2.2 Complex Abuse: Procedure
- General Principles
- Initial Strategy Discussion / Meeting
- Information to BSCB and Partner Agencies
- Strategic Management Group (SMG)
- Joint Investigation Group
- Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries
- End of Enquiry
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
Complex and organised abuse is defined as abuse involving one or more abusers, and a number of related or non-related abused children. It can take place in any setting. The abusers may be acting in isolation or in concert to abuse children. They may be using an institutional framework or position of authority – such as a teacher, coach, faith group leader or be in a celebrity position – to access and 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, day care and in other provisions such as youth services, sports clubs, faith groups and voluntary groups.
Children may also be abused via the use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, computers, games consoles etc. which access the internet, and in particular social networking websites.
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. Agencies should also be alert to the possibility that a child or young person who has harmed another may well also be a victim.
Each complex abuse investigation requires thorough planning, good inter-agency working, and attention to the welfare needs of the child victims or adult survivors involved.
Cases of organised abuse are often complicated because of the number of children involved, the serious nature of the allegations of abuse, the need for therapeutic input, and the complex, and time consuming, nature of any consequent legal proceedings.
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 Joint Investigation Group as well as a Strategic Management Group may be set up.
The complexity is heightened where, as in historical cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the situations where the incidents occurred and/or where the alleged perpetrators are 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. 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 (see Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board’s (BSCB) Delayed reporting - historical abuse procedure).
It is recognised that those who commit sex offences against children often operate across geographical and operational boundaries, and the procedure takes into account the involvement of more than one local authority.
Where an allegation involves a post-holder who has a specified role within these procedures, the referral must be reported to an alternative (more senior) manager.
In all investigations of organised abuse, it is essential that staff involved maintain a high level of confidentiality in relation to the information in their possession, without jeopardising the investigation or the welfare of the children involved.
Subsequent information generated throughout the investigation should only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis.
These procedures must be implemented in conjunction with the procedures on abuse by staff, carers and volunteers where appropriate (see Managing allegations against staff and volunteers working with children and young people).
An investigation of organised abuse will be carried out under the auspices of the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB), which should be kept informed of its progress. It should be the role of the strategic management group to liaise regularly with the BSCB. However, the BSCB should not take any direct role in the management of the inquiry. The lead agency will be the police while any criminal investigation is taking place, guided by partner agencies regarding wider safeguarding and support matters.
For further guidance see Complex Child Abuse Investigation: Inter-Agency Issues.
Where there is suspicion of a complex abuse case, the relevant Children’s Social Care First Response Team Manager and Thames Valley Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) Inspector must be informed immediately. In the identified manager’s absence, the normal deputising arrangements must be followed.
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 a senior manager and the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in line with the BSCB Procedure for Managing Allegations against Staff and Volunteers.
Initial Strategy Discussion / Meeting
The strategy meeting, chaired by a senior manager of Children’s Social Care, must take place within one working day of receipt of the referral and must be formally recorded.
The strategy discussion/meeting must:
This strategy discussion may include the referrer, if appropriate, a legal adviser and anyone else relevant to the discussion.
Having considered and discussed the information, those involved in the discussion must, if in their view the suspicion is confirmed, pass the information onto the Head of Children’s Social Care and the Detective Chief Inspector, Bucks Protection of Vulnerable People (PVP).
Information to BSCB and Partner Agencies
Immediately following the strategy meeting, the BSCB Chair and the Chair of the Serious Case Review (SCR) Sub Group should be notified of the complex abuse investigation. This can be done by contacting the BSCB office.
The Chair of the SCR Sub Group must inform the children’s services director, head of media/press office and senior managers of relevant agencies, e.g. designated child protection professions.
The SCR Sub Group must be notified immediately. This group will identify initial members for a Strategic Management Group.
Strategic Management Group (SMG)
To ensure a coordinated response, an SMG meeting, chaired by either Children’s Social Care or the police, must be convened within five working days of the case being identified as a potential complex abuse case.
The group should comprise senior staff able to commit resources and will normally include the following as consistent core membership (additional members may be added as required as the investigation progresses):
Where it cannot be avoided that some members of the SCR Sub Group also become members of the SMG, these members must be clear about the distinct roles they hold within each group. This clarity is necessary to prevent confusion around the function of both groups.
Immediate line managers of any staff implicated in the allegations of abuse must not be included in the SMG.
The terms of reference of the SMG must be set up as specified in the Home Office and Department of Health guidance.
The SMG meeting must agree a plan that includes:
An individual must be designated to act as coordinator between the SMG and the Joint Investigation Group, usually the police senior investigating officer or the Children’s Social Care lead manager.
The responsibility of the coordinator is to ensure the flow of relevant information between the operational and strategic groups.
A member of the SMG must be identified to keep the SCR Sub Group up to date with significant developments and issues.
The SMG must make arrangements to convene regularly during the investigation to:
A dedicated team of police officers may be formed to deal with a cross-boundary enquiry, or any other partnership (social care, health, etc) to liaise with other police forces, local authorities and health commissioners etc.
The SMG should remain in existence at least until the court or the CPS has made a decision about the alleged perpetrators and/or that the Joint Investigation Group has confirmed that all remaining safeguarding concerns have been addressed.
The SMG must report in writing to the SCR Sub Group, so that the group can consider at the first available opportunity whether a Serious Case Review should be initiated and make a recommendation to the Chair of the BSCB.
An SMG will only be convened once a complex abuse investigation has been agreed, and in such cases there will always be some form of criminal investigation. Given this, the police will take responsibility for the dissemination and storage of SMG minutes. Alongside the agreement of the SMG terms of reference, there should be discussion to clarify these arrangements to those involved.
Joint Investigation Group
Led by the CAIU detective inspector or the Children’s Social Care lead manager, this group should consist of experienced personnel from PVP and Children’s Social Care – the latter may choose to use independent/agency/outside organisation social workers.
The size of the group will depend on the scale of the investigation, but in the majority of cases both PVP and Children’s Social Care should provide a line manager and sufficient staff experienced in interviewing children and trained in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings.
Membership may also be drawn, as necessary, from appropriate health professionals, education, CPS, legal services, probation and victim support services.
In selecting staff, consideration should be given to requirements arising from the individual needs of the relevant child/children, i.e. gender, culture, race, language, and where relevant, disability/special needs.
Any breach of confidentiality (deliberate or unintended) must be reported immediately to the SMG so that they can address this issue and manage the actual or potential impact on the investigation.
The location of the group must take account, both geographically and organisationally, the need to maintain confidentiality. This is especially crucial where the investigation concerns staff or carers.
Appropriate facilities must be available for video interviews and paediatric assessment.
Administrative support, information technology and accommodation requirements must be addressed at the outset, including the storage of confidential records.
The Joint Investigation Group will be responsible for:
Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries
It may be recognised at the outset or during the investigation that there are suspected or potential victims and offenders in more than one geographical area.
At the outset, the responsibility for managing the investigation lies with police in the area where the abuse is alleged to have occurred – where the alleged perpetrator/s are alleged to operate – who will make necessary contact with other affected areas through the SMG (unless exceptional circumstances apply, e.g. online offences or kidnapping).
Once it is recognised that there are suspected or potential victims outside of Buckinghamshire, the decision will be made by the Joint Investigation Group as to which agencies are informed and as to how evidence is gathered.
The original Joint Investigation Group should undertake the investigation on behalf of the other geographical areas. Other local authority Children’s Social Care Services must consider the funding of this service covering children in its area. A senior manager from each area should join the initiating SMG to discuss this and agree any resource implications involved.
If the number of victims outside the geographical boundaries of the original Joint Investigation Group increases to the extent that it cannot respond, negotiations should take place for a Joint Investigation Group with police and social care in the new geographic area.
It is essential that there is a joint SMG to provide overall planning. If it is necessary to have more than one Joint Investigation Group, there must be close working between coordinators and processes for full information sharing.
End of Enquiry
At the conclusion of an enquiry/investigation, the SMG should consider whether an evaluation of the investigation should take place so that lessons learned can be identified.
Where relevant, any learning, along with the actions required to address these, should be shared with the BSCB.