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2.2.23 Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse

See National guidance on Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter Agency Issues.

This Policy is currently under review pending the publication of national guidance. If you are dealing with a case of this nature please contact the Central Duty Team (Kent) / Children’s Advice and Duty Service (Medway) for advice, guidance and support.

Central Duty Team (Kent)
Tel: 03000 41 11 11

Children’s Advice and Duty Service (Medway)
Tel: 01634 33 44 66


In April 2017, this chapter was amended to provide the contact details of who to contact when dealing with cases of this nature (see above).


  1. Definition
  2. General Principles
  3. The Child
  4. Initial Strategy Discussion/Meeting
  5. Professionals who Need to be Informed
  6. Strategic Management Group
  7. Investigation Management Group (IMG)
  8. Joint Investigation Team
  9. Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries

1. Definition

Complex (organised or multiple) abuse covers circumstances, which may involve a number of abusers and/or a number of children and the abusers concerned may be acting in concert to abuse a child or children.

One or more of the adults involved may be using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse. Complex abuse occurs both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community, and within institutions such as residential homes or schools.

It reflects, to a greater or lesser extent, an element of organisation on the part of the adult/s involved and may involve:

  • Aspects of ritual to aid or conceal the abuse of children;
  • Child sexual abuse networks where adults plan and develop social contacts with children for purpose of gaining access to them;
  • Abusive images of children or abuse of children through child sexual exploitation (see Safeguarding Children Abused through Sexual Exploitation Procedure);
  • Abuse in residential homes, boarding schools or other institutions;
  • Adult/s who seek contact with children for improper reasons through leisure or welfare organisations.

2. General Principles

Cases of organised abuse are often complicated because of the number of children involved, the serious nature of the allegations of abuse, the need for therapeutic input and the complex and time consuming nature of any consequent legal proceedings.

Such cases usually require the formation of dedicated teams of professionals from both Police and Local Authority Children’s Services for the purpose of the investigation.

It is recognised that those who commit sexual offences against children often operate across geographical and operational boundaries and the procedure takes into account the involvement of more than one local authority.

When an allegation involves a post holder who has a specified role within these procedures, the referral must be reported to an alternative (more senior) manager. When an allegation involves any individual in the children’s workforce the LADO must be informed. (see Allegations Against Persons Working with Children Procedure)

In all investigations of organised abuse, it is essential that staff involved maintain a high level of confidentiality in relation to the information in their possession without jeopardising the investigation or the welfare of the children involved.

Subsequent information generated throughout the investigation should only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis.

These procedures must be implemented in conjunction with the procedures on Allegations against People who Work with Children where appropriate (see Allegations Against Persons Who Work with Children Procedure).

For further guidance see Safeguarding Children Abused through Sexual Exploitation Procedure.

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.

4. Initial Strategy Discussion/Meeting

When there is a suspicion of a ‘complex case’, the District Manager (Kent) / Operational Safeguarding Lead (Medway) and the Police COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM inspector must be informed immediately. They must have a management strategy discussion within the working day the referral is received.

The Strategy Discussion/Meeting must:

  • Assess the information known to date;
  • Decide what further information is required at this stage;
  • Arrange for its gathering;
  • Establish whether and to what extent complex abuse has been uncovered;
  • Undertake an initial mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation and possible individuals implicated;
  • Consider a plan for the investigation to be presented to the management and resources strategy group, including resource implications;
  • Consider any immediate protective action required.

This management strategy discussion may include the referrer, if appropriate, a legal adviser and anyone else relevant to the discussion.

Having considered and discussed the information those persons must, if in their view the suspicion is confirmed, pass the information on to the Performance and Quality Assurance Manager (CP/CIN) / Operational Safeguarding Lead (Medway).

5. Professionals who Need to be Informed

The Safeguarding Policy and Standards Manager – Education Services in Kent / Assistant Director Children’s Care (Medway) must inform the LSCB chair, Director of Specialist Children’s Services, Head of the media / press office and senior managers of relevant agencies e.g. designated child protection professionals.

6. Strategic Management Group

To ensure a co-ordinated response, a strategic management group (SMG) meeting chaired by Local Authority Children’s Services or the Police must be convened within 5 working days of the receipt of the referral. It will be a primary responsibility of this group to ensure the welfare of children/young people is paramount at all times.

Membership of the group should comprise senior staff able to commit resources and will normally include the following as consistent core membership (additional members may be added as required as the investigation progresses):

  • Safeguarding Policy and Standards Manager – Education Services in Kent / Assistant Director Children’s Care (Medway);
  • Assistant Chief Police officer;
  • Police senior investigating officer (usually COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM DI);
  • District Manager (Kent) / Operational Safeguarding Lead (Medway);
  • Senior legal adviser (local authority);
  • Senior health representative, supported as necessary by designated professional;
  • LADO
  • Press officer as appropriate;
  • Other individuals and agencies as appropriate.

Line managers of any staff implicated in the allegations of abuse must not be included in the strategic management group.

Terms of reference of the strategic management group must be set up as specified in the Home Office and Department of Health guidance and the meeting must agree a plan that includes:

  • A decision on the scale of the investigation and the staff required for a joint investigation group;
  • Consideration of any cross boundary issues and planning of appropriate liaison and sharing of resources;
  • Identification of staff in both Local Authority Children’s Services and Police of sufficient seniority and experience to manage the investigative process (usually the COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM detective inspector and Local Authority Children’s Services manager);
  • Identification of sufficient trained staff for the investigation (must be independent of those being investigated);
  • Organisation of adequate accommodation and facilities for recorded interviewing;
  • Arrangements for medical staff to conduct assessments;
  • Arrangements for sufficient administrative staff and information technology resources to support the investigation;
  • Proper legal advice including consultation with the CPS;
  • Sufficient resources to ensure that children are protected from further abuse and that their welfare remains paramount (this should include appropriate foster, day-care or residential placements, medical, therapeutic, educational and practical services);
  • Sufficient support, supervision and de-briefing of staff involved;
  • Availability of expert advice where necessary;
  • Liaison arrangements for inter-agency working;
  • Time scales for the stages of the investigation;
  • Allocation of specific tasks to personnel involved in the investigation together with line management responsibilities;
  • Management of public relations and media interest in the case;
  • Child witness support, if relevant.

An individual must be designated to act as co-ordinator between the SMG and the joint investigative group identified in the plan, usually the Police senior investigating officer or Local Authority Children’s Services lead manager.

The responsibility of the co-ordinator is to manage the joint investigative group and prepare a report at the conclusion of the case.

The strategic management group must make arrangements to convene regularly to:

  • Monitor the progress, quality and integrity of the investigation;
  • Review risk indicators for the children involved;
  • Consider resource requirements;
  • Consider the appropriate timing of the termination of the investigation;
  • Plan a de-brief meeting with the joint investigation group to identify lessons learnt.

A dedicated team of police officers may be formed to deal with a cross boundary enquiry.

The strategic management group should remain in existence at least until the court or the CPS has made a decision about the alleged perpetrators.

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 relevant Safeguarding Children Board, highlighting any practices, procedures or policies which may need further attention and require either inter-agency or individual agency action plans.

7. Investigation Management Group (IMG)


The senior investigating officer or her/his deputy should chair the investigation management group (IMG).

Members should include representatives from Local Authority Children’s Services, Education, Health, Local authority legal services and other agencies, as appropriate. And the LADO if child workforce is involved.

Tasks and Functions

Meetings of this group should be fully minuted and the tasks and functions may vary from case to case but include:

  • Provide a forum for professionals to share information;
  • Planning the overall investigation involving record checking, evidence gathering, planning and undertaking a series of interrelated interviews and any surveillance required;
  • Considering the implications of crossing geographical boundaries and ensuring consistent strategy within and outside council areas;
  • Communication and liaison with other agencies on a need to know basis;
  • Convening interagency meetings and/or child protection conferences as appropriate;
  • Co-ordinate inter-agency response to families and provide consistent information;
  • Consideration, co-ordination and timing of therapeutic or other support services for victims;
  • Ensure support provided to all staff working on the investigation;
  • Ensure staff involved in the investigation are clear about sharing information arrangements and that relevant intelligence is communicated between agencies;
  • Regularly updating the strategic management group on the progress made, any resource shortages and recommending when to close the investigation;
  • Consideration of arrangements for court hearings and support to children and families;
  • Recommendations as to the placement of children and any contact involving children and their siblings, relatives or other adults;
  • Ensuring planning for individual pieces of work e.g. video interview of a child and/or action to protect a child;
  • Gathering other evidence including forensic evidence, interviews with alleged abusers, witnesses and other corroborative evidence.

8. Joint Investigation Team

This team should consist of experienced personnel from COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM and Local Authority Children’s Services – the latter may choose to use independent / agency / outside organisation social workers.

The size of the group will depend on the scale of the investigation, but in the majority of cases both Child Abuse Investigation Unit (COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM) and Specialist Children’s Services (Kent)/Children’s Social Care Services (Medway) should provide a line manager and 2 staff / officers experienced in interviewing children and trained in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings.

Membership may also be drawn as necessary from the appropriate health professionals, in particular Forensic Medical Examiners (FME), paediatricians, psychiatrists, health visitors, education (head teachers and class teachers), CPS, legal services, probation, victim support services.

In selecting staff, consideration should be given to requirements arising from the individual needs of the relevant child/ren i.e. gender, culture, race, language, and where relevant, disability.

Practical Arrangements

The location of the group must take account, both geographically and organisationally of the need to maintain confidentiality, especially crucial where the investigation concerns staff or carers.

Appropriate facilities must be available for video interviews and paediatric assessment.

Administrative support, information technology and accommodation requirements must be addressed at the outset, including the storage of confidential records.

9. Crossing Geographical and Operational Boundaries

It may be recognised at the outset or during the investigation that there are suspected or potential victims in more than one geographical area.

At the outset, the responsibility for managing the investigation lies with the area where the abuse is alleged to have occurred / where the alleged perpetrator/s are alleged to operate.

Once it is recognised that there are suspected or potential victims in other areas a joint approach should be made by the strategic management group to the appropriate Local Authority Children’s Services and COMBINED SAFEGUARDING TEAM.

The original joint investigation team should undertake the investigation on behalf of the other geographical areas.

A senior manager from each area should join the initiating strategic management group to discuss this and agree any resource implications involved.

If the number of victims outside the geographical boundaries of the original joint investigative team increases to the extent that it cannot respond, then a joint investigative team in the new geographic area should be established.

It is essential there is a joint strategic management group to provide overall planning. If it is necessary to have more than one joint investigative team, there must be close working between co-ordinators and processes for full information sharing.