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1.15 Organised and complex abuse
Organised or multiple abuse is defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of children. It can occur both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and within institutions such as residential homes or schools. There will also be cases of children being abused via the use of the Internet.
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.
Each investigation of complex and organised abuse will be different, according to the characteristics of each situation and the scale and complexity of the investigation. But all will require thorough planning, collaborative inter-agency working and attention to the needs of the child victim/s involved.
The most important consideration should always be the safety and well-being of the child or children. The needs of each child should be considered individually and remain the focus of investigation even where a large group of children is involved.
A victim support strategy and protocol should be established at the outset. Support will be required in pre-trial, trial and post-trial periods if the case proceeds to court. Minimum periods for contact should be established. Research following complex investigations has found that many victims and families feel it is important to remain in contact with the same staff throughout the investigative process.
Any practitioner who receives information which may indicate organised or multiple abuse should immediately refer the matter to the relevant local authority children’s social care team. For information on how to make a referral see the chapter on Referrals in these procedures.
If any person who works with children (paid or unpaid) is implicated, the matter should be referred under the procedure for managing allegations against staff or volunteers.
The strategy meeting/discussion
A multi-agency strategy meeting/discussion should to take place within one working day to agree the action to be taken, including whether a criminal investigation should commence.
A decision will need to be made whether the enquiries/investigation can be managed in the conventional way or whether a specialist approach is required (for example, from a dedicated team outside the service.)
This will usually depend on the number, geographical spread and age range of potential interviewees, as well as whether those implicated are foster carers or employees of any member agency.
Where the strategy meeting/discussion confirms that the investigation will relate to complex and organised abuse, it should appoint a multi-agency Strategic Management Group (see below) to oversee the process.
The Strategic Management Group
The Strategic Management Group should be chaired by a senior officer from local authority children’s social care and should:
- Complete the mapping process started by the strategy meeting.
- Establish the strategic lead agency/agencies in the investigation.
- Bring together a team of people with the necessary training, experience and objectivity to manage and conduct the criminal investigation and/or section 47 enquiry on a day to day basis. (Line managers or colleagues of any person implicated in the investigation must not be involved and the involvement of any person from the workplace under investigation must be considered with particular care).
- Review the need for an independent team to investigate the allegations, particularly where the alleged perpetrators are foster carers, prospective adopters or members of staff employed by a member agency of one of the safeguarding organisations.
- Decide the terms of reference and accountability for the investigating team, including the parameters and timescales of their enquiries/investigation.
- Where it would assist the co-ordination of the investigation, appoint an Investigation Management Group (IMG) (see below).
- Ensure that appropriate resources are deployed to the investigation including access to legal and other specialist advice, resources and information.
- Ensure the investigating team are themselves supported with personal counselling if necessary and that issues of staff safety are addressed.
- Ensure that suitable accommodation and administrative support are available for the investigation.
- Ensure that an appropriate venue is available for interviews and the interviews are conducted in accordance with appropriate guidance on achieving best evidence.
- Ensure that appropriate resources are available to meet the needs of the children and families or adult survivors, including any specific health issues arising from the abuse.
- Liaise as necessary with the Crown Prosecution Service at an early stage before arranging services for a child in need of counselling or therapeutic help so that the help can be given in a way which is consistent with the conduct of the criminal investigation.
- Agree a communications strategy including the handling of political and media issues, and communication as necessary with Ofsted.
- Ensure that records are kept safely and securely stored and a high level of confidentiality maintained at all times.
- Hold regular meetings and reviews, which must be recorded, to consider progress, including the effectiveness of the joint working, the need for additional resources and next steps.
The Investigation Management Group
In cases of considerable complexity and scale, a multi-agency Investigation Management Group should be appointed.
The tasks and functions of the Group will be subject to the terms of reference agreed by the Strategic Management Group (see above) and are likely to include the following:
- to provide a forum where professionals can meet, exchange information and discuss the implementation of the agreed investigation strategy
- to ensure a consistent strategy for interviewing victims within and outside the council’s area
- to keep the Strategic Management Group informed of resources and any shortfalls
- to ensure a consistent and appropriate inter-agency approach to support victims and their families
- to coordinate the inter-agency response to families and provide consistent information
- to ensure information is shared appropriately with other agencies not represented on the Strategic Management Group or the Investigation Management Group
- to ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities for staff involved in the investigation and ensure investigators will have access to all records and key information
- to ensure that relevant intelligence is passed between agencies and to the police Major Incident Room.
End of enquiry investigation meeting and report
It is possible that an investigation will identify individuals who are suspected abusers but against whom prosecutions are not brought. If a suspected abuser is working with children, evidence and information should be shared to support disciplinary proceedings and to enable, where appropriate, the referral of suspected abusers to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and the relevant regulatory bodies.
At the conclusion of the enquiry /investigation, the Strategic Management Group should evaluate the investigation, identify the lessons learned and prepare an Overview Report with recommendations and an action plan for the safeguarding organisations. This report should highlight any practices, procedures or policies which may need further attention and require either inter-agency or individual agency action plans.