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5.12 Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse


This should be read in conjunction with the Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care 2002 Guidance “Complex Child Abuse Investigations: Inter Agency Issues".


  1. Definition
  2. Investigation and Referral
  3. Strategy Meetings

1. Definition

Organised or multiple abuse may be defined as abuse which involves a number of abusers and a number of abused children. The abusers concerned may be acting in concert to abuse children, sometimes acting in isolation or maybe using an institutional framework or position of authority to recruit children for abuse.

Organised and multiple abuse can occur both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and also within institutions, such as residential children's homes, schools, day care facilities, youth services, sports clubs and voluntary groups. Cases of children being abused via the internet can also be a form of organised and multiple abuse.

2. Investigation and Referral

Investigation of organised or multiple abuse can be extremely complex and time-consuming, given the number of places and people that may be involved and given the timescale scale over which the abuse may have occurred. Each investigation will be different according to the characteristics of each situation and the scale and complexity of the investigation.

Whenever there is an allegation or suspicion of organised or multiple abuse, referral should be made to the Detective Inspector of the appropriate police Family Support Unit and also to the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit, in order that an initial response and subsequent investigation can be co-ordinated.

Investigation of organised or multiple abuse requires thorough planning, good inter-agency working and attention to the needs of the children involved. Each investigation should begin with a Strategy Discussion involving the Police and Children's Social Care, which should consider:

  • The overall scope and management of the investigation, including the handling of political and media issues;
  • The deployment of appropriate resources and the support of staff;
  • The need to establish a joint team which can simultaneously conduct a criminal investigation and child protection enquiries;
  • A process of strategic review to oversee the investigation, and at its end, identify and act on lessons learned.

3. Strategy Meetings

A programme of Strategy Meetings should be established to agree:

  • Terms of reference in the investigation and lines of accountability and communication;
  • Sharing of information, access to and secure storage of records;
  • Access to legal advice about the interaction of the criminal, civil and disciplinary processes;
  • Whether there are any children involved who need active safeguarding and/or therapeutic help;
  • How such safeguarding and therapeutic support can be achieved in a way which is consistent with the conduct of a criminal investigation;
  • How victims needs will be assessed and met;
  • How care for the investigating team can be provided; and
  • How lessons learned can be identified and acted on, at the end of the investigation, both for the conduct of future investigations and in respect of policies and procedures.