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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse in contemporary institutional contexts

Methodology, sample and ethics

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is a public body that “makes considered decisions about whether somebody should be barred from engaging in regulated activity” (Gov.UK, 2019). Examples of roles which could fall under regulated activity include teaching or providing health and personal care to vulnerable adults or children. This research is the first of its kind,[1] analysing contemporary records (2017–2020) from the Disclosure and Barring Service, involving both male and female individuals added to the Children’s Barred List.

A qualitative case file analysis approach was taken, analysing a sample of 43 DBS case files out of the 544 cases in which an individual was added to the DBS Children’s Barred List on discretionary grounds and on the grounds of sexual harm between September 2017 and June 2020. These ‘discretionary referral cases’ have been referred to the DBS by institutions (employers, or regulators for example) because there are, or have been, concerns about that individual’s behaviour with children or vulnerable adults, which have led to them being removed from or leaving their position. These cases engage the discretionary decision-making powers of the DBS unless the behaviour results in a caution or conviction for a prescribed offence; such cases are reclassified as ‘autobar’ cases.

We refer to individuals described in DBS discretionary cases and who have been added to the Children’s Barred List as ‘alleged perpetrators’ when describing events which took place before an individual was referred to the DBS and added to the Children’s Barred List, and as ‘barred individuals’ when describing the sample, or when describing events which took place after an individual was added to the Children’s Barred list.

The cases analysed were only those cases relevant to England and Wales jurisdictions and which pertained to the Children’s Barred List. These cases involved alleged perpetrators working or volunteering within an institution at the point of referral, and where individuals were under the age of 18 at the time of the reported incidents of child sexual abuse. The sample covered a range of sectors, including education, voluntary and community, sports and leisure, foster care, social care, childcare, faith and healthcare sectors.

Over half of the barred individuals in the sample were between the ages of 19 and 34 years (24 cases) and male (32 cases). The majority of sexually abused children were under the age of 15 (37 cases) and female (51 cases).[2] Some of the cases analysed (16 cases) involved multiple children.

This project received ethical approval from the Inquiry’s Research Ethics Committee in December 2019 to carry out case file analysis of DBS’s discretionary referral cases and the project was subject to rigorous ethical scrutiny.



  1. This study builds on another small-scale study which analysed DBS case files (Darling and Antonopoulos, 2013).
  2. Some cases involved more than one sexually abused child.
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