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3.8 Not Attending School


Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools: Departmental Advice for School Staff


This chapter was updated in December 2014 when a link to Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools: Departmental Advice for School Staff issued by the Dfe in June 2014 was added.


  1. Introduction
  2. Children Registered at School who Go Missing
  3. Children with Poor, Irregular or Interrupted School Attendance
  4. Children who are Vulnerable or at Risk of Harm
  5. Reasonable Enquiry
  6. Children of School Age who are Not Registered with a School
  7. Referral and Assessment
  8. Children of School Age who are Educated at Home but where there are Concerns about their Welfare
  9. Gangs, Serious Youth Violence and Violent Extremism
  10. Pre-trial Therapy
  11. Foreign Exchange Visits
  12. Historical Abuse

1. Introduction

A minimum standard of safety should be afforded to children not attending school. This includes four groups of children:

  • Children who are registered with schools and who are or go missing from school, and give rise to concern about their welfare (these children may be classified as missing, whereabouts unknown);
  • Children who are poor attendees at school or who have interrupted school attendance;
  • Children of school age who are not registered with a school;
  • Children of school age who are educated at home but where there are concerns about their welfare including child sexual exploitation.

This section should be read in conjunction with the following procedures:

2. Children Registered at School who Go Missing

Initial Response

On the first day a child is not in school without a valid reason (e.g. no telephone call, letter or contact from the parent giving a valid explanation), a staff member trained to do so should telephone the child's parent / home to seek reasons for the absence and reassurance from a parent that the child is safe at home.

If contact is made with the parent and the child is missing, the staff member should advise the parent to contact all family and social contacts, the police and services such as the local accident and emergency departments and the child's GP.

If contact cannot be made with the parent or the staff member is concerned about the response they receive (e.g. the parent not informing the people listed above), the staff member should consider, with the school's designated safeguarding adviser, the degree of vulnerability of the child to decide on whether any further action is required at this stage. Any decision not to act should be reviewed on each subsequent day the child is absent and a record made of the reasons for the decision.

3. Children with Poor, Irregular or Interrupted School Attendance

Initial Response

On the first day a child is not in school, the procedures outlined in the initial response above should be followed.

If contact is made with the parent and the child is not missing from home, the member of staff will follow their school procedures for children who are absent. However, if they are concerned about the welfare of the child (and this is likely to be the case if there is any reason to doubt the reason given by the parent for the child's absence from school), the staff member should discuss the case with the school's designated safeguarding adviser.

Schools must have systems for monitoring attendance, and where children are attending irregularly the Children Missing Education Officer ( should be notified to ensure the child is safe.

The Government threshold for concern about school attendance is that 20 per cent plus non-school attendance raises concern about a child's education. Most LA Education Services therefore use this threshold for referral to education welfare and school attendance services. The Local Authority has a range of legal powers to enforce school attendance, including the prosecution of parents who fail to ensure that their children attend school regularly.

If a parent fails to comply with Local Authority efforts to ensure regular school attendance for a child, this must be viewed as a child welfare matter and a referral made to LA Children's Social Care in line with the Oxfordshire Children, Education and Families - Children's Social Care Procedures, Contacts and Referrals Procedure.

4. Children who are Vulnerable or at Risk of Harm

When a child is absent or missing from school, they could be at risk of Significant Harm through Physical or Sexual Abuse. The child may be absent or missing because they are suffering physical, sexual or emotional abuse and / or neglect.

Significant harm is defined as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect) which is so harmful there needs to be intervention by Child Protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.

Children who are absent or missing from school may also be missing from care or home. See Joint Protocol for Safeguarding Children Missing from Home or Care in Oxfordshire.

Teachers, in consultation with the designated safeguarding children professional at the school, should make an immediate referral to LA Children's Social Care in line with Oxfordshire Children, Education and Families - Children's Social Care Procedures, Contacts and Referrals Procedure, if:

The family may be avoiding contact and therefore the quicker the response the more likely they will be traced. Delay may increase the risk of harm to the child.

Additional concerns may be caused if:

5. Reasonable Enquiry

Day One

The process of 'reasonable enquiry' - [The Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/1751), Regulation 8(1)(h)(iii) requires schools and local authorities to make 'reasonable enquiries' to locate pupils who have been absent for 20 school days (referred to as 4 weeks) or more before they can be deleted from the register.] - starts with the questions above as soon as the child is discovered to be missing (i.e. on the first day). After school staff have exhausted the avenues of enquiry open to them, the Children Missing Education Officer should continue checking databases within the local authority and other databases (e.g. Housing, Health and the Police) with agencies known to be involved with the family, with the Local Authority the child moved from originally, and with any Local Authority to which the child may have moved.

Days Two to Twenty-Eight

If the judgement on the first day of absence is that there is no reason to believe the child is at risk of harm and the school delays further action, the process of reasonable enquiry should be repeated and enhanced, including reviewing the responses to the causes for concern listed above, for up to four weeks. This should be undertaken jointly between the school and the local education welfare or school attendance service and / or the Local Authority designated person.

More than Four Weeks

If a child continues to be absent from school for four weeks and neither the school, the LA Children Missing Education Administration nor Children's Social Care Service has been able to confirm any reason given for absence and there are concerns about the child's welfare, it is permissible under current regulations for the child's name to be removed from the school roll and for their details to be uploaded to the Lost Pupil Database (see DfE: School to School frequently asked questions). However, this would be very unusual in these circumstances.

If concerns remain in relation to the welfare of the child, the education attendance service and / or Local Authority’s Children's Social Care should continue to pursue reasonable enquiries in accordance with the Joint Protocol for Safeguarding Children Missing from Home or Care in Oxfordshire.

If the school, Children Missing Education Officer or any other service or agency becomes aware that the child has moved to another school, that service should ensure all relevant agencies are informed in writing so arrangements can be made to forward records from the previous school.

6. Children of School Age who are Not Registered with a School

Children of school age who are not registered with a school share the same vulnerabilities as those outlined above.

Educational achievement contributes significantly to children's well-being and development; all children have a right to education and young children who reach school age or children already in education who move home should be supported to enrol in a new school as seamlessly as possible. This is particularly because children who move frequently are often already vulnerable through being looked after or in temporary accommodation.

Where parents appear not to have taken steps to ensure their child is registered with a school or receiving an appropriate education, the LA Children Missing Education Officer should make urgent enquiries about the child's welfare, and interview the child.

If the parent fails to comply with LA efforts to place the child in school or to receive education in some other way and there are concerns that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, this must be referred to LA Children's Social Care as a Child Protection matter.

7. Referral and Assessment

This process should be initiated for all children, including those who are likely to remain in Oxfordshire only temporarily or whose stay in the UK is intended to be temporary (other than if a child is visiting for a short holiday).

In particular, this process should be implemented for children whose stay may originally be temporary but where they are privately fostered.

For new arrivals from abroad, CEF will seek to ensure that those parents are made aware that they are required to enrol their children in school or to receive education in some other way. The local authority must assist parents to do so. All authorities must maintain effective systems for monitoring that any children from abroad living in their area are attending school.

Any professional, including Health and Police, encountering a child of school age who does not appear to be in a school should ask the parent about this and, if the child is not on a school roll or they are concerned that the parent may be evasive about this issue, they must contact their agency's nominated Child Protection Advisor to discuss whether to make a referral to the Children Missing Education Officer.

8. Children of School Age who are Educated at Home but where there are Concerns about their Welfare

The law allows parents of children in England and Wales to educate their child however they wish. The local authority has limited powers to intervene or even to be informed about this.

If a parent never registers their child at a school, they are not obliged to inform the local authority.

If a parent registers their child at an independent sector school and then withdraws their child from school to educate them at home, they are not obliged to inform the local authority. Nor is the independent school obliged to inform the local authority.

If the parent registers their child at a state school and then withdraws their child to educate them at home, they are not obliged to inform the local authority. However, they are obliged to inform the state school, which in turn is obliged to inform the local authority within two weeks of removing the child from the school roll.

Where the Local Authority is informed of a parent's desire to educate their child at home, they have limited powers but the parent is required to assure them about the nature and quality of the education they are giving to the child.

However, there may be circumstances where the parent is seeking to avoid agency intervention in the child's life to conceal abuse or neglect or where, however well meaning, their desire to educate their child at home may give rise to general concerns about the child's welfare.

In these circumstances, it may be necessary for LA Children's Social Care to conduct an assessment into whether the child's needs are being met or whether they are suffering Significant Harm.


Under Section 437(1) Education Act 2006, if it appears to a Local Authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education either by regular attendance at school, elective home education or otherwise, the parents should be served a written notice requiring them to satisfy the Local Authority that the child is receiving appropriate education.  If the parents fail to satisfy the Local Authority then the Local Authority shall serve a School Attendance Order upon those parents.

9. Gangs, Serious Youth Violence and Violent Extremism

The risk or potential risk of harm to the child may be as a victim, a perpetrator or both - in relation to their peers or to a gang-involved adult in their household.

A child who is affected by gang activity or serious youth violence can be at risk of Significant Harm through Physical, Sexual and Emotional abuse.

Significant Harm is defined as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection.

Definition of a Gang

Groups of children often gather together in public places to socialise, and peer association is an essential feature of most children's transition to adulthood. Groups of children can be disorderly and/or anti-social without engaging in criminal activity.

Defining a gang is difficult, however it can be broadly described as a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of children who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity.

Children may be involved in more than one 'gang', with some cross-border movement, and may not stay in a 'gang' for significant periods of time. Children rarely use the term 'gang', instead they used terms such as 'family', 'breddrin', 'crews', 'cuz' (cousins), 'my boys' or simply 'the people I grew up with'.

Definitions may need to be highly specific to particular areas or neighbourhoods if they are to be useful. Furthermore, professionals should not seek to apply this or any other definition of a gang too rigorously; if a child or others think s/he is involved with or affected by 'a gang', then a professional should act accordingly.

Violence is a way for gang members to gain recognition and respect by asserting their power and authority in the street, with a large proportion of street crime perpetrated against members of other gangs or the relatives of gang members.

Youth violence, serious or otherwise, may be a function of gang activity. However, it could equally represent the behaviour of a child acting individually in response to his or her particular history and circumstances.

The Metropolitan Police Service defines serious youth violence as is 'any offence of most serious violence or weapon enabled crime, where the victim is aged 1-19' i.e. murder, manslaughter, rape, wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm. 'Youth violence' is defined in the same way, but also includes assault with injury offences.

The factors which influence a child's propensity to initiate violence include:

  • Parenting which is cold / uncaring, non-nurturing and neglectful;
  • Parenting which includes harsh disciplining;
  • Maltreatment, such as physical or sexual abuse in childhood (abuse by adults and peers within and outside of the family); and/or
  • Trauma such as domestic violence or involvement in or witnessing conflict violence.

One factor which influences a child's propensity to imitate violence is:

Parenting which is permissive and neglectful, resulting in a lack of guidance and creating ineffectiveness and poor self-control for a child. The child is then not equipped to resist an environment or group which instigates violence.

Community and Family Circumstances

Circumstances which can foster the emergence of gangs include:

  • Areas with a high level of social and economic exclusion and mobility (which weakens the ties of kinship and friendship and the established mechanisms of informal control and social support);
  • Areas made up of predominantly social housing, and especially where it is high rise / high density social housing. There is a perfect correlation in London with 'gang neighbourhoods' and being amongst the 20% most deprived government lower level super output areas (based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2007);
  • Areas with poor performing schools - in terms of leadership, positive ethos, managing behaviour and partnership working;
  • Lack of access to pro-social activities (e.g. youth service) and to vocational training and opportunities;
  • Communities who have experienced war situations prior to arrival in the UK;
  • Areas with a high level of gang activity / peer pressure and intimidation, particularly if the family is denying this or is in fear of the gangs; and
  • Family members involved in gang activity and criminality.

Many parents are aware of the widespread perception that the gang problem is ultimately a product of poor parenting and that the solution lies in assuming responsibility for their children. However, they feel unable either to control or to protect their children.


Fear and a need for self-protection is a key motivation for children to carry a weapon - it affords a child a feeling of power. Neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation and social exclusion generally have the highest rates of gun and knife crime. Children are more likely to carry knives and other weapons than guns.

Professionals working with children who may have reason to be fearful in their neighbourhood or school / FE college should be alert to the possibility that a child may carry a weapon.

Girls & Sexual Exploitation

There is evidence of a high incidence of rape of girls who are involved with gangs. Some senior gang members pass their girlfriends around to lower ranking members and sometimes to the whole group at the same time. Very few rapes by gang members are reported,

Gang members often groom girls at school using drugs and alcohol, which act as disinhibitors and also create dependency, and encourage / coerce them to recruit other girls through school / social networks.

Professional Response

The Oxfordshire procedure for Gangs, Serious Youth Violence and Violent Extremism details a professional response for children affected by gangs and serious youth violence and violent extremism.

Professionals should always take what the child tells them seriously. They should assess this together with the child's presenting behaviours in the context of whatever information they know or can gather from the child about the risk factors described in the risk assessment framework for children affected by gangs and serious youth violence.

Potentially a child involved with a gang or with serious violence could be both a victim and a perpetrator. This requires professionals to assess and support his/her welfare and well-being needs at the same time as assessing and responding in a criminal justice capacity.

Local authorities are recommended to nominate a local professional who can develop specialist knowledge in relation to gangs and serious youth violence to act as an adviser to other professionals in cases where there are concerns that a child is/could be affected by gangs and/or serious youth violence.

If a professional is concerned that a child is at risk of harm as a victim or a perpetrator of serious youth violence, gang-related or not, the professional should:

  • Wherever possible, consult with their agency's nominated safeguarding children adviser, their manager and, if available, the local multi-agency gang intelligence forum and/or professional with specialist knowledge in relation to gangs;
  • If the threshold is met for Significant Harm, then a referral must be made to LA Children's Social Care.

Looked After Children

Looked After Children are particularly vulnerable to being affected by gangs and serious youth violence due to their low self-esteem, low resilience, attachment issues and the fact that they are often isolated from family and friends. Looked after children say that bullies, gangs and the risk of serious youth violence are the worst thing about where they live.

Agency Responses

LA Children's Social Care professionals need to be alert to the possibility that a child referred to them or a child they are already working with may, in addition to any of the child's other presenting issues, be or become vulnerable to / involved with, a gang or serious youth violence.

A high proportion of gang-involved children are known to YOTs and a recent UK study findings were that almost two thirds of a sample of active gang members interviewed had been permanently excluded from school.

The Police, especially Safer Neighbourhood Policing Teams, should be aware of siblings or other children living in households which are affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence, including parents as adult gang members, and should share this information internally with child abuse investigation teams and externally with LA children's social care at the earliest opportunity.

If the police give an Osman Warning - [The Osman v United Kingdom case (1998) placed a positive obligation on the authorities to take preventive measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another individual e.g. where a gang member threatens to kill another gang member] - to a child they should inform LA children's social care at the earliest opportunity.

Schools affected by gang issues and potential or actual serious youth violence will need to work in partnership with the police (the Safer Neighbourhoods Policing Team), YOTs and LA Children's Social Care. Safer school partnerships can be an effective forum for this multi-agency working.

Community groups / third sector agencies can be well placed to know the profile and location of local gang activity and potential or actual serious youth violence through their community links.

See also: Safeguarding Children and Young People who may be affected by Gang Activity (DCSF, 2010).

Violent Extremism

Particularly from their teenage years onwards children can be vulnerable to getting involved with radical groups through direct contact with members or, increasingly, through the internet. This can put the child at risk of being drawn in to criminal activity and has the potential to cause Significant Harm.


Channel forms part of the cross-Government Prevent Strategy to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. Channel is the mechanism for making referrals and accessing support for children (and adults) at risk of violent extremism. Channel guidance states that if a referred individual is under the age of 18 the Channel co-ordinator must liaise with the common assessment framework (CAF) co-ordinator or LA Children's Social Care Service (the latter should be represented on the Prevent partnership and multi-agency Channel panel) to agree how best to manage the case.

Following initial discussion a decision needs to be made on how to progress the case (e.g. as a safeguarding issue, under Channel, CAF, or another support process) and establish how this will be reviewed. This decision can be taken on a case by case basis or a decision can be made by all local partners to use one particular system for the referral of all children.

If an area does not have Channel, local areas should incorporate referrals of children within local CAF and safeguarding procedures - see the Prevent Strategy.

There is a toolkit for schools available at Learning together to be safe: A toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism.

Local strategic partnerships, children's trusts or equivalent and crime and disorder partnerships, advised by LSCBs, should have an agreed processes in place for safeguarding children vulnerable to gangs, serious youth violence and violent extremism. Local safeguarding strategies should:

  • Promote awareness of the relationship between 'good enough' parenting and aggression in children; and
  • Promote early years service-led parenting support;
  • Promote capacity-building in the community for parental self-help groups to educate and support 'good enough' parenting; and
  • Promote targeted youth support, re-engagement and participation.

10. Pre-trial Therapy

One or more assessment interview should be conducted in order to determine whether and in what way the child is emotionally disturbed, and also whether therapy treatment is needed. This could be as part of an assessment undertaken using the Assessment Framework.

The decision about the need for therapeutic support (separate from formal court preparation of a child witness) should be considered:

  • Keeping the child's interests paramount;
  • Taking the child's wishes and feelings into account;
  • On a multi-agency basis;
  • In consultation with the child's parent/s;
  • Taking the potential impact on criminal proceedings into account.

The decision should normally be made following a professional assessment of the child's need for therapy, and may be taken as part of a strategy meeting / discussion or in a child protection conference, or, if the child is not subject to child protection processes, in a multi-agency meeting arranged for this purpose.

If there is a demonstrable need for the provision of therapy and it is possible that the therapy will prejudice the criminal proceedings, consideration may need to be given to abandoning those proceedings in the interests of the child's wellbeing.

Alternatively, there may be some children for whom it will be preferable to delay therapy until after the criminal case has been heard, to avoid the benefits of the therapy being undone.

While some forms of therapy may undermine the evidence given by the witness, this will not automatically be the case. Multi-agency advice must be sought on the likely impact on the evidence of the child receiving therapy.

An assessment may be needed to inform a decision on whether a child with special needs (e.g. disabled children and those with learning disabilities, hearing and speech impairments etc) can, with the appropriate assistance, be a competent witness.

Therapeutic support may be sought / offered through a number of routes. Professionals who provide therapeutic support to children must be aware of the guidance Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial (Home Office / CPS / DoH 2001), and the implications for the criminal process in terms of both disclosure and contamination of evidence.

The initial joint investigative interview with the child, including any visually recorded interview, should be undertaken prior to any new therapeutic work in order that the original disclosure is not undermined.

Where it becomes apparent that a child is already receiving therapeutic support at the point of the criminal investigations and child protection enquiries, there must be discussion as to how the work should proceed. The fact that therapeutic work is already underway will not necessarily prevent a case proceeding before a criminal court.

Prosecutors may need to be made aware of the contents of the therapy sessions, as well as other details specified in the above paragraph, when considering whether or not to prosecute and their duties of disclosure.

Crown Prosecution Service

The police should inform the Crown Prosecution Service as soon as therapeutic support is recommended, using a named contact point for the case relating to the child. Direct consultation between the professionals may be advisable in some cases and should be arranged through the police officer in the case.

The Crown Prosecution Service should advise the police of the potential impact of any proposed therapeutic support on criminal proceedings in each individual case.

It is the responsibility of the reviewing crown prosecution lawyer to seek confirmation from the police as to:

  • Whether therapeutic work has been undertaken;
  • If so, whether the witness said anything inconsistent with the disclosure to the police;
  • What sort of therapeutic work was undertaken.

Therapeutic Services

Professionals who provide therapeutic support to children must have appropriate training according to the level of work to be undertaken, as well as a thorough understanding of the effects of abuse. They must be a member of an appropriate professional body or have other recognised competence. They must also have a good understanding of how the rules of evidence for witnesses in criminal proceedings may require modification of techniques.

Pre-trial Planning Meeting

Where it is considered that therapeutic intervention is appropriate and has been commissioned, a pre-trial planning meeting should be convened.

Where LA children's social care is involved with the child, the team manager or service manager should convene and chair the meeting, and arrange for a formal record of it to be made.

Where LA children's social care is not involved, the therapeutic service commissioned to undertake work, or already involved with the child, should convene the meeting.

A formal record of the meeting should be made, and it should be noted that this may be disclosed in criminal proceedings.

Pre-trial planning meetings will involve relevant professionals from LA children's social care, police and the service offering therapeutic work. They may also include:

  • Parents (unless implicated in the alleged abuse);
  • The child, if of sufficient age and understanding;
  • Other relevant professionals.

Considerations at the Pre-trial Therapy Meeting

The purpose of the pre-trial meeting is to:

  • Confirm that therapeutic intervention is in the best interests of the child (including taking into account the child's right to justice);
  • Agree the parameters and nature of any proposed therapeutic support, ensuring that the process is subject to regular review;
  • Agree lines of communication between the professional who will undertake the work and other professionals.

In deciding on what therapeutic support is appropriate to pursue pre-trial, the following considerations apply:

  • Therapeutic support is on an individual basis (i.e. no joint or group sessions are normally acceptable because of the increased risk of contamination of evidence);
  • Where joint or group sessions are already in progress, the implications for continuing must be considered, and in addition the particular implications for recording what takes place;
  • Therapeutic support may be subject to challenge at court. Therefore, it is better that only one worker provides the support.


The professional providing therapeutic support must be able to demonstrate professional competence or a sufficient level of supervision if called in a subsequent trial.

If, during a therapeutic session, a child refers to the abuse they have suffered, the worker should:

  • Listen and acknowledge what has been said;
  • Not seek clarification or ask probing or investigative questions;
  • Consider whether there is new or additional allegations or information which require urgent discussion with the police / social worker.

The professional who will provide therapeutic support should be given sufficient information about the nature of the abuse alleged by the child to be able to judge if the child begins to make new or additional allegations within a session.

Care should be taken in the recording of therapeutic sessions (videos, tapes and written records). Immediate, factual, concise and accurate notes must be made for each session, which must be retained in their original format so that they can be produced at a later date if required. Any notes, visual or audio recordings, pictures etc. used during the therapeutic sessions must be similarly maintained.

A pro-forma document will be completed following each session and will include:

  • Date and location of session;
  • Duration of session;
  • Details of the professional undertaking the work with the child;
  • Details of child;
  • Details of other professionals present;
  • Confirmation that records of the therapy sessions have been made.

The pro-forma documents will be copied prior to any criminal trial and the original document forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service via the police.

Confidentiality not Guaranteed

The professional undertaking therapeutic work needs to ensure that parents and any child of sufficient age and understanding are told that records are kept and that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

Any disclosure of new allegations by the child, or any material departure from or inconsistency with the original allegations, should be reported to the detective inspector of the police Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) and to the social worker allocated to the child.

In newly arising allegations, therapy should not usually take place before a witness has provided a statement or, if appropriate, before a video-recorded interview has taken place. A further pre-trial planning meeting will be convened at the earliest opportunity to determine and agree the best course of action in the light of the new information or allegations.

Problem Resolution

Any dissatisfaction should be resolved as simply as possible. This would normally be via discussion between the social worker, the professional providing the therapeutic support and the police officer in the criminal case.

Where disputes remain, a further pre-trial planning meeting should be convened with the Crown Prosecution Service, and involving appropriately senior agency representatives.

See also Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial (Home Office/ CPS/ DoH 2001).

11. Foreign Exchange Visits

Children on foreign exchange visits and in some language schools stay with families selected by the school (or hosting organisation) in the host country and are vulnerable for reasons comparable to others living away from home If there are lapses in the care provided for them, the child can suffer to such a degree that it constitutes Significant Harm.

Significant Harm is defined as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect) which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.

Children may be at additional risk as the assessment and supervision that would apply if the child was privately fostered are not applicable because most exchanges last less than 28 days. It is unlikely the school (or hosting organisation) selecting the host family will have been able to conduct a thorough assessment of the suitability of the host family.

Advice and assistance can be given by the LA Children's Social Care to schools wishing to conduct more thorough assessments, for example the host family could be asked to give consent for checks of the local children and family social care service database, and also for checks with other local agencies (for example with GPs).

In the event that a pupil's host family has been the subject of Section 47 Enquiries, unless or until there is a satisfactory resolution of concerns, the family should be regarded by the UK school as unsuitable to receive or continue hosting a pupil from an overseas school.

UK schools and agencies should take reasonable steps to ensure that a comparable approach is taken by relevant schools abroad.

12. Historical Abuse

It is not unusual for people to disclose experiences of physical, sexual and / or emotional abuse and / or neglect which constitute Significant Harm only when they reach adulthood.

Significant Harm is defined as a situation where as a child the person suffered a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which was so harmful that there should have been compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.

Organisational responses to allegations by an adult of abuse experienced as a child must be of as high a standard as a response to current abuse because:

  • There is a significant likelihood that a person who abused a child/ren in the past will have continued and may still be doing so;
  • Criminal prosecution may be possible if sufficient evidence can be carefully collated.

Wherever historical abuse enquiries relate to alleged abuse within institutions such as children's homes or residential / boarding schools, professionals should follow the processes in Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure; and consult the Government guidance Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter-Agency Issues (Home Office and DH, 2002).

Required Response

When an adult discloses childhood abuse, the professional receiving the information should record the discussion in detail. If possible, the professional should establish if the adult has any knowledge of the alleged abuser's recent or current whereabouts and contact with children.

In view of the potential continuing risk the alleged abuser may pose to children, the professional should make a referral to LA Children's Social Care.

The LA Children's social worker receiving the referral should seek sufficient information to develop a chronology, and all records must be dated and the authorship made clear.

If information about the current whereabouts of the alleged abuser has not yet been gathered, LA Children's Social Care should establish this as a matter of urgency.

The adult who has disclosed should be asked whether they want a police investigation and must be reassured that the police are able and willing to progress an investigation even for those adults who are vulnerable as a result of mental ill health or learning difficulties.

LA Children's Social Care should reassure the adult that, even without their direct involvement, all reasonable efforts will be made to investigate the alleged abuse. LA Children's Social Care should support the adult to access therapeutic or other services, as appropriate.

The LA Children's social worker should:

  • Inform the police at the earliest opportunity and establish if there is any information regarding the alleged abuser's current contact with children, irrespective of the wishes of the victim as to whether a police prosecution should take place;
  • Inform the LA Child Protection Adviser if the adult who has disclosed requests a police investigation or if the allegations involve organised and complex abuse (police involvement in an investigation will depend on a number of factors, including the victim's wishes and the public interest);
  • Initiate a Child Protection Enquiry if the alleged abuser is known to be currently caring for children or has access to children. This must include making a referral to LA Children's Social Care in the area where the alleged abuser is currently living.

Where an adult alleges abuse in childhood in a different local authority area, the case should be transferred to agencies in the area where the abuse is alleged to have taken place. Parallel enquiries may be needed if the alleged abuser has contact with children elsewhere. The co-ordinating LA Children's Social Care should be the one responsible for the geographical area where the abuse is alleged to have taken place.

Where the abuse is alleged in a former children's home or residential school, the responsible LA Children's Social Care should be the one relating to the Local Authority responsible for running the establishment concerned, irrespective of where the children's home or residential / boarding school is / was located. It is important that there is effective communication about roles and responsibilities between agencies in such circumstances.

The responsible police service for investigation will be the one covering the area where the alleged abuse is said to have taken place.