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Publication - Guidance

National guidance for child protection in Scotland

Published: 19 May 2014
Part of:
Children and families, Health and social care
ISBN:
9781784124281

Provides a framework for agencies and practitioners at local level to agree processes for working together to safeguard and promote child wellbeing.

195 page PDF

4.1MB

195 page PDF

4.1MB

Contents
National guidance for child protection in Scotland
Harm Outside the Home or in Specific Circumstances

195 page PDF

4.1MB

Harm Outside the Home or in Specific Circumstances

Complex child abuse investigations: inter-agency considerations

545. Each investigation of complex abuse will be different, depending on the characteristics of the situation, its scale and complexity. Although complex abuse in residential settings has been widely reported in recent years, complex abuse can occur within family networks, day care and other provision such as youth services, sports clubs and voluntary groups, and via the internet. Complex abuse investigations require thorough planning, effective inter-agency working and attention to the welfare needs of both child victims and adult survivors. This section aims to provide advice and guidance to practitioners who are faced with these difficult situations

546. Where appropriate, definitions relating to various forms of abuse are provided, along with signposts to documents which will not only support staff but help them understand an area of abuse which they might be unfamiliar with.

Ritual abuse

547. Ritual abuse can be defined as organised sexual, physical, psychological abuse, which can be systematic and sustained over a long period of time. It involves the use of rituals, which may or may not be underpinned by a belief system, and often involves more than one abuser. Ritual abuse usually starts in early childhood and uses patterns of learning and development to sustain the abuse and silence the abused. The abusers concerned may be acting in concert or using an institutional framework or position of authority to abuse children. Ritual abuse may occur within a family or community, or within institutions such as residential homes and schools. Such abuse is profoundly traumatic for the children involved. [72]

548. Ritual abuse can also include unusual or ritualised behaviour by organised groups, sometimes associated with particular belief systems or linked to a belief in spiritual possession.

Abuse by organised networks or multiple abusers

549. Several high profile cases - including Cleveland (1987) and Orkney (1991) - and investigations within residential schools and care homes have highlighted the complexities involved in investigating reported organised abuse and supporting children. Complex cases in which a number of children are abused by the same perpetrator or multiple perpetrators may involve the following.

  • Networks based on family or community links. Abuse can involve groups of adults within a family or a group of families, friends, neighbours and/or other social networks who act together to abuse children either 'on- or offline'.
  • Abduction. Child abduction may involve internal or external child trafficking and may happen for a number of reasons. Children cannot consent to abduction or trafficking. For further information, see the section on Child trafficking.
  • Institutional setting. Abuse can involve children in an institutional setting (for example, youth organisations, educational establishments and residential homes) or looked after children living away from home being abused by one or more perpetrators, including other young people.
  • Commercial sexual exploitation.

550. In all of these contexts, where a single complaint about possible abuse is made by, or on behalf of, a child, agencies should consider the possibility that the investigation may reveal information about other children currently, or formerly, living within the same household, community or elsewhere. Reports of organised abuse are also often made historically.

551. Reports of abuse may come from adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In these cases, it is important that links are made with the national strategy for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Children surviving organised abuse may fear revealing their experiences due to:

  • fear of indecent abusive images, photographs and digital images being released;
  • threats of harm to other children;
  • belief that they are complicit in the abuse;
  • belief in the rituals used to silence them;
  • fear and distrust of police and social workers;
  • fear of their potential involvement in criminal activity; and
  • belief that their abusers are all-powerful and will punish them for reporting abuse.

552. In a number of cases, third sector organisations will be working with, or have knowledge of, relevant children and families. It is essential that these organisations have protocols in place, agreed with their local Child Protection Committees, to ensure a consistent approach in their dealings with children and families.

Planning considerations

553. Some child protection cases are particularly complex because they can uncover, or be shown to be linked with, other cases of suspected or reported abuse. It is not unusual for such complex investigations to extend beyond the boundaries of individual services. Detailed planning at strategic level is critical to ensure a consistency of approach with clear areas of accountability and responsibility determined from the outset. Chief Officers should be alerted in such circumstances, including where the concerns involve a child or children outwith the area. Senior managers from social work services and the police should ensure that arrangements for the joint investigation of linked cases are in place, so that children and adults are adequately protected.

554. The planning of complex investigations needs to be undertaken at both strategic and operational level. The tasks and functions of a strategic management group will vary from case to case but should normally include the following key functions:

  • to establish the terms of reference of the investigation;
  • to take ownership of the strategic leadership of the investigation;
  • to agree the staffing of the investigation; and
  • to agree protocols where necessary.

555. Police and social work services should agree arrangements for convening planning meetings, setting up systems for sharing and updating information about the investigations progress and co-ordinating support. All relevant agencies and services should be involved in these discussions. Such cases require early involvement of the Procurator Fiscal and the Children's Reporter. Police and social work services should agree a strategy for communicating and liaising with the media and the public. If a large number of families, parents and carers are involved, the local authority should make special arrangements to keep them informed of events and plans to avoid the spread of unnecessary rumour and alarm.

556. Parents/carers are usually entitled to the fullest possible information. In these circumstances - particularly where it may be unclear how many families are involved - decisions regarding about information-sharing will be particularly complex. Agencies may need to restrict information provided to families and the public to avoid prejudicing criminal enquiries; this should be considered in the planning process Parental involvement may need to be limited in order to safeguard the child and the reasons for this should be recorded.

557. The investigation of complex child abuse may require specialist skills. Investigating team members need expertise in conducting investigations, child protection processes and children's welfare, and they should be committed to working closely together. It may be necessary to involve agencies which are trusted by the child or other witnesses and to obtain specialist advice and support from agencies with particular knowledge of the issues.

558. When cases involve several children and adults in different households, it will be in the interests of the criminal investigation to prevent suspects from communicating with each other and destroying evidence. This may mean co-ordinating investigations, interviews and other assessments. Action may need to be taken at a time of day when a family is more likely to be at home, such as early morning or evening, but agencies should avoid unnecessary disruption.

559. It is good practice for the lead agencies to establish links with neighbouring authorities and agencies to ensure access to necessary resources - including skilled staff and specific facilities such as interview suites - when dealing with complex multiple or organised abuse cases. Any arrangement should identify the roles and responsibilities of different authorities and agencies. It should be borne in mind that where a child has been involved in pornography and constantly filmed or become accustomed to their image being manipulated, recording of interviews may be particularly alarming. Local inter-agency child protection procedures should include contingency plans to deal with such cases.

560. Investigating organised abuse and supporting children can be stressful and require a long-term commitment of staff and resources. Inter-agency procedures should reflect local arrangements to provide support, de-briefing or counselling. For further information on supporting child witnesses, see the section on Criminal prosecutions.

Further information

561. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • Chief Officers should be alerted in complex cases of abuse.
  • The planning of complex investigations needs to be undertaken at both a strategic and operational level.
  • Police and social work services should agree arrangements for convening a planning meeting, setting up systems for sharing and updating information about the investigations progress and co-ordinating support. This process should include support agencies and co-ordinating support services for the children and families involved.
  • Agencies may need to restrict information provided to families and the public to avoid prejudicing criminal enquiries.
  • When planning investigations, agencies should adopt a measured approach to investigation that will not prejudice efforts to collect evidence for the criminal prosecution of an abuser or group of abusers and which prioritises the welfare of any child or children at risk.
  • The investigation of complex child abuse may require specialised skills.
  • It is good practice for the lead agencies to establish links with neighbouring authorities and agencies to ensure access to necessary resources when dealing with complex multiple or organised abuse cases.
  • Inter-agency procedures should reflect local arrangements for the investigation of complex cases and include details of support, de-briefing or counselling provision.

Child trafficking

562. Child trafficking typically exposes children to continuous and severe risk of significant harm. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring and/or receipt of a child for purposes of exploitation. This definition holds whether or not there has been any coercion or deception, as children are not considered capable of informed consent to such activity. It applies to activity within a country as well as between countries. It should also be noted that the Palermo Protocol broadens the scope of a child to under 18 and local procedures should reflect this.

563. Children are trafficked for a number of reasons within and between countries and continents. They may be trafficked for one type of exploitation but sold into another, making simple categorisation problematic. Forms of exploitation of child victims of trafficking include:

  • child labour, for example, on cannabis farms;
  • debt bondage;
  • domestic servitude;
  • begging;
  • benefit fraud;
  • drug trafficking/decoys;
  • illegal adoptions;
  • forced/illegal marriage (for further information, see the section on Honour-based violence and forced marriage);
  • sexual abuse; and
  • sexual exploitation.

564. Tackling child trafficking requires a multi-agency response at all levels . All agencies and practitioners must be aware of the issues pertaining to child trafficking and of the potential indicators of concern. National guidance exists - see further information below - but local areas should have protocols for child trafficking and take steps to make staff aware of these protocols so that they have a clear understanding of the processes and procedures to follow when they identify a child who may have been, or is at risk of being, trafficked.

565. There are two distinctive issues related to child trafficking that make handling more complex than in many other child protection cases: identification; and wider legal concerns.

566. Child trafficking can be difficult to identify. By its very nature, the activity is hidden from view, so practitioners need to be sensitive to the indicators of trafficking when investigating concerns about particular children. There are no validated risk assessment tools that can predict the risk of trafficking or definitively identify those who have been trafficked. However, an indicator matrix has been developed which sets out a list of factors often associated with children who have been trafficked or who are at risk. While the presence of any factor does not provide definitive evidence, the indicators do point to the possibility of trafficking, particularly when more than one is present at the same time. The indicators may apply to both UK nationals and/or migrant children and to both boys and girls. Practitioners should keep them in mind when working with children and making an initial assessment. The indicators do not replace child protection investigations and the presence, or otherwise, of trafficking suspicions should not preclude the standard child protection procedure being implemented.

567. It is essential to take timely and decisive action where child trafficking is suspected because of the high risk of the child being moved. Action should not be postponed until a child realises, agrees or divulges that they have been trafficked. Often, children are threatened with punishment if they speak. Also, they may not be aware that they are victims of trafficking.

568. Trafficking raises important legal issues that require the involvement of specific agencies within the UK. As a signatory to The Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, the UK has a responsibility to implement a specific mechanism for identifying and recording cases of child trafficking. This formal procedure, known as the National Referral Mechanism, became operational on 1 April 2009. From this date, new arrangements came into force to allow all cases of human trafficking to be referred by frontline agencies for assessment by designated competent authorities. In the UK the competent authorities are the UK Human Trafficking Centre and, for cases with an immigration and asylum element, the Visa and Immigration Service within the Home Office (formerly UKBA). In addition, in July 2011 the UK Government opted into the EU Directive on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims (Directive 2011/36/ EU). This Directive takes a victim centred-approach and places legal obligations on the Scottish Government to implement the Directive, requiring them to take steps to secure more rigorous prosecution of offenders, provide assistance and support for victims, appoint a guardian for child victims of trafficking in some instances, secure victims' rights in criminal proceedings, and take steps to prevent trafficking. Scottish public authorities also have a responsibility for ensuring that the Directive is complied with in practice. The Directive has important implications for the identification and recording of suspected trafficking victims.

569. If an agency or practitioner believes that a child they are in contact with is, or may have been, trafficked they should initially consult the indicator matrix and contact social services. The child's safety remains the principal consideration and all necessary actions and inter-agency child protection procedures should be followed to ensure that they are protected.

570. In cases where a child may have been trafficked, their carer may be involved in the trafficking or exploitation. Seeking their consent could put the child at further risk or lead to their being moved elsewhere. Unless there is clear evidence that seeking consent would in no way harm the child, referring agencies should not seek the carer's consent for children under 16. For children aged 16-17, consent would not be sought from parents.

Further information

571. The key source of information is the national guidance on child trafficking, Safeguarding Children in Scotland Who May Have Been Trafficked, [73] which provides definitions, indicators, child protection processes and roles and responsibilities of agencies. See also the following.

Key messages for practice

  • Local areas should have protocols on child trafficking in place and ensure that all staff are aware of these protocols.
  • It is essential to take timely and decisive action where child trafficking is suspected because of the high risk of the child being moved.
  • The UK has a responsibility to implement a specific mechanism for identifying and recording cases of child trafficking known as the National Referral Mechanism.
  • Local Child Protection Committees should ensure that there are specific, and appropriate arrangements in place through guidance, protocols or procedures, which are known and implemented by relevant services.

Child Sexual Exploitation

572. The sexual exploitation of children and young people is an often hidden form of children sexual abuse, with distinctive elements of exploitation and exchange. In practice, the sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 might involve young people being coerced, manipulated, forced or deceived into performing and/or others performing on them, sexual activities in exchange for receiving some form of material goods or other entity (for example, food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, affection). Sexual exploitation can occur throught the use of technology and without the child's immediate recognition.

573. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are often common features; involvement in exploitative relationships being characterized in the maind by the child/youg person's limited availability of choice resulting fromtheir social, economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

574. In some cases, the sexual activity may just take place between one young person and the perpetrator (whether an adult or peer). In other situations a young person may be passed for sex between two or more perpetrators or this may be organised exploitation (often by criminal gangs or organised groups).

575. Sexual exploitation is abuse and should be treated accordingly. Practitioners should be mindful that a 'dual approach' is key in tackling CSE; whilst a young person must be both engaged with and supported, there must also be a focus on proactive investigation and prosecution of those involved in sexually exploiting the young person.

576. Staff have a responsibility to follow local child protection procedures for reporting and sharing these concerns.

Vulnerabilities

577. In a high proportion of cases, victims of Child Sexual Exploitation will have one or more social, situational, psychological or physical vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities can include:

  • A history of abuse, neglect and/or disadvantage;
  • Being looked after, or formerly looked after;
  • Disrupted family life, including family breakdown, domestic violence and/or problematic parenting;
  • Disengagement from education and isolation from other support mechanisms;
  • Going missing from home or care environments;
  • Drug and alcohol misuse;
  • Homelessness
  • Poor health and wellbeing, social isolation, bullying or low self-esteem.

Indicators

578. Professionals and staff in agencies who work with children and families should be aware of, and alert to, the indicators of Child Sexual Exploitation. Possible indicators of sexual exploitation, which workers should be aware of in any assessment of a child or young person, are as follows:

  • Staying out late or episodes of being missing overnight or longer;
  • Multiple callers (unknown adults/older young people);
  • Evidence of/ suspicion of physical or sexual assault; disclosure of assault followed by withdrawal of an allegation;
  • Unplanned pregnancy and/or Sexually Transmitted Infections ( STIs);
  • Peers involved in sexual exploitation;
  • Drugs/alcohol misuse;
  • Isolation from peers/social networks;
  • Exclusion or unexplained absences from school or college;
  • Relationships with controlling adults;
  • Entering/leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Unexplained amounts of money, expensive clothing or other items;
  • Frequenting areas known for adult prostitution;
  • Children under 13 years asking for sexual health advice;
  • Concerning use of the internet/mobile phone.

Risks associated with the Internet

579. There are specific risks associated with the internet in terms of child sexual exploitation, including:

  • Grooming children on-line for sexual abuse offline;
  • Children viewing abusive images of children/pornographic images;
  • Selling children on-line for abuse offline;
  • Making abusive images of children;
  • Viewing abusive images of children;
  • Access to chat lines via the internet or mobile phones;
  • Sexting.

580. Therefore when undertaking an assessment around child sexual exploitation practitioners should consider what risks are posed to the child or young person through the internet, and those that are posed by the child or young person to other children or young people. Please also see section on Online and mobile phone child safety

Non-disclosure

581. It is important that practitioners are aware that young people who are victims of CSE rarely directly disclose because they often do not recognise their own exploitation. For example, a young person may believe themselves to be in an 'adult relationship' with their abuser. Disclosure of sexual exploitation can be particularly difficult for young people; the sophisticated grooming and priming processes conducted by perpetrators and the exchange element of this form of abuse can act as additional barriers to disclosure.

582. Examples of other reasons for non-disclosure include:

  • Fear that perceived benefits of exploitation may outweigh the risks e.g. loss of: supply of alcohol, drugs; the 'relationship' and associated 'love' and attention;
  • Fear of retribution or that situation could get worse;
  • Fear of violence within exploitative relationship;
  • Shame;
  • Fear of not being believed;
  • Fear of labelling e.g. as a prostitute or gay;
  • Fear of separation from family and /or threat of secure;
  • Loss of control; fear of Police involvement and court proceedings.

Referral

583. Anyone who works with children and families and has concerns that a child is at risk of abuse through sexual exploitation must make a referral in accordance with child protection procedures set out in Part 3 of this guidance. This includes circumstances where there is a lack of evidence or where there may be concerns which cannot be substantiated. Referrals can help to build up a picture that a child may be suffering harm through sexual expolitation. It is important that practitioners do not wait for a disclosure from a young person or the accumulation of 'hard' evidence, prior to making a referral.

584. It is important that within current child protection protocols for children that there are is also provision for 16 & 17 year olds who are at risk of, or suffering, abuse through sexual exploitation.

For further information

  • Part 4 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 provides for offences criminalising sexual activity with a child under the age of 16, the 'age of consent'. Part 5 of that Act provides for offences concerning sexual abuse of trust. Specifically, the Act provides that it shall be an offence for a person in a position of trust over a child under the age of 18 or a person with a mental disorder to engage in sexual activity with that child or person. A summary of the main provisions of the 2009 Act and detailed Guidance is available.
  • The Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 provides for an offence of 'grooming' which makes it an offence for a person to meet or travel to meet children for the purposes of committing a sexual offence following earlier communications and for specific offences concerning the sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 through prostitution or pornography. It introduces Risk of Sexual Harm Orders ( RSHOs), which are civil preventative orders aimed at protecting children from those who display inappropriate sexual behaviour towards them. To obtain a RSHO, it is not necessary for the individual to have a conviction for a sexual (or any) offence. The 2005 Act also extends the use of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders ( SOPOs), so that they can be applied to those convicted of sex offences by the court when they are sentenced. Both SOPOs and RSHOs place conditions ( i.e. prohibitions and positive obligations) on those subject to the orders. Guidance on the 2005 Act has been published to assist practitioners. A separate Police Circular on SOPOs has also been published.
  • Child Abuse Images -The sale, publication and possession of indecent images of children under the age of 18 is prohibited by Section 52 and Section 52A of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (as amended by the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005).

Key messages for practice

  • Child sexual exploitation is hidden and young people will often not disclose, or recognise their abuse.
  • Child sexual exploitation is sexual abuse - no child can consent to their own abuse.
  • Local Child Protection Committees should ensure there are specific and appropriate arrangements in place through guidance, protocols or procedures, which are known and implemented by relevant services.

Historical reports of abuse

585. The term 'historical abuse' refers to reports of neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse which took place before the victim was 16 (or 18, in particular circumstances) and which have been made after a significant time lapse. The complainant may be an adult but could be an older young person making reports of abuse in early childhood. The reports may relate to an individual's experience in the family home, community or while they were a looked after and accommodated child in a residential, kinship or foster care setting.

586. Individuals may report historical abuse in the context of a therapeutic or counselling setting within the statutory or third sector. Others may report historical abuse directly to the police, social work services, health or education. It is possible that the person reporting historical abuse may not be a direct service user but a parent/carer, partner or other family member of an individual accessing these services.

587. Any reasonable professional concern that a child may be at risk of harm will always over-ride a professional or agency requirement to keep information confidential. All service providers have a responsibility to act to make sure that a child whose safety or welfare may be at risk is protected from harm. Service users should always be made aware of the circumstances when confidentiality needs to be breached, preferably during the initial stages of contact with a service.

588. When a report of historical child abuse is received by any agency, consideration needs to be given to the investigation of any current child protection concerns. This should include determining whether there are any children potentially still at risk from the suspected perpetrator(s). This may be in a professional capacity such as in a residential or foster care setting, within a personal family setting in the wider community, within other institutional settings or a combination.

589. It is not uncommon for individuals to report historical child abuse to practitioners in a therapeutic setting but to be unable or unwilling to go to the police. Consideration should be given to whether the individual requires support and protection as an adult at risk of harm. Their needs must be balanced against the need to protect any child/children who might currently be exposed to risk from the suspected perpetrator(s). Where possible, there should be an agreement between agencies to allow individual support plans to be put in place.

590. Services supporting or taking part in investigations relating to individuals reporting historical abuse should be mindful of potential barriers to making a report. These may include the fear of not being believed or that the investigating agencies may side with the abuser(s), especially if the abuse has happened within a care setting.

591. As with all investigations into suspected or reported abuse, the agencies involved should take a measured, planned approach that balances current child protection risks with support for the individual. Multi-agency communication and collaboration is vital and services should be proactive in ensuring they have a clear understanding of each others' roles and remits.

592. Individuals reporting historical abuse should be offered ongoing emotional support. Local guidelines should set out referral routes to local services that specialise in childhood abuse and trauma. Individuals can then be signposted to sources of support both during and after the investigation, as needed.

593. Practitioners need to be aware that it is not uncommon for a person to experience an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms as they are questioned about their abusive experiences. Services should be mindful of how this may impact on an individual's ability to convey essential information to inform the investigation.

594. Key to the investigation of reports of historical abuse is access to relevant records, including those relating to, for example, former staff in residential care settings and foster carers. Locating and retrieving records can be a challenge and the quality and level of detail may vary. Local guidelines should include clear protocols on record-keeping and record management, including record retrieval.

595. Where investigations into reports of historical abuse suggest that the reported abuse was part of a wider organised network or involved multiple abusers, agencies should follow this guidance. For further information, see the section on Complex child abuse investigations.

Further information

596. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • When a report of historical child abuse is received by any agency consideration must be given to the investigation of any current child protection concerns.
  • Consideration needs to be given as to whether the individual involved needs support and protection as an adult at risk.
  • Services supporting or taking part in the investigation of individuals reporting historical abuse should be mindful of potential barriers to reporting abuse.
  • The individual's need for support must be balanced with the need to protect any child/children who may currently be exposed to any risk from the suspected or reported perpetrator(s).
  • Individuals reporting historical abuse should be offered ongoing emotional support. Local guidelines should identify referral routes to local services that specialise in childhood abuse and trauma.
  • Local guidelines should have clear protocols in place in relation to record-keeping and record management, including record retrieval.

Children who are looked after away from home

597. Child protection concerns concerns are not limited to a child's family circumstances, but cover any care environment provided for children. Looked after children present distinctive challenges to practitioners supporting children. A looked after child may be placed with kinship carers, foster carers or in a residential setting-school, young people's unit or respite care service. Disabled children are over represented in the population of looked after children and are often placed away from home in residential care or health settings which may increase their vulnerability. The potential to abuse a position of trust may increase when children and carers are living together and sharing a home. Whatever the case, the main consideration in responding to any concern must be the safety of the child. As with investigations into children living in the community, any looked after child voicing a concern must be listened to and taken seriously. Equally, the carers should be treated with respect and their views also taken seriously.

598. Where the concern involves reports of abuse, the carer will be subject to investigation on the same basis as other individuals. While not deviating from the primary concern to ensure the safety of the child, those exploring these types of concerns will need to address a number of additional considerations. Foster and kinship carers of looked after children provide care from their own homes, and are subject to scrutiny from statutory agencies. This can create pressure and the issues particular to foster and kinship care settings need to be understood by those responsible for exploring concerns.

599. Looked after children who have had to leave the care of their parents will often exhibit complex emotions and challenging or irrational behaviour. Many will have experienced disruption in their early years and been emotionally and physically neglected or abused. Parents of looked after children may experience guilt, sadness and anger. These feelings may be expressed in the form of complaints about the care and treatment that their child is receiving.

600. In all of the settings where looked after children live, their earlier experiences can lead them to interpreting care in diverse ways, including feeling that they have been singled out for 'criticism' or 'punishment' unfairly. Some may have reported abuse in the past to escape from difficult situations. Some may feel guilt at being cared for away from their family and may want to blame the carer(s).

601. When concerns about a looked after child are raised, it should be remembered that further disruption (for example, a sudden move into a new care environment) may damage their recovery. The consequences of removing a child must be considered alongside their safety. Placement stability should be maintained wherever safe and possible.

602. It is vital that all concerns are rigorously investigated while treating carers consistently, fairly and with consideration. Carers should be given as much information about the concern at the earliest possible point compatible with a thorough investigation.

603. Lead Professionals have a responsibility to clarify concerns raised about a looked after child in collaboration with the child protection arrangements in their area as well as with the service managers of the fostering or residential provision.

604. Where there is a report of abuse involving a looked after child, Lead Professionals will need to consult with the police to agree the way forward. This may be a child protection investigation, or further enquiries by the fostering or residential service provider or the child's social worker.

605. Whatever the action to be taken, practitioners will need to discuss the needs of the child, the context of their care, key events in their lives at that time and any possible triggers for a concern being raised either by the child or others. Fostering or residential service providers should be included in the discussion. All practitioners involved with protecting the child need to be fully informed about the role of carers and the regulations that relate to their work. These meetings will facilitate the sharing and assessment of information, leading to a decision as to the next steps to be taken. If emergency action is required to protect the child, this should be discussed, as should ways of protecting the child at the same time as preserving placement stability. Options for the way forward for a looked after child are the same as for children in their own families.

606. Child Protection Committees need to consider their procedures for responding to concerns about a looked after child's welfare or safety. Responses should be proportionate to the nature of the concerns raised. Whatever route is agreed, it is important to decide when carers should be told about the concerns and to clarify the scope of the exploration.

607. Separated children are children who are outside their country of origin and separated from their parents or legal or customary care giver. Local authorities are responsible for assessing their needs and offering support. Separated children are often vulnerable due to their unaccompanied status and to their experiences in their home countries and during their journey to the UK. If child protection concerns arise, they should be addressed in the same way as if the child was a UK national.

608. Particular consideration needs to be given to the use of interpreters for separated children and to accessing specialist legal advice.

Further information

609. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • All concerns about a looked after child's safety should be rigorously investigated while treating carers consistently, fairly and with consideration.
  • The consequences of removing a child must balanced with the need to ensure their safety. Placement stability should be maintained wherever safe and possible.
  • Child Protection Committees need to consider their procedures for responding to concerns about a looked after child's welfare or safety. Responses need to be proportionate to the nature of the concerns raised.
  • Child protection concerns relating to separated children should be addressed in the same way as any similar concerns about a child that is a UK national.

Online and mobile phone child safety

610. New technologies, digital media and the internet are an integral part of children's lives. Whether on a computer at school or at home, a tablet, a games console or mobile/smart phone, children and young people are increasingly accessing the internet whenever they can and wherever they are. This has enabled entirely new forms of social interaction to emerge, for example, through social networking websites and online gaming. But these new technologies also bring a variety of risks from adults and peers, such as:

  • exposure to obscene, violent or distressing material;
  • bullying, coercion or intimidation through email and online (cyber-bullying);
  • identity theft and abuse of personal information;
  • pro-eating disorder, self-harm or suicide sites; and
  • sexual exploitation by online predators - for example, grooming - often through social networking sites. See section on Child Sexual Exploitation

611. Where police undertake investigations into online child abuse, or networks of people accessing, or responsible for, images of sexually-abused children, consideration must be given to the needs of the children involved and sharing this information with the Named Person. This may include children or young people who have been victims of the abuse or children and/or young people who have close contact with the suspected perpetrator. In many cases, they will have been targeted because they were already vulnerable. Local services need to consider how they can best support and co-ordinate any investigations into such offences. They should understand the risks that these technologies can pose to children and the resources available to minimise those risks. This will include having a clear understanding of normal, age-appropriate sexual development means, in order to better identify those attitudes and behaviours that they should be concerned about. When undertaking as addeddment around child secual ecploitttion thye should condier wat risks are posed to the child or young person through the internet, and those that are posed by the child or young person to others.

612. Children, young people, parents, carers and practitioners need to understand the risks the internet and mobile technology can pose so that they can make sensible and informed choices. Practitioners and carers need to support young people to use the internet and mobile technology responsibly, and know how to respond when something goes wrong.

Further information

613. For more information, see the following.

  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre ( CEOP) provides information and resources on child internet safety and runs a well-established education programme, 'ThinkuKnow'.

Key messages for practice

  • Where police undertake investigations into online child abuse, consideration must be given to the needs of children involved in these investigations.
  • Local services need to consider how best they can support and co-ordinate any investigations into such offences and must therefore understand the risks that these technologies can pose to children and the resources available to minimise those risks.
  • Practitioners and carers need to support young people to use the internet and mobile technology responsibly, and know what to do when something goes wrong.

Children and young people who place themselves at risk

614. Some children and young people place themselves at risk of significant harm from their own behaviour. Concerns about these children and young people can be just as significant as concerns relating to children who are at risk because of their care environment. The main difference is the source of risk, though it should be recognised that at least some of the negative behaviour may stem from experiences of abuse. Where such risk is identified, as with other child protection concerns, it is important that a multi-agency response is mobilised and a support plan identified to minimise future risk and that consideration is given to whether Compulsory Measures of Supervision might be required. The key test for triggering these processes should always be the level of risk to the individual child or young person and whether the risk is being addressed, not the source of risk.

615. While not exhaustive, the following lists the different types of concern that may arise:

  • self-harm and/or suicide attempts;
  • alcohol and/or drug misuse;
  • running away/going missing;
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour or relationships (for further information, see the section on Under-age sexual activity);
  • sexual exploitation;
  • problematic or harmful sexual behaviour;
  • violent behaviour; and
  • criminal activity.

616. Child Protection Committees are required to ensure that there are multi-agency policies, procedures and systems in place for identifying, referring and responding to these types of concerns.

Further information

617. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • Child Protection Committees are required to ensure there are multi-agency policies, procedures and systems in place for the identifying, referring and responding to situations where young people place themselves at risk through their own behaviour.

Children and young people who are missing

618. Describing a child or young person as 'missing' can cover a range of circumstances. In this context, the term 'missing' also includes children who are unseen or hidden. A child, young person or family (including unborn children) can be considered as missing in different context:

  • Children who are 'missing' to statutory services. This can include a child or family's loss of contact with, or their 'invisibility' to, a statutory service, such as education (for example, home educated children, Gypsy/Traveller community), health, social services or third sector; for example, the parent may have repeated explanations for the child's absence such as playing outside or with friends and relatives; the parent may withdraw the child from services; or there is no response when calls are made to the child's home [75] .
  • Children who are 'missing' from home or care. This can involve a child or young person who has run away from their home or care placement, who has been forced to leave or whose whereabouts are unknown. This may be because they have been the victim of an accident, crime and/or because they have actively left or chosen not to return to the place where they are expected.

619. A child or young person who has run away, and cases where children/young people have been 'thrown out' by their parents or carers, are both covered by the term 'runaway' (though the individual circumstances and needs of the child or young person may vary considerably). Children and young people who go missing remain vulnerable to the factors that led to them going missing (for example, domestic abuse in a care environment) as well to the risks associated with being missing (for example, homelessness). The number of children classified as missing is not clear, but extreme cases can result in homelessness and sleeping rough, engaging in crime, drugs and vulnerability to sexual exploitation. Many cases are never reported to police and few such children ever approach agencies for help.

620. The reasons for a child's absence may not be apparent. A number of circumstances in which children or young people may be termed as missing are listed below (most are discussed in detail elsewhere in the guidance):

  • Parental abduction. A parent may fail to return or remove a child from contact with another parent, in contravention of a court order or without the consent of the other parent (or person who has parental rights). This can occur within national borders as well as across borders.
  • Stranger abduction. A child may fail to return because they have been the victim of a crime.
  • Forced marriage. A child or young person may go missing due to being forced into marriage abroad or within the UK.
  • Trafficked children and young people. A child or young person may go missing due to being trafficked and later being removed from a placement. Asylum-seeking children are particularly vulnerable to vanishing. Their substitute care may feel unsafe, and many do not have a trusted adult to advocate for them.
  • Sexual exploitation. A child or young person may go missing due to sexual exploitation.
  • Young runaways and those 'forced to leave' or thrown out. This can include 'any child or young person under the age of 16, who is absent from their domicile without the reasonable authority of those responsible for or in charge of them, and who needs a service either to find and return them to that place (where it is safe or in the child's interests to do so), or to

(a) keep them safe;
(b) ensure an appropriate and proportionate response to their needs;
(c) meet statutory obligations.

and under the age of 18 who runs from substitute care.' [76] Children who go missing from home or care may do so because they are running away 'from' a source of danger or have been forced to leave; or because they are running 'to' something or someone. They can be at significant risk as they may need to find a safe alternative place to stay, often with few resources. This can result in begging or stealing or staying with a complete stranger.

  • Vulnerable young people. Such young people are identifiable by their criminal or risk-taking behaviour, poverty, disengagement with education, being looked after, self-harming, mental health issues and/or experience of abuse. They may take steps to escape from their situation.
  • Transition. Young people moving from children to adult services need processes in place to manage this experience, maximising support and minimising risk. Transition can be a difficult time for young people and their parent/carer, or carer or staff in residential care. Some express their negative emotions through high risk and sometimes offending behaviour; they may also be vulnerable to alcohol and/or drug misuse and sexual predators. These cases are very challenging to manage effectively and call for a collaborative approach that includes offender management services.
  • Home-educated children. A child may be unknown to services as a result of their removal from mainstream education or never having been enrolled within an education authority. Where this is the result of a decision being made to educate them at home this should not, in itself, be regarded as a child protection concern. For further information, see the Government's Home Education Guidance. [77]

621. The above circumstances are not mutually exclusive. As a result, multi-agency working is central to risk assessment and management and effective practice with 'missing children'. Each agency needs to develop its own policies and protocols to manage risk and track missing children and local areas should consider a strategic multi-agency collaborative framework, including relevant third sector agencies and independent schools, to support individual agency procedures for responding to, and tracking, missing children. Collaborative inter-agency and cross-boundary working is crucial in missing children situations. Guidance needs to be clear on specific procedures to be followed for those missing from home and those missing from care, as agencies have specific statutory responsibilities in respect of children missing from local authority care.

622. Many single agencies already participate in national as well as local alert procedures for the early identification of missing children. Child Protection Committees should ensure that multi-agency procedures are in place, including issuing a national alert when a child or young person goes missing whose name is on the Child Protection Register, or for whom child protection concerns have been raised. Single agency alert databases should be cross-referenced with partner agencies and information-sharing needs to be managed within a developed inter-agency data-sharing protocol.

623. Child Rescue Alert is a partnership between the police, the media and the public set up to respond when a child, who is apparently under 18 years old, is feared to be in imminent danger of serious harm or death. The aim is to quickly engage the entire community via media ( TV and radio) in searching for the child, offender or any specific vehicle and reporting any sightings to the police. The scheme is invoked where there is a reasonable belief that a child is in imminent danger and there is sufficient information available to enable the public to assist the police in locating the child.

624. If a person or agency suspects that a child has been taken by, or is under the influence of, a third party (which may include parental abduction or 'grooming'), the police must be notified as soon as possible so they can decide whether to launch an alert. All instances of missing children or abduction must be quickly reported to the police so that appropriate decisions can be made.

Further information

625. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • Children can be deemed 'missing' because they are absent from statutory care and/or absent from home or care.
  • 'Missing' covers a range of scenarios, including children running away from home, abduction and the planned removal of children from statutory educational services through home education.
  • Where children are designated as 'missing', multi-agency risk assessment and co-ordination is essential for location of the child and any subsequent support, extending in some cases to the issuing of media alerts through the police.
  • If practitioners are concerned that a child or young person is 'missing', they should make every effert to visit and see that the child is safe and well.
  • Local Child Protection Committees should ensure that there are specific, and appropriate arrangements in place through guidance, protocols or procedures, which are known and implemented by relevant services.

Under-age sexual activity

626. Increasing numbers of young people are engaging in a range of sexual activity before the age of 16. The reasons behind this behaviour vary considerably. In some cases, the activity will be wholly consensual; in others it will happen in response to peer pressure or as the result of abuse or exploitation. Young people who are sexually active will, therefore, have differing needs, so services and practitioners must provide a range of responses. National guidance provided by the Scottish Government covers the legal issues and advises practitioners how they can strike a balance between assuring the freedom of young people to make decisions and protecting them from activity which could give rise to immediate harm and/or longer-term adverse consequences.

627. The law is clear that society does not encourage sexual intercourse in young people under 16. However, it does not follow that every case presents child protection concerns and it is important that a proportionate response is made. If there are no child protection concerns, there may still be needs to be addressed either on a single agency or multi-agency basis. However, child protection measures must be instigated:

  • if the young child is, or is believed to be, sexually active and is 12 or under;
  • if the older child is currently 13 or over but sexual activity took place when they were 12 or under; and
  • if information suggests that any older child has been forced or enticed to take part in sexual activities (sexual abuse including child sexual exploitation), is or has been involved in pornography or prostitution, or the other person is in a position of trust in relation to an older child.

628. When a practitioner becomes aware that a young person is sexually active or is likely to become sexually active, they should undertake an assessment of risks and needs so that the appropriate response can be provided. The practitioner has a duty of care to ensure that the young person's wellbeing needs are addressed and to assess whether the sexual activity is of an abusive or exploitative nature. This process may not always be straightforward, so it will require sensitive handling and the use of professional judgment. Practitioners should pay particular regard to the presence of any of the following adverse risk indicators:

The child

  • Is the child under the age of 13 or did the sexual activity take place when the child was under 13?
  • Did the older child understand the sexual behaviour they were involved in?
  • Did the older child agree to the sexual behaviour at the time?
  • Did the older child's own behaviour - for example, use of alcohol or other substances place them in a position where their ability to make an informed choice about the sexual activity was compromised?
  • Was the older child able to give informed consent? (for example, mental health issues, learning disability or any other condition that would heighten the young person's vulnerability)
  • Was the older child given a sense of affection in return i.e. exploited by the other party?

The relationship

  • Was there a coercing power or any other relevant imbalance present in the relationship? (for example, differences in size, age, material wealth and/or psychological, social, intellectual and physical development - in addition, gender, race and levels of sexual knowledge can be used to exert power.) It should not automatically be assumed that power imbalances do not exist for two older children similar in age or of the same sex.
  • Were manipulation, bribery, threats, aggression and/or coercion, involved? (for example, was the young person isolated from their peer group or was the older child given alcohol or other substances as a dis-inhibitor etc.)

The 'other person'

  • Did the other person use 'grooming' methods to gain the trust and friendship of the older child? (for example, by indulging or coercing the older child with gifts, treats, money etc; by befriending the older child's family; by developing a relationship with the older child via the internet)
  • Did the other person attempt to secure secrecy beyond what would be considered usual in teenage sexual activity?
  • Was the other person known by practitioners to be or have been involved in concerning behaviour towards other children and young people?
  • Was the other person in a position of trust?

Other factors

  • Was the older child, male or female, frequenting places used for prostitution?
  • Is there evidence of the older child being involved in prostitution or the making of pornography?
  • Was the young man frequenting places where men have sex with men in circumstances where additional dangers, for example, physical assault, might arise?
  • Were there other concerning factors in the older person's life which may increase their vulnerability? ( e.g. homelessness)
  • Did the older child deny, minimise or accept the concerns held by practitioners

629. Local Child Protection Committees, in light of the national guidance, should have protocols for staff that:

Further information

For further information, see Under-age Sexual Activity: Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People and Identifying Child Protection Concerns . [82]

Key messages for practice

  • Increasing numbers of young people are engaging in a range of sexual activity before the age of 16.
  • However, it does not follow that every case presents child protection concerns and it is important that a proportionate response is made (though there are instances where child protection measures must be immediately instigated).

Bullying

630. Bullying behaviour may include:

  • name-calling, teasing, putting down or threatening;
  • ignoring, leaving out or spreading rumours;
  • physical assault;
  • stealing and damaging belongings;
  • sending abusive text, email or instant messages;
  • making people feel like they are being bullied or fearful of being bullied; and
  • targeting someone because of who they are or are perceived to be.

631. Such behaviour can leave people feeling helpless, frightened, anxious, depressed or humiliated and can have a devastating and lifelong impact.

632. Bullying behaviour can take place in schools, children's services, residential services, at home and in the community, at youth groups and out-of-school care and can come from both children and adults. It is also increasingly associated with the use of the internet and mobile phone technologies, especially via social networking sites such as Facebook (so-called 'cyber-bullying'). In essence, the behaviour is the same and requires similar prevention methods.

633. Bullying behaviour may be related to perceived or actual difference and involve the expression of prejudices regarding, for example, race, gender, disability and sexual orientation. It may be just one manifestation of the prejudice experienced by the child or young person, and/or may compound other difficulties in their life. With this in mind vulnerable and marginalised children and young people may be particularly at risk.

634. All organisations that work with children and young people should develop and implement an anti-bullying policy that provides a framework for proactive and reactive strategies for dealing with bullying. It should set out clear expectations regarding the behaviour and responsibilities of both staff and children and young people. Policies should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, including parents and carers and children and young people.

Further information

635. For more information, see the following.

Key messages for practice

  • All organisations that work with children and young people should develop and implement an anti-bullying policy, to provide a framework for proactive and reactive strategies for responding to bullying.

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