Organised or multiple abuse involves one or more abusers and a number of children.
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, schools, sports clubs and voluntary groups. 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 time scale over which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. This complexity is increased in historical cases where victims and perpetrators are no longer living in or linked to the setting where the abuse occurred, and in cases where abuse has occurred with the misuse of technology.
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. The guidance on investigating allegations of abuse against professionals also applies when investigating organised or multiple abuse within an institution.
Once organised abuse is suspected, Children’s Social Care and/or the Police must be informed as soon as possible. Within Children’s Social Care the manager of the Safeguarding Unit must also be informed. Other agencies should not make any further enquiries.
The Police and Children’s Social Care will liaise and any subsequent action should be planned and co-ordinated by an inter-agency Strategic Management Group, following guidance published in ‘Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter-Agency Issues’ DoH May 2002.
The Strategic Management Group should be chaired by the Police or Children’s Social Care and comprise the most senior managers from the agencies involved 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 of staff
- The need to establish a trusted joint team which can conduct the criminal investigation and child protection enquiries on an objective basis
- A process of strategic review to oversee the investigation and at its end, identify and act on lessons learned for policy and procedure.
A programme of strategy discussion/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
- Access to legal advice about the interaction of 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 support for the investigating team can be provided
- How the outcomes of the investigation can be assessed and lessons learned for the future
The needs of children must be considered individually and remain the focus of investigation even where a large group of children is involved.
GOOD PRACTICE GUIDANCE:-
Additional issues which should be addressed in all major investigations:
- Emphasise the need for confidentiality.
- It is essential that the managers of the team have training and expertise in conducting investigations, legal processes, disciplinary proceedings, safeguarding children and profiles and methods of abusers (in cases of sexual abuse).
- Team members need expertise in conducting investigations, safeguarding children and should be committed to working closely together.
- The police should appoint a Senior Investigating Officer of appropriate rank and experience and should consider the use of Major Incident Room Standards Administrative Procedures and the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System.
- Ensure that records are safely and securely stored.
- Recognise and anticipate that an investigation may become more extensive than suggested by initial allegations.
- Where Children’s Social Care’s own staff or foster carers are being investigated it is essential to ensure independence and objectivity on the part of the social work team.
- Where it is practicable in the circumstances to conduct a rigorous and impartial investigation using the authorities own staff it is essential to ensure 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.
- Terms of reference should include assurances that the team will have full access to records and individuals that hold important information.
- Always minute meetings.
- Agree clear written protocols between police, Children’s Social Care and other agencies in relation to all key operational and policy matters including information sharing.
- It is good practice to provide a confidential and independent counselling service for victims and families. Agree guidelines with counselling and other support services on disclosure of information to avoid the contamination of evidence.