the necessary training, expertise and objectivity to manage and conduct the criminal investigation and/or Section 47 Enquiry on a day to day basis. N.B. Line managers or colleagues of any person implicated in the investigation must not be involved and the involvement of any person from the work place under investigation must be considered with particular care;
- Decide whether there is a need for an independent team to investigate the allegations, particularly if the alleged perpetrator is the employee of a relevant agency or in a position of trust;
- In cases of greater scale and complexity, appoint an Investigation Management Group (IMG) (see Section 7, The Investigation Management Group);
- Ensure that appropriate resources are deployed to the investigation including access to legal and other specialist advice, resources and information;
- Ensure that appropriate resources are available to meet the needs of the children and families or adult survivors, including any specific health issues arising from the abuse;
- Ensure the investigating team are themselves supported with personal counselling if necessary and that issues of staff safety are addressed;
- Liaise as necessary with the Crown Prosecution Service at an early stage to prevent any delays in arranging services for a child in need of counselling or therapeutic help so that the help can be given in a way which is consistent with the conduct of the criminal investigation;
- Agree a joint communications strategy including the handling of political and media issues, and communication as necessary with the Regulatory Authority;
- Ensure that records are kept safely and securely stored and a high level of confidentiality maintained at all times;
- Hold regular strategic meetings and reviews, which must be recorded, to consider progress, including the effectiveness of the joint working, the need for additional resources and next steps;
- Consider any protective action required on the release of an alleged or actual perpetrator;
- Consider any post investigation safeguarding issues relating to the alleged or actual perpetrator;
- Consider any contextual or environmental factors which may have contributed to the safeguarding e.g. a lack of street lighting or wi-fi hotspots.
7. The Investigation Management Group
In cases of considerable complexity and scale, an Investigation Management Group will be appointed.
Membership of this group should include representatives from Luton, Bedford Borough or Central Bedfordshire's children's social care, the police, designated health professionals and the local authorities' legal services, with other agencies being invited to participate as appropriate.
The tasks and functions of the Group will be subject to the terms of reference agreed by the Strategic Management Group (SMG), and will include the following:
- To provide a forum where professionals can meet, exchange information and discuss the implementation of the agreed investigation strategy;
- To ensure a consistent strategy for interviewing victims within and outside the councils area;
- To keep the SMG informed of resources and any shortfalls;
- To ensure a consistent and appropriate inter-agency approach to support victims and their families;
- To co-ordinate the inter-agency response to families and provide consistent information;
- To ensure information is shared appropriately with other agencies not represented on the SMG or the IMG;
- To ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities for staff involved in the investigation. Investigators will have full access to all records and key information;
- To ensure that relevant intelligence is passed between agencies and to the police;
- Agree procedure for dealing with victims who identify themselves at a later date and/or victims who remember things after the event.
8. End of Enquiry/Investigation Meeting and Report
The Waterhouse Inquiry report has noted the importance of adequate referral of information about suspected abusers. It is probable that an investigation will identify individuals who are suspected abusers but against whom prosecutions are not brought. If a suspected abuser is working with children in a child care position, or in the education service, evidence and information should be shared as part of the LADO process to support disciplinary proceedings and to enable, where appropriate, the referral of suspected abusers to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and the relevant regulatory bodies.At the conclusion of the enquiry/investigation, the Strategic Management Group must evaluate the investigation, identify the lessons learned and best practice and share with the relevant agencies as appropriate. Any policies and procedures which may need reviewing should be reviewed accordingly.