Definition of complex cases
Complex abuse can be defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of children.
Complex abuse is defined in paragraph 6.24 of Working Together to Safeguard Children “abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of related or non-related abused children acting in isolation, or may be using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse”.
The abuser(s) may be finding children by using organizations or institutions (for example schools or nurseries, churches or mosques, youth clubs or sports groups) or simply developing and exploiting a network or young people within a family or extended family, or within an area or community.
Points to consider
When you initially suspect that you may be dealing with complex abuse you will be unlikely to know the extent of the abuse, number of children involved, the length of time it has been going on and how many adults are involved. You should be prepared for the possibility of it becoming a much larger investigation.
This also means that taking action to protect one child or against one alleged abuser may result in other children being placed in greater danger or other abusers being able to evade detection. When and how action is taken will need to be properly coordinated.
Where the abuse appears to have been committed by those working with the children within an institution or organisation it may not immediately be clear which adults have been involved. Care will need to be taken in considering when the concerns or allegations should be shared with the organisation and who within the organisation should be told.
Complex abuse may have been going on within institutions, families or extended networks for a considerable time, possibly many years, before coming to light. Some of the abusers may have moved away (or be working in another organisation), some of the victims may now be adult survivors and some of the victims may now have been ‘recruited’ into the network as abusers. Where this seems to be the case, how these various elements are going to be handled should be carefully considered.
Where a member or members of staff from the children’s services are alleged to be involved in abusing children, serious consideration should be given to having the allegations investigated by another local authority’s childrens services or under the auspices of another Local Safeguarding Children Board.
Complex abuse cases usually require the formation of dedicated teams of professionals from both the police and children’s services, perhaps with further specialist individuals, for the purpose of the investigation
As soon as it is suspected that the abuse you are dealing with is a case complex, senior management within the police and children’s services should be informed. As soon as it is established that it is a complex case, a Strategic Management Group (or Senior Strategy Group) will be convened to act as the steering group and to ensure the welfare of the children and young people involved.
Strategic management group
The people on the Strategic Management Group will depend upon the individual circumstances of the case but should have the following core membership:
- Assistant Director of Children’s Services or equivalent
- Assistant Chief Police Officer
- Police Senior Investigating Officer
- Children’s Services Lead Manager
- Local Authority Legal Services
- Press Officer(s)
- Senior Health representative
- Other individuals and/or agencies as appropriate, e.g. Assistant Director Education, Senior Manager from YOT, Crown Prosecution Service (in an advisory or consultative role), Probation, NSPCC, voluntary organisations.
The group will be chaired by the police or children’s services. The chair will be familiar with guidance issued by central government on complex child abuse investigations
in particular the tasks and functions of the Strategic Management Group. The chair will also need to do all they can to ensure that information is disclosed only upon a “need to know basis” and that all a involved are aware of their responsibilities to maintain confidentiality.
The chief executive of the relevant local authority will need to be informed as they are likely to be both resource and public relations issues arising from the investigation.
The Strategic Management Group will identify people from within and, if necessary outside, their organisations who have the required expertise to deal with a complex abuse investigation. These individuals will make up the investigation team.
It may be necessary to set up separate accommodation for the investigation team, with separate provision for interviewing and meetings. This may help facilitate good inter-agency working as well as provide a secure location for documentation. It will also ensure the independence of the investigation from other work that is ongoing in the wider department.
All agencies should ensure that the Investigation Teams has full access to all records and to those individuals who may hold relevant information.
Investigation Management Group
The Strategic Management Group will also set up an Investigation Management Group which will be chaired by the senior investigating officer and include representatives from the relevant agencies as appropriate. The chair will be familiar with guidance issued by central government on complex child abuse investigations in particular the tasks and functions of the Investigation Management Group
Among other tasks the Investigation Management Group will ensure that:
- the day to day operation of the investigation is in line with the strategy set out by the Strategic Management Group,
- a co-ordinated and consistent response is provided
- information is shared with other agencies appropriately
Those managing the investigation need to be aware that there may be attempts to sabotage it, to destroy materials or to interfere with or intimidate staff working on the investigation. Appropriate steps should be taken to minimise these risks.
Meetings of both the Strategic Management Group and the Investigation Management Group will be fully minuted. The reasoning behind decisions taken by the Strategic Management Group will also be recorded.
Information sharing and confidentiality
As with any child protection investigation the established protocols for sharing information should be followed. This is particularly important in complex cases, given the number of agencies and individuals likely to be involved in the investigation and the fact that it may not be immediately apparent the extent or number of individuals in the network of abusers.
Support for victims and witness
A victim support strategy needs to be established at the beginning of the investigation. Support will be provided throughout the investigation, in the run up to any trial and during the trial. It will also be necessary to consider what support will be needed after a trial or if the matter does not come to court.
It is for those responsible for the welfare of the child, in consultation with the child’s carers, to decide whether and, if so, what type of therapeutic support should be provided to a victim before a criminal trial – it is not a decision for the police or the CPS.
More detailed guidance concerning therapeutic support prior to a criminal trial can be found in the guidance “Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial.”
Support for Staff
Support for members of the investigative team is the responsibility of the Strategic Management Group. Clear arrangements should be in place from the outset for both the seconded staff and linked management. These should include debriefing for all staff on the operation.
Only designated officers, who have received appropriate training and have been nominated by the Strategic Management Group, will provide information to the media, should it be necessary. Any such officer will be familiar with the guidance on Media Handling in guidance issued by central government on complex child abuse investigations
At the conclusion of the investigation
Once the investigation is concluded, the Strategic Management Group will ensure that a report is made to the LSCB assessing the handling of the investigation and identifying lessons for the future.