2.1 Complex and Organised Abuse



Complex and organised abuse is defined as abuse involving one or more abusers, and a number of related or non-related abused children. It can take place in any setting. The abusers may be acting in isolation or in concert to abuse children. They may be using an institutional framework or position of authority – such as a teacher, coach, faith group leader or be in a celebrity position – to access and recruit children for abuse. It may also occur in the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online, within the extra-familial contexts that children experience.

Such abuse can occur both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community, and within institutions such as residential settings, boarding schools, day care and in other provisions such as youth services, sports clubs, faith groups and voluntary groups.

Children may also be abused via the use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, computers, games consoles etc. which access the internet, and in particular social networking websites.

It is possible that children/young people may perpetrate such harm against another child/young person, with or without adult abusers. (e.g. gang culture, children being exploited, sexually harmful behaviour etc.) Agencies should also be alert to the possibility that a child or young person who has harmed another may well also be a victim.

Whatever the form of abuse or neglect, practitioners should put the needs of children first when determining what action to take.

General Principles

Each complex abuse investigation requires thorough planning, effective inter-agency working, communication and information sharing, as well as attention to the welfare needs of the child victims or adult survivors involved.

This procedure should be run alongside the legislative requirements placed on individual services as set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 and Keeping Children Safe in Education. Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm there should be a strategy discussion involving local authority children’s social care, the police, health and other bodies such as the referring agency.

Cases of organised abuse are often complicated because of the number of children involved, the serious nature of the allegations of abuse, the need for therapeutic input, and the complex, and time consuming, nature of any consequent legal proceedings. Professionals should seek to secure additional expert advice and support from the relevant named and/or designated safeguarding professionals as appropriate within their organisations following preliminary strategy discussions.

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 Strategic Management Group is set up (which may be referred to as a Gold Group).

The complexity is heightened where, as in historical cases, the alleged victims are no longer living in the situations where the incidents occurred and/or where the alleged perpetrators are no longer linked to the setting or employment role. Cases of historical abuse often come to light when adults disclose abuse they suffered as children. Such cases should be responded to in the same way as any other concerns. It is important to ascertain if the alleged perpetrator is still working with, or caring for, children (see Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth & Southampton Safeguarding Children Partnerships (HIPS) Historical/Non-recent Abuse - Delayed Reporting Procedure).

It is recognised that those who commit sex offences against children often operate across geographical and operational boundaries, and the procedure takes into account the involvement of more than one local authority.

Where an allegation involves a post-holder who has a specified role within these procedures, the referral must be reported to an alternative (more senior) manager.

In all investigations of organised abuse, it is essential that staff involved maintain a high level of confidentiality in relation to the information in their possession, without jeopardising the investigation or the welfare of the children involved.

Subsequent information generated throughout the investigation should only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis.

These procedures must be implemented in conjunction with the procedures on abuse by staff, carers and volunteers where appropriate (see HIPS Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers Procedure).

An investigation of organised abuse will be carried out under the auspices of the relevant HIPS Local Safeguarding Children Partnership (LSCP), which should be kept informed of its progress. It should be the role of the strategic management group to liaise regularly with the relevant HIPS LSCP. However, the LSCP should not take any direct role in the management of the inquiry. The lead agency will be the police while any criminal investigation is taking place, guided by partner agencies regarding wider safeguarding and support matters. 


Where there is suspicion of a complex or organised abuse case, this should be reported immediately to the local Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) who will inform the relevant Children’s Social Care Manager and Hampshire Constabulary Officer. In the identified manager/officer’s absence, the normal deputising arrangements must be followed.

The Children's Services Manager, in liaison with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) and the Hampshire Constabulary Officer, will decide whether the threshold for Complex and Organised Abuse is met.

If there is any suspicion that any person implicated in the allegation is currently (or has previously) working or volunteering with children, then the matter should be referred to a senior manager and the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) within 1 working day in line with the HIPS Procedure for Managing Allegations against Staff and Volunteers.

Initial Strategy Discussion/Meeting

The strategy meeting, chaired by a senior manager of Children’s Social Care[1], must take place within one working day of receipt of the referral and must be formally recorded.

The strategy discussion/meeting must:

  • assess the information known to date
  • decide what further information is required at this stage and arrange for its gathering
  • establish whether, and to what extent, complex abuse has been uncovered
  • undertake an initial mapping exercise to determine the scale of the investigation and possible individuals implicated
  • consider a plan for the investigation to be presented to the Senior Management Group, including resource implications
  • consider any immediate protective action required
  • emphasise the importance of confidentiality and that information should only be shared through the agreed communication channels.

This strategy discussion may include the referrer, if appropriate, a legal adviser and anyone else relevant to the discussion.

Having considered and discussed the information, those involved in the discussion must, if in their view the suspicion is confirmed, pass the information onto the Deputy/Service Director of Children’s Social Care and the Detective Chief Inspector, Hampshire Constabulary. Where this involves a health service, the Head of Safeguarding for the relevant Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) should also be informed)

[1] (Such as a Team Leader, Head of Service, Service Director or Deputy Director etc.)

Information to HIPS LSCP & Partner Agencies

Immediately following the strategy meeting, the HIPS LSCP Chair and the Chair of the relevant sub-group responsible for Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (CSPR) should be notified of the complex abuse investigation. This can be done by contacting the relevant local LSCP team.

The Chair of the CSPR Sub Group must ensure that the Director of Children’s Services, head of media/press office and senior managers of relevant agencies (including the statutory partners of the LSCP) in the authority area are informed of the instigation of a Complex Abuse Investigation.

The CSPR Sub Group Chair will also assist in the identification of initial members for the Strategic Management Group.

Strategic Management Group (SMG) - Gold Group

To ensure a coordinated response, an SMG meeting, chaired by either Children’s Social Care or the police, must be convened within five working days of the case being identified as a potential complex abuse case. This may be referred to as a Gold Group.

The group should comprise of senior staff able to commit resources and will normally include the following as consistent core membership (additional members may be added as required as the investigation progresses):

  • Detective Superintendent or Detective Chief Inspector
  • Police senior investigating officer (usually Detective Inspector CAIT or CID)
  • Children’s social care senior manager
  • Senior legal adviser (local authority)
  • Designated Doctor or Nurse for Childrens Safeguarding
  • Local Authority press officer
  • Other individuals and agencies as appropriate

Where it cannot be avoided that some members of the LSCP CSPR Sub Group also become members of the SMG, these members must be clear about the distinct roles they hold within each group. This clarity is necessary to prevent confusion around the function of both groups.

Immediate line managers of any staff implicated in the allegations of abuse must not be included in the SMG.

The terms of reference of the SMG must be set up as specified in the Home Office and Department of Health guidance.

The SMG meeting must agree a plan that includes:

  • a decision on the scale of the investigation and the staff required for a Joint Investigation Group
  • consideration of any cross-boundary issues and planning of appropriate liaison and sharing of resources
  • identification of staff in both Children’s Social Care and the police of sufficient seniority and experience to manage the investigative process (usually the CID/CAIT DI and Children’s Social Care Service Manager)
  • identification of sufficient trained staff for the investigation (must be independent of those being investigated)
  • development of a communication strategy specifying what information can be shared, with whom and at what stage (This should also include the arrangements for urgent communications during out of hours. A confidentiality agreement must be signed by the SMG, the Joint Investigation Group and, where appropriate, any subsequent partner involved.)
  • organisation of adequate accommodation, including a dedicated incident room, where possible, and facilities for interviewing and recording interviews
  • arrangements for medical staff to conduct assessments
  • arrangements for sufficient administrative staff and information technology resources to support the investigation
  • legal advice including consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • sufficient resources to ensure that children are protected from further abuse and that their welfare remains paramount (this should include appropriate foster, day-care or residential placements, medical, Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) services, and therapeutic, educational and practical services)
  • consideration of the therapeutic needs of children and adults
  • sufficient support, supervision and de-briefing of staff involved
  • availability of expert advice where necessary
  • liaison arrangements for inter-agency working
  • timescales for the stages of the investigation
  • allocation of specific tasks to personnel involved in the investigation, together with line management responsibilities
  • management of public relations and media interest in the case
  • witness support, if relevant

An individual must be designated to act as coordinator between the SMG and the Joint Investigation Group, usually the police senior investigating officer or the Children’s Social Care lead manager.

The responsibility of the coordinator is to ensure the flow of relevant information between the operational and strategic groups.

A member of the SMG must be identified to keep the LSCP CSPR Sub Group up to date with significant developments and issues.

The SMG must make arrangements to convene regularly during the investigation to:

  • monitor the progress, quality and integrity of the investigation
  • review risk indicators for the children involved
  • review the communications strategy
  • consider resource requirements
  • consider the appropriate timing of the termination of the investigation
  • plan a de-brief meeting with the Joint Investigation Group to identify lessons learnt

A dedicated team of police officers may be formed to deal with a cross-boundary enquiry, or any other partnership (social care, health, etc.) to liaise with other police forces, local authorities and health commissioners etc.

The SMG should remain in existence at least until the court or the CPS has made a decision about the alleged perpetrators and/or that the Joint Investigation Group has confirmed that all remaining safeguarding concerns have been addressed.

The SMG must report in writing to the LSCP Sub Group, so that the group can consider at the first available opportunity whether a Serious Case Review should be initiated and make a recommendation to the Chair of the relevant HIPS LSCP.

An SMG will only be convened once a complex abuse investigation has been agreed, and in such cases there will always be some form of criminal investigation. Given this, the police will take responsibility for the dissemination and storage of SMG minutes. Alongside the agreement of the SMG terms of reference, there should be discussion to clarify these arrangements to those involved.

Joint Investigation Group


Led by the police Detective Inspector (CAIT/CID) or the Children’s Social Care lead manager, this group should consist of experienced personnel from Hampshire Constabulary and Children’s Social Care – the latter may choose to use independent/agency/outside organisation social workers.

The size of the group will depend on the scale of the investigation, but in the majority of cases both Hampshire Constabulary and Children’s Social Care should provide a line manager and sufficient staff experienced in interviewing children and trained in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings.

Membership may also be drawn, as necessary, from appropriate health professionals, education, CPS, legal services, probation and victim support services.

In selecting staff, consideration should be given to requirements arising from the individual needs of the relevant child/children, i.e. gender, culture, race, language, and where relevant, disability/special needs.

Any breach of confidentiality (deliberate or unintended) must be reported immediately to the SMG so that they can address this issue and manage the actual or potential impact on the investigation.

Practical Arrangements

The location of the group must take account, both geographically and organisationally, the need to maintain confidentiality. This is especially crucial where the investigation concerns staff or carers.

Appropriate facilities must be available for video interviews and paediatric assessment.

Administrative support, information technology and accommodation requirements must be addressed at the outset, including the storage of confidential records.


The Joint Investigation Group will be responsible for:

  • planning the overall investigation, including record checking, evidence gathering, planning and undertaking a series of interrelated interviews, and any surveillance required
  • considering the implications of crossing geographical boundaries
  • maintenance of written records of regular strategy and operational meetings
  • holding planning meetings for individual pieces of work, e.g. video interview of a child and/or action to protect a child
  • gathering other evidence including forensic evidence, interviews with alleged abusers and witnesses, and other corroborative evidence. Communication and liaison with other agencies on a need-to-know basis.
    There should be no deviation from the SMG’s existing communication strategy without the prior approval of the SMG.
  • convening inter-agency meetings and/or child protection conferences as appropriate
  • coordination and timing of therapeutic services
  • regularly updating the SMG on the progress made and recommending when to close the investigation
  • consideration of arrangements for court hearings and support to children and families
  • recommendations as to the placement of children and any contact involving children and their siblings, relatives or other adults.

Further information

Crossing Geographical & Operational Boundaries

It may be recognised at the outset or during the investigation that there are suspected or potential victims and offenders in more than one geographical area.

At the outset, the responsibility for managing the investigation lies with police in the area where the abuse is alleged to have occurred – where the alleged perpetrator/s are alleged to operate – who will make necessary contact with other affected areas through the SMG (unless exceptional circumstances apply, e.g. online offences or kidnapping).

Once it is recognised that there are suspected or potential victims outside of the relevant HIPS LSCP area, the decision will be made by the Joint Investigation Group as to which agencies are informed and as to how evidence is gathered.

The original Joint Investigation Group should undertake the investigation on behalf of the other geographical areas. Other local authority Children’s Social Care Services must consider the funding of this service covering children in its area. A senior manager from each area should join the initiating SMG to discuss this and agree any resource implications involved.

If the number of victims outside the geographical boundaries of the original Joint Investigation Group increases to the extent that it cannot respond, negotiations should take place for a Joint Investigation Group with police and social care in the new geographic area.

It is essential that there is a joint SMG to provide overall planning. If it is necessary to have more than one Joint Investigation Group, there must be close working between coordinators and processes for full information sharing.

End of Enquiry

At the conclusion of an enquiry/investigation, the SMG should consider whether an evaluation of the investigation should take place so that lessons learned can be identified.

Where relevant, any learning, along with the actions required to address these, should be shared with the relevant HIPS LSCP.

This page is correct as printed on Sunday 14th of July 2024 05:19:02 PM please refer back to this website (http://hipsprocedures.org.uk) for updates.