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OxfordshireSafeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual

Organised and Complex Abuse


This chapter was updated in January 2019 to ensure that it is in line with current local processes in Oxfordshire.


  1. Definition
  2. Investigation
  3. The Child
  4. Referral
  5. The Organised and Complex Abuse Strategy Meeting
  6. The Strategic Management Group
  7. The Investigation Management Group
  8. End of Enquiry/Investigation Meeting and Report

1. Definition

Complex (organised or multiple) abuse is rare.

It 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 institutions such as residential settings, in day care and in other provisions such as youth services, sports clubs and voluntary groups. There may also be cases of children being abused via the use of the Internet – see also Online Safety.

2. 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.

Investigating complex abuse is time-consuming and demanding work 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 Investigation Management Group (see Section 7, The Investigation Management Group) as well as a Strategic Management Group (see Section 6, 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.

The confidentiality of the information relevant to any Child Protection Assessment 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.

As with all child protection investigations racial, religious, cultural, language, sexual orientation and gender needs of the child or children, together with any special needs of the child arising from illness or disability must be addressed.

4. Referral

When receiving information, which may indicate organised or multiple abuse, the recipient should immediately refer the matter to the Police and the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

If there is any suspicion that any person in a position of trust is implicated, the matter should be dealt with in accordance with the Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers Procedure.

5. The Organised and Complex Abuse 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 will be chaired by the relevant Family Solutions, Assessment Team or Quality Assurance Service Manager, within 5 working days of the receipt of the referral and be formally recorded.

Children, Education and Families, Health and the Police will nominate senior staff to attend the Strategy Meeting and senior representatives of all involved or relevant agencies should also attend. Coordination across local authority boundaries and Police force boundaries may be required.

The Strategy Meeting needs to identify:

  • The children named;
  • 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, for example 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 Meeting confirms that the investigation will relate to organised or multiple abuse, it will appoint a multi-agency 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.

6. The Strategic Management Group

The Strategic Management Group (SMG) will be chaired by a senior officer in Children, Education and Families and will:

  • Complete the mapping process started by the Strategy Meeting as set out in Section 5, The Strategy Meeting;
  • Specify the terms of reference for the enquiry/investigation;
  • Establish ownership of the strategic lead in the investigation;
  • Bring together a trusted and vetted team of people with the necessary training, expertise and objectivity to manage and conduct the criminal investigation and/or Child Protection Assessments 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 workplace under investigation must be considered with particular care;
  • Decide, in conjunction with the Local Authority Designated Officer 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 the Oxfordshire 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 Investigation Management Group (IMG); 
  • 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 Achieving Best Evidence Guidance;
  • 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 the Regulatory Authority;
  • Ensure that records are kept safely and securely stored and a high level of confidentiality is 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;
  • Consider whether criteria has been met for notification to CRAG, OFSTED and/or the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

7. The Investigation Management Group

Where there is a police investigation, an Investigation Management Group (IMG) will be appointed.

Membership of this group should include representatives from Children, Education and Families, Health, local authority 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:

  • 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 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.

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