Investigating complex (organised or multiple) abuse

Complex abuse will be profoundly traumatic for the children who become involved. Investigation of it can be complicated and time-consuming. For these reasons complex abuse cases require thorough planning, inter-agency cooperation and need to pay particular attention to the welfare needs child victims/adult survivors.

Definition of complex abuse

This section of the procedures considers situations of complex abuse. What constitutes “complex” is, to some extent, dependant on the presenting circumstances of the case but can include situations involving:
  • Multiple abusers
  • Multiple children
  • Institutional abuse e.g. systematic abuse within an boarding school or residential care home
  • Organised abuse e.g. abusing children in order to produce pornographic images for distribution amongst a network of paedophiles
  • Prostitution of/trafficking of children
  • Cases of particularly sensitivity e.g. involving a high profile person that is likely to attract publicity

Characteristics of complex abuse

Complex abuse will be profoundly traumatic for the children who become involved. Investigation of it can be complicated and time-consuming and may involve input from staff with specialist skills (e.g. in regard to the setting up and access to chat rooms being used by abusers). Some investigations may involve a variety of places and people or concern abuse that has occurred over a widespread timescale. It may therefore involve agencies across geographical boundaries or other countries. In historical cases the investigation may be delayed due to difficulties with tracing perpetrators or victims.

For these reasons complex abuse cases require thorough planning, inter-agency cooperation and need to pay particular attention to the welfare needs of child victims/adult survivors.

Investigating complex abuse[1]

If information arises that indicates a situation of complex abuse, children’s social care and the police should be informed immediately. A strategy discussion should be convened as soon as possible. The Service Manager/Business Manager and the Head of Children’s Social Care/Deputy Director must be informed. The Detective Chief Inspector of the Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit should also be informed.  Discussion should take place immediately between the Senior Managers to determine whether these procedures should be instigated.

Inter-agency cooperation is of paramount importance in complex abuse cases. Complex abuse investigations should be undertaken as a joint operation involving the police and social services. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will need to be involved as appropriate to advise on legal implications of issues arising during an investigation. Other agencies/personnel (e.g. health, education, local authority legal services, press officer) should be represented as required. Staff and managers must retain a high level of confidentiality in relation to information in their possession and information should be shared only on a ‘need to know’ basis.Where an allegation involves a post holder who has a specified role within these procedures, the referral and subsequent information must be given to a Senior Manager who is not the person’s line manager.

Strategic Management Group

Cases of complex abuse should be overseen by a Strategic Management Group involving designated senior officers from the involved agencies. This should be chaired by the police or social services. The group should include:

  • Head of Children’s Social Care or Deputy Director (or equivalent)
  • Service/Business Manager for Child Protection Plans
  • Police Detective Chief Inspector
  • Police Detective Inspector
  • Managers from other agencies as necessary.

 The group should have access to:

  • Legal advice including that of CPS as appropriate.
  • Paediatric advice.
  • Independent or expert advice as appropriate.

The meetings should agree a plan which:

  • Agrees terms of reference for the strategic management group.
  • Considers first whether there are any children involved who need active safeguarding and/or therapeutic help, and how this should be achieved in a way, which is consistent with the conduct of criminal investigations.
  • Agrees a communications strategy encompassing authority members, staff, children and families and inspection bodies.
  • Agrees a media strategy.
  • Agrees an information sharing strategy emphasising the need for confidentiality and secure storage of information.
  • Agrees liaison arrangements for inter-agency working.
  • Considers any cross boundary issues and planning of appropriate liaison and sharing of resources.
  • Recognises the scale of the investigation and the staff required for a joint enquiry group, taking into account the possibility of the enquiries becoming more extensive as they progress.
  • Agrees timescales, parameters and conduct of the enquiries and stages of the enquiries.
  • Considers resource requirements.
  • Identifies staff in children’s social care and the police with sufficient seniority and experience to manage the enquiries.
  • Agrees an enquiry management group, line management responsibilities and how the strategic management group will be kept informed of progress.
  • Requests that an enquiry management groups meets as early as possible.Sets a requirement for all meetings to be recorded promptly and notes distributed appropriately.
  • At the close of the enquiries, assesses its handling and identifies any lessons for the future.

All minutes from the meetings should be marked as confidential and all copies should be individually numbered. Copying of the minutes should only be allowed on the express authority of the Chair.

The Strategic Management Group should have the ability to access inter-agency resources. The Chair of the LSCB (if not one of the above named) should be informed that these procedures have been initiated. It will be the responsibility of the Chair of the LSCB to liaise as necessary with other Heads of Service/Chief Executives in order to ensure that inter-agency resources are accessible.

Enquiry Management Group

The Enquiry Management Group must be chaired by either the Manager of Child Protection Plans or the Police Detective Inspector and must agree a plan which:

  • Sets out the terms of reference for the group.
  • Identifies sufficient staff for conducting the enquiries. All staff must be independent of those being investigated and must have sufficient training and experience to undertake complex enquiries.
  • Sets out clearly the enquiry team’s terms of engagement and reporting mechanisms.
  • Sets out clear expectations in respect of support, debriefing arrangements and supervision for the enquiry team.
  • Considers whether there are any children involved who need active safeguarding and/or therapeutic help, and how this should be achieved in a way, which is consistent with the conduct of criminal investigations.
  • Agrees a support strategy for the victims and agree guidelines for counselling and welfare services on disclosure of information to avoid the contamination of evidence.
  • Agrees a reviewing process, which includes timescales for the EMG and the SMG to meet.
  • Ensures all meetings are recorded promptly and minutes of the meeting are distributed appropriately.
  • Monitors the progress, quality and integrity of the investigation.
  • Puts in place a means of identifying and acting on lessons learned from the enquiries e.g., in respect of policies, procedures and working practices, which may have contributed to the abuse occurring.

Security, Accommodation and Communication  

A key issue in complex abuse enquiries will be ensuring the security of the enquiries whilst retaining open communication within the enquiry team. Consideration should be given to whether it is necessary to set up separate accommodation for the enquiry team.

Certain enquiries may involve an element of ‘whistle-blowing’. It may be necessary to consider a secure telephone line and discreet access to the enquiry team.

Supporting Victims

It is vital that a strategy to support the victims is established from the outset. The strategy should consider support needs for all victims and their families and necessary support for all witnesses. The strategy should identify possible resources to provide the necessary support. Aftercare support should be agreed and details about how to access aftercare should be made available to victims, witnesses and their families.

Supporting Staff

It is important that a strategy to support staff is established from the outset. This will be particularly important where the complex organised or multiple abuse involves a member of staff from any Hartlepool LSCB agencies. Staff support should include as a minimum regular debriefing, individual supervision, and inter-agency group supervision.

[1] Information in this section is based on the guidance Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter-agency issues (Home Office and Department of Health, 2002) Appendix A of that guidance identifies the issues which should be addressed in all major investigations, and which should be reflected in local procedures.

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