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2.15 Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse


This procedure should be read in conjunction with the following documents:


Historical (non recent) Abuse Allegations Procedure


In March 2015, Section 3, Investigation was updated with regards to Potential Criminal Investigations.


  1. Definition
  2. Principles
  3. Investigation
  4. The Child
  5. Referral
  6. The Strategy Meeting
  7. The Strategic Management Group
  8. The Operational Group
  9. End of Enquiry/Investigation Meeting and Report
  10. Problem Resolution

1. Definition

Complex (organised or multiple) abuse may be defined as abuse involving one or more abusers and a number of related or non-related abused 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. 

Such abuse occurs both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and within a wide variety of institutions. There may also be cases of children being abused via the use of the Internet.

2. Principles

The principles are:

  • Both the Police and Children's Social Care Services will need to work for a planned, co-ordinated and properly resourced response to enquiries involving complex abuse and recognise that this commitment will be significant and on a scale much greater than usual;
  • In all organised and complex abuse enquiries the safety and well-being of the child or children will be the paramount consideration, when their identity is known or can be identified;
  • All parties support a balanced approach to the protection of individual children, the need to protect other children, the need to gather evidence and the effects of the investigation on other individuals and the community;
  • The need for strict confidentiality will be assessed at the outset of the enquiry and reviewed in order to prevent the alerting of suspected offenders;
  • Parties agree to consult and openly share information subject to legal and agency restrictions at all stages of the enquiry;
  • Parties agree to contribute to the legal process which may be criminal or civil or both;
  • Parties agree to keep accurate written records of the entire enquiry process;
  • Parties agree to a formal review at the conclusion of the enquiry to identify lessons learned and good working practices.

3. Investigation

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. But all will require thorough planning, good inter-agency working and attention to the welfare needs of the child victim or adult survivor involved.

The investigation of complex abuse is time-consuming and demanding 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 timescale over which abuse is alleged to have occurred. In these circumstances a specialist Operational Group (see Section 8, The Operational Group), as well as a Strategic Management Group (see Section 7, The Strategic Management Group) may be set up. 

The complexity is heightened where, as in historical cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the setting where the incidents occurred or where the alleged perpetrators are also no longer linked to the setting or employment role. These will all need to be taken into consideration when working with a child. For more information see Historical (non recent) Abuse Allegations Procedure.

The confidentiality of the information relevant to any Section 47 Enquiry and criminal investigation must be strictly maintained by those involved and must not be disclosed to others, including others within the agency, unless absolutely necessary.

Potential Criminal Investigations

In an ongoing Police investigation where the Police have particular concerns that following the normal methods for disclosure of information between the Police and Children’s or Adult Social Care would hamper the operational effectiveness of the Police investigation the following process will take place.

A senior Police Officer (normally the Safeguarding lead or Senior Investigating Officer) will contact a senior member of the relevant Social Care department (normally a Director or Assistant Director) and agree with them a strategy to manage the disclosure of information in the particular case.

A key part of this discussion will be to determine which other agencies/organisations need to be informed of the investigation and how this will be completed.

The agreed strategy will be recorded and revised on a regular basis as the investigation progresses.

4. The Child

The single and most important consideration is the safety and well-being of the child or children. 

In reconciling the difference between the standard of evidence required for child protection purposes and the standard required for criminal proceedings, emphasis must be given to the protection of the children as the prime consideration.

The investigation and enquiries must also address the racial, religious, cultural, language, sexual orientation and gender needs of the child, together with any special needs of the child arising from illness or disability.

5. Referral

In cases where there is a suspicion of organised abuse or it appears that there is a complex situation, a referral must be made immediately to one of the following post holders:

  • Service Manager Child Protection and Independent Review Service or Duty and Assessment Service Manager Leicester City Children's Social Care Services or Operational manager Safeguarding, Lead social work service manager (county);
  • Service Manager Child Protection and Review Unit, or the Access Service Manager Leicestershire Children's Social Care Services or Operational manager Safeguarding, Lead social work service manager (county);
  • Head of Service, Children and Families, Head of Safeguarding, Rutland Children's Social Care Services and Housing;
  • Detective Inspector, Child Abuse Investigation Unit, or Detective Chief Inspector. Delivering Justice Directorate (Safeguarding), Leicestershire Constabulary.

On receipt of the referral the designated post holders for the relevant children's social care services and the Police will meet or confer to analyse the nature of the referral and determine whether there is a need to follow this procedure.

If there is any suspicion that any managers currently employed by a social care agency are implicated or a member of the Police, the matter should be referred to the Chairs of the respective Leicester City and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Safeguarding Children Boards or in his/her absence, the Vice-Chair and a Senior Officer within the Police.

6. The Strategy Meeting

A Strategy Meeting should then be arranged to take place as a matter of urgency to assess the need for future action to be taken under this procedure and, in particular, whether a criminal investigation should take place. 

The Strategy Meeting, chaired by a senior manager of Children's Social Care Services, must take place within 5 working days of the receipt of the referral and be formally recorded. The Manager of the relevant Safeguarding Unit will inform the Leicester City LSCB and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Safeguarding Children Board Chair of the referral.

The nominated senior staff of Children’s Social Care Services and the Police should attend the meeting. The meeting will also involve senior staff from Health, Education and other agencies as required and, where necessary, ensure coordination across local authority boundaries.

The Strategy Discussion needs to carefully note and map:

  • The children named;
  • The children who may be in current contact with possible abusers;
  • Children who were, but no longer are, in contact with possible abusers;
  • Possible victims who are now adults;
  • Witnesses to be interviewed prior to the interviews of children;
  • Multiple and simultaneous interviews.

A strategic decision will need to be made by senior managers from the involved agencies as to whether the social work input into 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, e.g. the NSPCC.

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 Discussion confirms that the investigation will relate to organised or multiple abuse, it will appoint a multi-agency Strategic Management Group (see Section 7, The Strategic Management Group) to oversee the process. 

Where a member of staff of any agency is implicated in the investigation, his or her line manager must not be a member of the Strategic Management Group.

7. The Strategic Management Group

The senior management group will consist of the following personnel:

  • Head of Service from relevant authorities;
  • Assistant Chief Constable - Operations;
  • Detective Superintendent, Delivering Justice Directorate (Safeguarding);
  • Service Manager(s) Child Protection / Safeguarding;
  • Detective Inspector Child Abuse Investigation Unit;
  • Senior representative Legal Services;
  • Senior Health Representative;
  • Other individuals or agencies as appropriate to the case;
  • LSCB Chair.

The Strategic Management Group will be chaired by the Head of services/Senior Police officer and will:

  • Complete the mapping process started by the Strategy Discussion as set out in Section 6, The Strategy Meeting;
  • Specify the terms of reference for the enquiry/investigation;
  • Establish ownership of the strategic lead in the investigation;
  • Bring together a team of people with the necessary training, expertise and objectivity to manage and conduct the criminal investigation and/or Section 47 Enquiry on a day to day basis. NB: Line managers or colleagues of any person implicated in the investigation must not be involved and the involvement of any person from the work place under investigation must be considered with particular care;
  • Decide whether there is a need for an independent team to investigate the allegations, for example, the NSPCC, particularly where the alleged perpetrators are foster carers, prospective adopters or members of staff employed by a member agency of Leicester City LSCB and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Safeguarding Children Board;
  • Decide the terms of reference and accountability for the investigating team, including the parameters and timescales of their enquiries/investigation;
  • In cases of greater scale and complexity, appoint an Operational Group (IMG) (see Section 8, The Operational Group);
  • Ensure that appropriate resources are deployed to the investigation including access to legal and other specialist advice, resources and information;
  • 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;
  • 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 Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings;
  • 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 (for further information please see Pre-Trial Therapy Procedure);
  • Agree a communications strategy including the handling of political and media issues, and communication as necessary with the Regulatory Authority;
  • Ensure that records are kept safely and securely stored and a high level of confidentiality maintained at all times;
  • Hold regular strategic 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

8. The Operational Group

In cases of considerable complexity and scale, an Operational Group will be appointed, by the Strategic Management Group which will identify key persons to the investigation.

The tasks and functions of the Group will be subject to the terms of reference agreed by the Strategic Management Group (SMG), and will 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 councils area;
  • To keep the SMG informed of resources and any shortfalls;
  • To ensure a consistent and appropriate inter-agency approach to support victims and their families;
  • To co-ordinate the inter-agency response to families and provide consistent information;
  • To ensure information is shared appropriately with other agencies not represented on the SMG or the IMG;
  • To ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities for staff involved in the investigation. Investigators will have full access to all records and key information;
  • To ensure that relevant intelligence is passed between agencies and to the Police Major Incident Room (MIR).

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010 - now archived), and the Home Office /DOH Guidance: Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter-Agency Issues (2002) provide supplementary advice for the investigation of organised abuse. The latter contains detailed additional advice on:

  • Access to records;
  • Information sharing;
  • Disclosure of information to third parties;
  • Support for victims, witnesses and staff;
  • Media handling;
  • Closure and review of the investigation;
  • Obtaining relevant records.

9. End of Enquiry/Investigation Meeting and Report

At the conclusion of the enquiry/investigation, the Strategic Management Group will evaluate the investigation, identify the lessons learned and prepare an overview report for the Leicester City LSCB and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Safeguarding Children Board, highlighting any practices, procedures or policies which may need further attention and require either inter-agency or individual agency action plans.

10. Problem Resolution

All agencies agree that where practitioners encounter disagreements in joint investigations the appropriate form of resolution will be for the practitioners to highlight the disagreements to their immediate Line Managers. The Line Manager will then assume responsibility for resolution by contacting their counterpart in the other agency.

In the event that the issues cannot be resolved at this level the problems will be progressed in the first instance to the Operational Group and finally to the Strategic Management Group.

For further information please see Resolving Practitioner Disagreements and Escalation of Concerns Procedure.