Organised and Complex Abuse


This chapter provides a procedure for agencies about the investigation of complex and organised abuse and 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 that they follow this procedure. The Registration and Inspection Unit should also adhere to this procedure in cases where continuing registration of a setting may be affected by the investigation.

1. Definition

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

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.

2. Investigation

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 investigation of complex abuse requires specialist skills from both police and social work staff which will involve the formation of dedicated teams of professionals and will need consideration of the needs for victims for therapeutic services. The consequent legal proceedings may add to the timescales of such investigations.

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 it is important that the dedicated team of operational professionals that were identified during the initial strategy discussion/ investigation continue to attend the ongoing operational strategy meetings until the investigation is complete and there is an outcome.

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.

A senior Police Officer may need to inform their superior and require senior oversight from a police perspective according to the complexity of the case. It would not be the remit of the Isle of Man Constabulary to direct any investigations. However, they would be responsible for sharing information with other managers and senior managers from agencies involved in the investigation, if new information comes to light and is unknown to the Operational Group conducting the Investigation. This could potentially happen with more complex cases If discussions or meetings are convened by the Senior Police Officer to share information, then such discussions should be minuted as they may need to be revealed to the prosecution, should criminal proceedings be undertaken.

The confidentiality of the information relevant to any Section 46 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.

3. 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.

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/s proceed to court. Minimum periods for contact should be established. It is clear from experience in research about complex investigations that many victims and families feel strongly that it is important that they remain in contact with the same staff throughout the investigative process.

4. Referral

Information that leads to an organised and complex abuse investigation may come to the attention of practitioners in various ways. For example; a referral and subsequent S46 enquiry relating to child abuse on one child may potentially become an organised and complex abuse investigation once S46 enquiries are progressed and where additional information comes to light as a part of those enquiries.

Sexual and Criminal exploitation investigations may also reveal wider organised and complex abuse.

The need for a complex abuse investigation could also be recommended by a Managing Allegations Strategy Meeting (MASM), where during the course of the MASM investigation further information comes to light pertaining to one or more abusers and/or a number of children.

When a practitioner from an agency (outside of Children and Families) receives information, which may indicate complex and organised abuse, the recipient should immediately refer the matter to the police and Children and Families Division.

When a referral is directly received by a duty Social Worker from the Initial Response Team, Children and Families Division, from another agency or a member of the public then the procedural referral process should be followed. See also Referrals, Responding to Abuse and Neglect and Child Protection Enquiries - Section 46 Children and Young Person's Act 2001 Procedures.

If there is any suspicion that any members of staff including managers who are currently employed by Manx Care, or if a member of the police are implicated, the matter should be referred directly to the attention of a Team Manager within the Initial Response Team. If it is suspected that a team manager may be involved then the matter should be referred to a Group Manager. If there is an allegation against a police officer, the Chief Inspector of Protective Services needs to be informed and they will refer to the Professional Standards department within the police.

The Senior Independent Reviewing Officer who is the designated officer within Children and Families must be informed by the manager who receives the referral regarding the allegation about a member of staff.

5. The Strategy Meeting

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

The Strategy meeting, chaired by the Group Manager responsible for the Initial Response Team, Children and Families, (or Care Management Group Manager if the child or children are known to the service and have an allocated social worker), must take place within one working day of the receipt of the referral and be formally recorded.

Where the initial Operational Strategy Discussion confirms that the investigation will relate to complex and organised abuse, it will appoint a multi-agency Strategic Management Group (see Section 6, The Strategic Management Group (SMG) to oversee the process.

  • The information received from the initial strategy discussion should be promptly shared with the Head of Service. Arrangements should then be made to convene the SMG meeting;
  • The operational strategy discussions will run in conjunction with SMG meetings;
  • The Executive Director for both adult and Children's Services should be informed and provided with regular updates relating to the investigation by the Head of Service, more particularly in cases of greater scale and complexity;
  • The Independent Chair for the Safeguarding Board must also be informed by the Head of Service of the investigation and the eventual outcome.

The nominated Group Manager who chaired the initial strategy meeting and the police (as members of the investigating operational management group) should ensure that any emerging issues arising are reported promptly to the SMG.

The initial operations strategy meeting will involve staff at a management level from health, education and other agencies as required and, where necessary, must ensure coordination off island with Local Authorities if required.

The Strategy discussion/meeting must carefully note:

  • An assessment of the information known to date:
    • 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.
  • Decide what further information is required at this stage;
  • Arrange for its gathering;
  • Establish if / to what extent complex abuse has been uncovered;
  • Undertake an initial mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation and possible individuals implicated as well as prepare:
    • Witnesses to be interviewed prior to the interviews of children;
    • Multiple and simultaneous interviews.
  • Consider a plan including resource implications, for the investigation to be presented to the Head of Service;
  • Consider any immediate protective action required.

It is important to plan ahead and agree who will be part of the investigation team to ensure overall confidentiality. It may be necessary to involve a manager from Adult Services, this should be determined on a case by case basis.

The team of people decided upon should have the necessary training, expertise and objectivity to lead the criminal investigation and/or Section 46 Enquiry on a day to day basis. N.B. 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.

6. The Strategic Management Group

The Strategic Management Group will be chaired by the Head of Service for operations within the Division of Children and Families and will:

  • Bring together a team of people with the necessary training, expertise, objectivity and seniority to be a part of the Strategic Management Group. It is important that members attending the operational strategy discussions do not overlap into the Strategic Management Group. It is preferable that SMG members practise at a senior management level and are able to make decisions responding to a larger scale and complex investigation, particularly where additional resources may need to be agreed;
  • Complete the mapping process started by the Strategy Discussion as set out in Section 5, The Strategy Meeting;
  • Establish ownership of the strategic lead in the investigation;
  • Decide the terms of reference and accountability for the investigating team, including the parameters and timescales of their enquiries/investigation;
  • In cases of an exceptionally greater scale and complexity, appoint an Investigation Management Group (IMG) (see Section 7, The Investigation Management 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 Guidance;
  • Liaise as necessary with the Legal Advocate for Children and Families 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 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.

7. The Investigation Management Group

In cases of exceptional complexity and scale across the Island, an Investigation Management Group may be appointed with Agreement from the Executive Director for Division of Children and Families and Adult Services.

Membership of this group should include representatives from the Children and Families Division, the police, designated health professionals and the department's legal services, with other agencies being invited to participate as appropriate.

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 Isle of Man if required;
  • 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.

8. End of Enquiry/Investigation Meeting and Report

The Waterhouse Inquiry report has noted the importance of adequate referral of information about suspected abusers. It is probable 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 in a child care position, or in the education service, 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 must evaluate the investigation, identify the lessons learned and prepare an Overview Report with recommendations and an Action plan for the Isle of Man Safeguarding Board highlighting any practices, procedures or policies which may need further attention and require either inter-agency or individual agency action plans.