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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

B.4: Response to allegations of child sexual abuse

Policies and procedures for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse

12. The first national guidance specifically addressing child sexual abuse was in 1988, in Working Together.[1] This was followed by 1991 guidance accompanying the Children Act 1989, which included the sexual abuse of children in care.[2]

13. Earlier, between 1974 and 1984, the County issued a succession of memorandums, procedures and guidance for its social services, dealing with neglected or battered children” and non-accidental injury.[3] The County’s 1978 ‘Policy and Procedure Guide (Community Homes)’ stated: 

Instances of abuse of clients coming to the notice of any member of staff must be reported immediately … The Officer-in-Charge must report all suspicions, or complaints regarding abuse of clients, to the appropriate Homes Adviser … [4]

When investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by staff in children’s homes were conducted in the 1980s, they broadly followed the 1978 guidelines,[5] although the approach was inconsistent.[6]

14. Policies dealing with child sexual abuse developed over the years:

14.1. In 1984, new multi-agency child abuse procedures within the County included responding to allegations of child sexual abuse made against foster carers, but did not apply to residential care.[7] 

14.2. Specific guidance was issued in 1991 on responding to sexual abuse in residential care, both in the County[8] and across England and Wales,[9] following the Children Act 1989.

14.3. The 1992 Nottinghamshire ACPC procedures required an independent investigation by a senior member of staff if an allegation of abuse was made against either a member of residential care staff or a foster carer.[10] The safety of any other children in a foster care household was also to be considered.[11] 

14.4. The ACPC procedures emphasised three separate strands to the investigation of allegations against staff: child protection, disciplinary proceedings and criminal proceedings. They clarified that insufficient evidence to support a prosecution “does not mean that action does not need to be taken to protect the child, or that disciplinary procedures should not be invoked and pursued”.[12] 

14.5. From the 1990s onwards, allegations against foster carers generally led to their suspension pending full investigation by children’s social care. Other foster children were placed elsewhere and no further placements were made in the interim.[13] Concerns or allegations about a foster carer could lead to their deregistration, sometimes following a recommendation from the fostering panel.[14] Although allegations of sexual abuse should have triggered a review of the foster carer’s suitability,[15] reviews did not always happen where the police had decided to take no further action.[16]

14.6. By 2004, the County published guidelines on conducting disciplinary investigations into staff96 and the City began using their Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures.[17]

15. Both Councils now require all allegations of sexual abuse to be reported to the local authority designated officer (LADO), a role introduced by the Children Act 2004.[18] The LADO is responsible for overseeing the multi-agency response to allegations of abuse made against adults working with children, “based on professional judgement on the balance of probabilities”.[19]

16. In residential care, the Interagency Safeguarding Children Procedures (which apply to both Councils) set out the steps to follow when allegations of abuse are made against staff.[20] The County[21] and the City[22] also have their own complementary procedures for responding to allegations of abuse. These include multi-agency strategy meetings to discuss the allegations and any parallel disciplinary process or police investigation.[23] If no police investigation or social care enquiry is necessary (or once they are completed), the Councils must consider whether to take disciplinary action. 

17. In foster care, all local authorities must set out the procedure to be followed in the event of any allegation of abuse or neglect against foster carers.[24] Detailed standards for handling allegations are set out in the 2011 National Minimum Standards.[25] The County’s guidance on allegations against foster carers includes the assessment of the seriousness of the initial information, suspension of the foster carer, the continued placement of children, how to react to resignations and the holding of strategy discussions.[26] In the City, when information is received that a child in foster care is suffering or has suffered significant harm, the child’s social worker will be informed, a multi-agency strategy meeting will take place and an investigation may follow that can result in the deregistration of the foster carer.[27]

18. For both Councils, the framework for responding to allegations of non-recent abuse of a child in care is broadly the same as for recent allegations, although a number of additional considerations apply.[28]

Notification to local safeguarding board or partnership

19. Between 2006 and 2018, where abuse or neglect of a child was known or suspected and the child had died or been seriously harmed, the Councils’ Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) would be notified and would make a recommendation if they decided a serious case review or some other form of review was required.[29] 

20. LSCBs were, in many local authorities, replaced by Safeguarding Children Partnerships from 2018.[30] Since then, the Safeguarding Children Partnership or LSCB undertakes a “rapid review” and considers whether a child safeguarding practice review (the replacement for serious case reviews) is required. Because the criterion of “seriously harmed” must be met, not every case of known or suspected sexual abuse of a child in care will be considered by the Safeguarding Children Partnership,[31] and because of the additional criteria, even fewer will proceed to a review. 

Notification to councillors

21. Historically, councillors would receive verbal reports from the Director of Social Services in relation to allegations of sexual abuse, although the extent of this varied. For example, the County’s Social Services Committee received regular but limited information about disciplinary investigations of staff accused of sexually abusing children in residential care.[32] Within the City, until the mid-2000s, councillors were informed of serious allegations of sexual abuse of children in care, although there was no formal system in place requiring this.[33] 

22. In terms of today’s practice, the County introduced (“about two weeks” before Councillor Owen, Lead Member for Children’s Services in the County, gave evidence to the Inquiry[34]) a protocol for notifying the Lead Member of relevant incidents using an incident notification form.[35] This covers all allegations against members of staff but not all allegations against foster carers or of harmful sexual behaviour[36] and, while a log is to be maintained of all notifications, the level of detail provided will be decided in each case. 

23. The City’s Lead Member for Children’s Services until May 2019, Councillor David Mellen, received verbal reports about allegations of sexual abuse of children in care, although he was not “involved in the detail”.[37] He thought the last such notification was about two years before our October 2018 hearings,[38] but was fairly confident that he would be told of all allegations.[39] The City did not have a written notification protocol at the time of the hearings.[40] Neither of the Councils has a process by which there has been regular reporting to the Lead Member of the number of allegations of sexual abuse of children in care and the response to those allegations.

Notification to external agencies

24. Since 2001, local authorities have been required to report ‘notifiable events’ to Ofsted and its predecessors, including the instigation and outcome of any child protection enquiry involving a child in residential care.[41]

25. There are now a number of notification regimes applicable to children’s social care, including the following:

25.1. As set out above, allegations of sexual abuse of children, including those in care, where the child “has been seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known or suspected”,[42] must be notified to the local Safeguarding Children Partnership or Local Safeguarding Children Board and to external agencies such as Ofsted.[43] Since 2018, the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel must also be notified if a child dies or is seriously harmed and abuse is known or suspected.[44]

25.2. The manager of a children’s home must notify Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE) and the local authority of “serious events”. These include suspected involvement in sexual exploitation (including harmful sexual behaviour) and any allegation of abuse against the home or a person working there.[45]

25.3. Children’s social care must notify Ofsted of various matters relating to children in foster care, including the “instigation and outcome of any child protection enquiry involving a child placed with foster parents”.[46]

25.4. If allegations are substantiated and the perpetrator is still working with children, a referral must be made to the Disclosure and Barring Service.[47] Similarly, if the alleged perpetrator is a qualified social worker, allegations of sexual abuse must also be referred to the Health and Care Professions Council.[48] This does not apply to all residential care staff, as not all are qualified social workers.

References

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