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3.5 Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Definition of Complex Abuse
3. Factors Involved in Complex Abuse
4. Principles in Investigating Complex Abuse
5. Referring Concerns about Complex Abuse
6. Relationship with Sheffield Safeguarding Partnership for Children and Young People
7. Relationships between the Police, LA Children’s Social Care and the Crown Prosecution Service
8. Relationship with Voluntary Sector Agencies
9. Setting up an Investigation
  9.1 Initial Strategy Meeting / Discussion
  9.2 Practitioners who need to be Informed
  9.3 The Strategic Management Group (SMG)
  9.4 Tasks and Functions of the Strategic Management Group
  9.5 The Operational Management Group (OMG)
10. Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries
11. Closure and Review of Investigation
  11.1 Exit Strategy
  11.2 Records to be Maintained and File Storage


1. Introduction

Like other types of child abuse, organised or multiple abuse is extremely traumatic for the children and young people involved. Likewise it is vital that trained and experienced specialist staff are involved, in the investigation and support of the victims. But the investigation of organised or multiple abuse is usually far more complicated, due to the number of people and places involved, the time period over which the abuse has often taken place, and the number of agencies involved, often in different geographical locations and crossing organisational boundaries.

This document provides guidance for staff working in Sheffield agencies about the investigation of organised / multiple abuse, and procedural 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 they abide by this procedure. Registration authorities should also adhere to this procedure in cases where continuing registration of a setting may be affected by the investigation.

It should be remembered that vulnerable adults may also be victims of organised / multiple abuse, along with children and young people. In such cases advice should be sought from Sheffield Safeguarding Adults Team. Further information can be found at Sheffield Safeguarding Adults website.


2. Definition of Complex Abuse

Complex abuse is defined as:

... involving one or more abusers and a number of children. The abusers concerned may be acting in concert to abuse children, sometimes acting in isolation, or may be using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse.

Complex and organised abuse may be defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of related or non-related abused children and may take place in any setting. The adults concerned may be acting in concert to abuse children, sometimes acting in isolation or may be using an institutional framework or position of authority such as a teacher, coach, faith group leader or 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, 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 via the use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, computers, games consoles etcetera which all access the Internet. (Working Together to Safeguard Children)

A ‘number of children’, as stated above, means two or more.

Although in most cases of complex 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. See Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse by Children and Young People of other Children and Vulnerable Adults Procedure. However, for the purposes of this document the abusers will be referred to as adults.


3. Factors Involved in Complex Abuse

Complex abuse incorporates an element of coordination by the abuser/s involved.

This may include:

  • Sexual abuse / exploitation networks where adults plan and develop social contacts with children / young people for the purposes of sexual abuse;
  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse in residential homes, boarding schools or other settings, such as youth clubs;
  • Adult/s who aim to contact children / young people for abusive reasons through leisure or welfare organisations, such as sports centres;
  • The production and / or distribution of child abuse images - see also Online Safety Procedure;
  • Adults seeking to contact children / young people via the internet or mobile phones;
  • Concerted efforts to aid or conceal the abuse of children / young people;
  • A complex family - where one or more adults within an extended family network abuse one or more children within the same extended family.

The complexity is heightened where, as in historical cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the situations where the incidents occurred or where the alleged perpetrators are also no longer linked to the setting or their previous employment.

Complex abuse may take place across geographical and operational boundaries. This may be partly due to an abuser making efforts to avoid detection. Therefore, an investigation may involve more than one local authority and police force.


4. Principles in Investigating Complex Abuse

Complex abuse investigations require specialist skills from police and social work staff, and practitioners from any other agency who are involved.

Each complex abuse investigation necessitates comprehensive planning, good inter-agency working, and attention to the welfare needs of the children / young people who have been harmed and any other child / young person who may be at risk.

The agencies involved in such an investigation should be committed to working together, to ensure that relevant information is shared and that appropriate action is taken to minimise the risk posed by alleged offenders to children / young people.

The protection of children / young people at risk of harm remains paramount throughout the investigation. However, it should be remembered that sharing of information and issues of confidentiality should also be considered for the alleged offender, as it should be borne in mind that not all investigations proceed to court, or a defendant may be found not guilty, or does not meet the local authority’s balance of probability. Steps taken in relation to the alleged offender need to be proportionate to his / her working environment and / or private life. See Section 3, Information Sharing and Confidentiality of the Underlying Principles and Values for more information.

Complex child abuse investigations are dependent on highly confidential and often sensitive information being made available to investigators.

Equalities issues should be considered and addressed accordingly throughout the investigation. This applies to both victim/s and perpetrator/s. Account should be made of such issues of age, gender, race, religion, gender / sexual identity, and disability. Any particular needs of victims or alleged perpetrators should be dealt with sensitively and appropriately.

Following the conclusion of the investigation, if the allegations were found to be ungrounded, or false or malicious allegations have been made, the needs of the adult should be treated appropriately and sensitively.

All agencies who are involved should ensure records are preserved and secure, as per their internal procedures.

If practitioners are the alleged perpetrators, it is essential that their line managers are not a part of either the Strategic Management Group (see Section 9.3, The Strategic Management Group (SMG)) or the Operational Management Group (see Section 9.5, The Operational Management Group (OMG)). In order to avoid this, an early mapping exercise should help to identify such individuals. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) should also be consulted.

Where an allegation involves a member of staff who has a role identified within these procedures, the referrals must be reported to an alternative (more senior) manager. See Allegations against Persons who work with Children (including Staff, Carers and Volunteers) Procedure for further information.


5. Referring Concerns about Complex Abuse

Practitioners from any agency may become concerned about organised or multiple abuse. This may be because:

  • They are working with a child or young person about whom they are concerned may be a victim of complex abuse;
  • They are working with a child, young person or adult whom they are concerned may be a perpetrator of such abuse;
  • They receive information from another source about possible complex abuse;
  • An adult has made a historical disclosure that they were a victim of child abuse, the nature of which suggests complex abuse (see Section 2, Definition of Complex Abuse);
  • An adult has made a disclosure that they are abusing, or have abused, a child or children, the nature of which suggests it is complex abuse.

In any of the above circumstances, practitioners should not delay in taking action to safeguard children and young people as detailed below.

Contact the relevant Children’s Social Care or the Out of Hours Service and Sheffield Public Protection Unit, South Yorkshire Police (See Local Contacts for Referrals details)

In an emergency - do not delay - ring 999

For further information see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.

In receipt of the information, Children’s Social Care or the police should immediately inform the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Service about the allegation of complex abuse. For allegations concerning practitioners, volunteers or carers the Local Authority Designated Officer should be informed. See Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children (including Carers and Volunteers) Procedure for further information. For all other complex abuse cases the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Advisory Service should be contacted (see Local contact details)


6. Relationship with Sheffield Safeguarding Partnership for Children and Young People

An investigation of complex abuse will be carried out under the auspices of SSCB. The Strategic Management Group (see Section 9.3, The Strategic Management Group (SMG)) should liaise regularly with an identified officer of the Board. However, SSCB should not take any direct role in the management of the inquiry.


7. Relationships between the Police, LA Children’s Social Care and the Crown Prosecution Service

As part of any Section 47 investigation a Strategy Discussion between Children’s Social Care and South Yorkshire Police will decide whether a complex abuse investigation should be undertaken as a joint operation. Should this be the decision, the investigation will be carried out by the Joint Investigation Team. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should be involved from an early stage, as appropriate.

The CPS is independent of the police and should not be involved in operational decisions about how the investigation should be conducted. However, they can give advice about evidential or legal issues that arise during an investigation. Early involvement of the CPS can, therefore, help inform decisions made by the investigation team. It is important that there is ongoing consultation and interaction between these agencies throughout the investigation and any resulting criminal trial.


8. Relationship with Voluntary Sector Agencies

When appropriate, senior managers from voluntary sector agencies may be involved in the Strategic Management Group (see Section 9.3, The Strategic Management Group (SMG)). Otherwise liaison should be maintained through senior and frontline Children’s Social Care staff. Advice may also be sought on specific issues (for example, the availability of local counselling or support services). Protocols about access to voluntary agency files should be agreed.


9. Setting up an Investigation

All instances of organised or multiple abuse that will involve a complex child abuse investigation should be carried out in accordance with the Home Office and Department of Health Guidance Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter-Agency Issues (May 2002).

9.1 Initial Strategy Meeting / Discussion

A Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be held as soon as is practicable but within 24 hours of receiving a referral about possible complex abuse. If a Strategy Meeting is held it should be chaired by a Child Protection Coordinator.

The Meeting / Discussion should:

  • Assess the information that is known;
  • Agree what further information is needed at this stage;
  • Arrange for the gathering of all relevant information, and agree who will be responsible, including whether a medical examination conducted by a paediatrician is required;
  • Decide whether, and if so to what extent, organised / multiple abuse has been uncovered;
  • Agree who should be involved in undertaking an initial mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation, and possible victims and perpetrators;
  • Agree an outline plan for the investigation to be presented to the Operational Management Group (see Section 9.5, The Operational Management Group (OMG)), including resource implications;
  • Consider any immediate action that is required to protect children and young people at risk of harm, and organise its implementation.

The Strategy Meeting / Discussion may consult with the referrer if appropriate, a legal adviser and any other relevant practitioners, including a paediatrician.

Having considered and discussed the information, if the Strategy Meeting / Discussion agree that there is reasonable cause to suspect complex abuse, the Senior Manager of the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Service should inform the Executive Director of Children and Young Peoples Services. The relevant Assistant Chief Constable, South Yorkshire Police will be informed through the chain of command, via the police officer who is involved in the Strategy Meeting / Discussion.

9.2 Practitioners who need to be Informed

The Senior Manager of the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Service should ensure the following are informed of the complex abuse investigation:

  • The Executive Director of Children’s Social Care;
  • The Chair of SSCB;
  • The Sheffield City Council (SCC) Chief Executive;
  • The SCC Communications Team manager;
  • Senior managers of relevant agencies.

9.3 The Strategic Management Group (SMG)

Not all complex abuse cases will require a Strategic Management Group to be established. This will be decided by the practitioners listed in Section 9.1, Initial Strategy Meeting / Discussion above. Once it has been agreed that a SMG is required it should operate as outlined below.

The Executive Director of Children and Young Peoples Services and the Sheffield District Commander for South Yorkshire Police will determine their representative on the SMG.

A SMG meeting, chaired by the police or Children’s Social Care depending on the circumstances, must be convened within five working days of receipt of the referral.

The Operational Management Group (see Section 9.5, The Operational Management Group (OMG)) is responsible for taking immediate action to safeguard children and commencing a criminal investigation. Although accountable to the SMG, it may be necessary for the OMG to instigate action prior to the SMG being established.

The SMG will have the following core membership that should remain constant throughout the investigation:

  • Executive Director of Children and Young Peoples Services;
  • Sheffield District Commander, South Yorkshire Police;
  • Senior Manager Sheffield Safeguarding Children Service;
  • Police Senior Investigating Officer;
  • Children and Families Lead Manager;
  • Sheffield City Council Legal advisor;
  • Communications Teams Managers from agreed agencies;
  • Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) representative;
  • Representatives from agencies as appropriate for example, Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the National Probation Service, the Prison Service, school, CPS, voluntary sector organisations.

For all SMG meetings, minutes must be prepared fully, detailing all policy decisions and actions. All minutes must be classified restricted and all copies should be individually numbered. Copying of the minutes should only be allowed on the express authority of the SMG Chair.

9.4 Tasks and Functions of the Strategic Management Group

The tasks and function of the SMG may vary from case to case but will normally include the following:

  • Establish the terms of reference for the investigation;
  • Take ownership of the strategic leadership of the investigation;
  • To ensure appropriate staffing of the investigation and membership of the Operational Management Group;
  • Where necessary, to agree strategies:
    • To govern the future handling of the investigation: for example on media handling and victim / witness support;
    • For the sharing of information: to ensure that the investigation team secures full access to records from all agencies affected by the investigation and individuals holding important information, and to commit all parties to providing the necessary help with the obtaining of records from any outside organisations;
    • To ensure staff safety and support in carrying out the investigation.
  • To ensure that there are safeguards in place to guarantee the integrity of the investigation, taking into account the need to exercise particular care to guard against the risk of eliciting false allegations against innocent people;
  • To ensure that all agencies work together effectively;
  • To ensure that all agencies commit sufficient resources;
  • To secure and resource access to expert legal advice;
  • To agree a coordinated media strategy. Media liaison should be assigned to a senior manager in each agency, who is in close contact with the investigation;
  • Depending on the nature of an investigation concerning abuse in a residential setting, SMG may need to ensure that the child / young person is safeguarded, that other children who may be at risk are safeguarded and, if necessary, that suitable accommodation is provided;
  • To give consideration as to whether the case meets the criteria for a Case Review or case review, and if so refer it to the Chair of SSCB;
  • To consider the impact of stress on frontline workers from any agency, and ensure access to appropriate stress management resources;
  • To agree a schedule of dates for future meetings;
  • Remain in existence until the court or the CPS has made a decision about the alleged perpetrators.

9.5 The Operational Management Group (OMG)

An Operational Management Group should be set up and report to the SMG. The OMG has oversight and decision making responsibility for the investigation, as well as organising frontline staff in South Yorkshire Police and Children’s Social Care, and any other agencies who are involved. This may include staff from the Children’s Social Care and South Yorkshire Police Joint Investigation Team.

The OMG should be chaired by a Child Protection Coordinator or Service Manager from the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Services. Membership should include representatives from Children’s Social Care, school/s, health, and SCC legal advisors. Meetings of this group should also be fully minuted.

The tasks and functions of the group will vary from case to case but should normally include the following matters:

  • Review the decisions of the Strategy Meeting and subsequently provide direction for the investigation;
  • Complete an early mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation and ensure that where practitioners are implicated as suspected perpetrators, that their line managers are not included in the SMG or the Joint Investigation Team;
  • Ensure that wherever possible a dedicated incident room is established for the investigation team;
  • Ensure that any current risks to children / young people that emerge during the course of the investigation are acted upon;
  • Ensure that relevant intelligence has passed between agencies and to the SYP Major Incident Room and Force Intelligence Bureau as appropriate;
  • Provide a forum where practitioners regularly exchange information in relation to the investigation;
  • Ensure support for all staff working on the investigation and ensure welfare concerns are addressed;
  • Keep the SMG informed of any resource shortages;
  • Ensure that issues which need to be shared with agencies, not represented on the SMG or OMG, are communicated to those agencies;
  • Ensure that all staff involved in the investigation are clear about the parameters of shared information, data protection and confidentiality between agencies;
  • Request inter-agency meetings and / or Child Protection Conferences are convened as appropriate;
  • Consider the need, co-ordination and timing of input from therapeutic services;
  • Regularly update the SMG on the progress made and recommend when to close the investigation;
  • Keep establishments subject to investigation fully informed of progress, as well as the inspection and regulation sections;
  • Consider arrangements for court hearings and support to children and families;
  • Ensure that careful consideration is given throughout the investigation to the health and social care needs of child victims and adult survivors and particularly those who will be acting as witnesses;
  • Ensure a consistent and appropriate approach to practical and emotional support for victims;
  • Co-ordinate inter-agency response to families and provide consistent information;
  • Make recommendations as to the placement of children and any contact involving children and their siblings, relatives or other adults;
  • Ensure that relevant bodies are kept fully informed of the progress of the investigation, such as OFSTED.


10. Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries

Either from the beginning, or during the investigation, it may emerge that there are suspected or potential victims or abusers in more than one geographical area.

If the abuse allegedly took place in Sheffield, or the alleged perpetrators were said to operate in Sheffield, it will be the responsibility of South Yorkshire Police to manage the investigation.

If it is recognised that there are suspected or potential victims / abusers in other areas, a joint approach should be made by the OMG to the appropriate Children’s Social Care and police team.

The investigation team should conduct the investigation on behalf of the other geographical areas. A senior manager from each LA area or police force should join the OMG, and agree resource contributions as necessary. In such a case it is essential that there is a joint OMG to provide overall planning.


11. Closure and Review of Investigation

11.1 Exit Strategy

The Operational Management Group should plan the following:

  • Inform the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) of the final list of indictments where appropriate;
  • Inform all complainants / witnesses of the result of the case;
  • Inform all relevant agencies of the result of the case;
  • Agree a procedure for responding to any victims who identify themselves at a later date, and / or victims who remember things after the event;
  • Consider the need to offer continuing support to child victims and their families who have been in contact with the investigation, how this will be achieved and by whom;
  • Consider the need to maintain contact with witnesses, giving particular consideration to child witnesses who have given evidence in court proceedings, and ensure provision of counselling where appropriate;
  • If an offender is sentenced to one year or more, provide information about the role of the NPS to victims, and provide the NPS with their details if they so consent.

Cases where the alleged perpetrator cannot be traced should only be closed on the authority of the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) in consultation with the senior manager from Children’s Social Care who has been involved in the case. The SIO and Children’s Social Care senior manager should also agree about case disposal where the alleged perpetrator has been traced, but CPS has decided not to proceed on the grounds of insufficient evidence or that it is not in the public interest.

All agencies should review the investigation once it is completed. The review should highlight any policies, procedures or discipline processes which need changing for the various agencies. SSCB may already have conducted a Case Review, although this may not be completed until the conclusion of court proceedings. It is good practice to conclude all major investigations with an overview report highlighting the prime activities and findings of the inquiry with recommendations for future inter-agency learning. This may lead to both inter-agency and individual agency action plans.

11.2 Records to be Maintained and File Storage

The Code of Practice made under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 sets out the minimum requirements for record retention in all criminal cases. It defines what action should be taken by the police regarding retention and disclosure of material held by third parties. A central registry should be maintained, with file storage facility for all cases that come within this guidance. The holding agency should ensure that all documents and files used and / or generated in the process of an investigation are retained securely.

It is recommended that, against the various needs of agencies, all original files be retained for a minimum period of six years from the date of the completion of the investigation (whether or not proceedings are instituted). This is in case of information contained in the files being required in subsequent criminal and / or civil proceedings, or under the Freedom of Information Act. Such material may also be relevant as supporting evidence for compensation claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Certain material may be relevant to subsequent investigations and / or enforcement action by a regulatory body such as the National Care Standards Commission.

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