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Allegations of Harm Made Against People who Work with Children

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides information about dealing with allegations against staff, volunteers and foster carers who have contact with children and young people in their work or activities. They are addressed to employers and organisations responsible for providing services to children and adults who are parents or carers. Such organisations should have a preventative approach to allegations through the application of safe recruitment processes, codes of conduct, robust Human Resources Policies and effective behaviour management strategies. However, when allegations do occur, this procedure should be applied.


Contents

  1. Introduction and Criteria
  2. Roles and Responsibilities
  3. Initial Response to an Allegation or Concern
  4. General Considerations Relating to Allegations Against Staff
  5. Disciplinary Process
  6. Record Keeping and Monitoring Progress
  7. Unsubstantiated and False Allegations
  8. Substantiated Allegations and Referral to the DBS
  9. Learning Lessons
  10. Procedures in Specific Organisations

    Appendices

    Further Information


1. Introduction and Criteria

All allegations of harm towards children by those who work with children must be taken seriously. Allegations against any person who works with children, whether in a paid or unpaid capacity, can cover a wide range of circumstances, including their personal life. 

This procedure should be applied when there is such an allegation or concern that a person who works with children, has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates he or she may pose a risk of harm to children (including children both in and outside of the workplace).

These behaviours should be considered within the context of the four categories of abuse (i.e. physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect). These include concerns relating to inappropriate relationships between members of staff and children or young people, for example:

  • Having a sexual relationship with a child under 18 if in a position of trust in respect of that child, even if consensual (see ss16-19 Sexual Offences Act 2003);
  • 'Grooming', i.e. meeting a child under 16 with intent to commit a relevant offence (see s15 Sexual Offences Act 2003);
  • Other 'grooming' behaviour giving rise to concerns of a broader child protection nature (e.g. inappropriate text / e-mail messages or images, gifts, socialising etc);
  • Possession of indecent photographs / pseudo-photographs of children.

Allegations of non recent abuse should be responded to in the same way as contemporary concerns. In such cases, it is important to find out whether the person against whom the allegation is made is still working with children and if so, to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) who will communicate with the person's current employer or voluntary organisation and / or refer their family for assessment.

All references in this document to staff or members of staff' should be interpreted as meaning all paid or unpaid staff / professionals and volunteers, including for example foster carers, approved adopters and child minders. This chapter also applies to any person, who manages or facilitates access to an establishment where children are present.


2. Roles and Responsibilities

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) states:

County level and unitary local authorities should ensure that allegations against people who work with children are not dealt with in isolation. Any action necessary to address corresponding welfare concerns in relation to the child or children involved should be taken without delay and in a coordinated manner. Local authorities should, in addition, have designated a particular officer, or team of officers (either as part of multi-agency arrangements or otherwise), to be involved in the management and oversight of allegations against people that work with children. Any such officer, or team of officers, should be sufficiently qualified and experienced to be able to fulfil this role effectively, for example qualified social workers. Any new appointments to such a role, other than current or former designated officers moving between local authorities, should be qualified social workers. Arrangements should be put in place to ensure that any allegations about those who work with children are passed to the designated officer, or team of officers, without delay.

Local authorities should put in place arrangements to provide advice and guidance on how to deal with allegations against people who work with children to employers and voluntary organisations. Local authorities should also ensure that there are appropriate arrangements in place to effectively liaise with the police and other agencies to monitor the progress of cases and ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible, consistent with a thorough and fair process.

The Local Authority should appoint a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) (or team of Designated Officers) who is responsible for:

  • Ensuring effective inter-agency procedures are in place;
  • Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of these procedures;
  • Liaison with the Police and other agencies;
  • Providing advice and guidance to employers and voluntary organisations;
  • Monitoring the progress of cases ensuring they are dealt with as quickly as possible and are consistent with a through and fair process; and
  • Providing advice and guidance to employers in relation to making referrals to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and regulatory bodies such as Ofsted, the General Medical Council (GMC) etc.

Each organisation that recruits, contracts, employs people and facilitates volunteers who work with children should identify a named Designated Senior Manager who is responsible for:

  • Ensuring their organisation deals with allegations in accordance with this Procedure;
  • Resolving any associated inter-agency issues; and
  • Liaising with the LADO on the subject of allegations against professionals.

A deputy should also be appointed to act in the Designated Senior Manager’s absence or if they are the subject of the allegation.

A Police Detective Inspector within the Protecting Vulnerable People Unit will:

  • Have strategic oversight of the local police arrangements for managing allegations against staff and volunteers;
  • Liaise with the LADO following an allegation;
  • Ensure compliance with these procedures.

The Police should designate appropriately ranked officers to:

  • Liaise with the LADO on specific allegations;
  • Take part in Strategy Discussions/Meetings;
  • Review the progress of cases in which there is a police investigation;
  • Share information as appropriate, on completion of an investigation or related prosecution.


3. Initial Response to an Allegation or Concern

An allegation against a member of staff may arise from a number of sources (e.g. a report from a child, a concern raised by another adult in the organisation, or a complaint by a parent / carer). It may also arise in the context of the member of staff and their life outside work or at home.

Initial action by person receiving or identifying an allegation or concern

The person to whom an allegation or concern is first reported should treat the matter seriously and keep an open mind.

They should:

  • Make a contemporaneous written record of the information (where possible in the child / adult's own words), including the time, date and place of incident/s, persons present and what was said;
  • Sign and date the written record;
  • Immediately report the matter to the Designated Senior Manager, or the deputy in their absence or; where the Designated Senior Manager is the subject of the allegation, report to the deputy or other appropriate senior manager; and
  • Ensure that the matter is reported to the LADO,

They should not:

  • Investigate or ask leading questions if seeking clarification;
  • Make assumptions or offer alternative explanations;
  • Promise confidentiality, but give assurance that the information will only be shared on a 'need to know' basis.

Initial action by the Designated Senior Manager

When informed of a concern or allegation, the Designated Senior Manager should not investigate the matter or interview the member of staff, child concerned or potential witnesses.

They should make a record of the information about the child and/or member of staff, any decisions made, and the reasons for those decisions.

The Designated Senior Manager should report the allegation to the LADO and discuss the decision in relation to the agreed threshold criteria in Section 1, Introduction and Criteria within 1 working day. Referrals should not be delayed in order to gather information and a failure to report an allegation or concern in accordance with procedures is a potential disciplinary matter.

If an allegation requires immediate attention, but is received outside normal office hours, the Designated Senior Manager should consult the Children's Social Care Immediate Help Service or local Police and inform the LADO as soon as possible.

If the Police or Children’s Social Care receive an allegation, they should, without delay, report it to the LADO.

Initial consideration by the designated senior manager and the LADO

There are up to three strands in the consideration of an allegation:

  • A Police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Children’s Social Care enquiries and/or assessment about whether a child is in need of protection or services;
  • Consideration by an employer of disciplinary or other internal actions.

The LADO and the Designated Senior Manager should consider first whether further details are needed and whether there is evidence or information to establish the context.

Where a child is directly involved (e.g. not cases of alleged abuse images), if the allegation is not demonstrably false and there is cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, the LADO should refer to the relevant Children’s Social Care Service and ask them to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting:

  • If a child is not believed to have suffered, or to be likely to suffer significant harm the LADO should conduct this discussion with the Police, the Designated Senior Manager and any other agencies involved to evaluate the allegation and decide how it should be dealt with;
  • This evaluation discussion should take place within 1 working day and must consider how to take matters forward in a criminal process parallel with a disciplinary process or whether any disciplinary action will need to await the completion of the Police enquiries and/or prosecution. The progress should be reviewed by the Police no later than 4 weeks after the initial evaluation meeting and thereafter at fortnightly or monthly intervals.

Strategy Meeting / Discussion or Professional’s Meeting

Wherever possible, a Strategy Meeting / Discussion should take the form of a meeting. Where there is no Section 47 Enquiry or Police investigation on-going, the meeting convened may be referred to as a Professional’s Meeting as it is held to share information and assist with the evaluation of this in relation to the person’s employment.

The Strategy Meeting or Professional’s Meeting should ensure that the points detailed in the Agenda for Strategy or Professionals Meeting held under Hull Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Regarding an Allegation or Concern about the Suitability of Professionals or Volunteers who Work with Children or Foster Carers are covered.

A final Strategy Meeting should be held to ensure that all tasks have been completed, including any referrals to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) if appropriate, and, where appropriate, agree an action plan for future practice based on lessons learnt.

The Strategy Meeting should take in to account the following definitions when determining the outcome of allegation investigations and ensure that all agencies record this consistently:

  1. Substantiated: there is sufficient identifiable evidence to prove the allegation;
  2. False: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation;
  3. Malicious: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation and there has been a deliberate act to deceive;
  4. Unsubstantiated: this is not the same as a false allegation. It means that there is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation; the term therefore does not imply guilt or innocence.

Allegations against staff in their personal lives or which occur in the community

If an allegation or concern arises about a member of staff, outside of their work with children, and this may present a risk of harm to child/ren for whom the member of staff is responsible, the general principles outlined in these procedures will still apply.

If the member of staff lives in a different authority area to that which covers their workplace, liaison should take place between the relevant agencies in both areas and a joint Strategy Meeting / Discussion or Professional’s Meeting should be held.

In some cases, an allegation of abuse against someone closely associated with a member of staff (e.g. partner, member of the family or other household member) may present a risk of harm to child/ren for whom the member of staff is responsible. In these circumstances, a Strategy or Professional’s Meeting / Discussion should be held to consider:

  • The ability and/or willingness of the member of staff to adequately protect the child/ren;
  • Whether measures need to be put in place to ensure their protection;
  • Whether the employment role of the member of staff is compromised.


4. General Considerations Relating to Allegations Against Staff

Persons to be notified

If an allegation arises within the workplace, the employer must inform the LADO within 1 working day and prior to any further investigation taking place. Likewise the LADO will liaise with the employer within 1 working day in the event of referrals from other sources, such as allegations regarding internet related offences.

In most circumstances, parents or carers of the children concerned should be informed of the allegation but the LADO will advise the employer whether doing this will impede any investigative processes. If a child is injured and requires medical treatment, the parent/s must be told straight away.

The parents / carers and the child should be helped to understand the processes involved and be kept informed about the progress of the case and of the outcome. This may include the outcome of any disciplinary process, but not the content of any internal process. Guidance should always be sought from the organisation’s Human Resources Department.

The employer should seek advice from the LADO, who will consult with the Police and / or Children's Social Care as needed regarding how much information should be disclosed to the accused person.

Subject to restrictions on the information that can be shared, the employer should, as soon as possible, inform the accused person about the nature of the allegation, how enquiries will be conducted and the possible outcome (e.g. disciplinary action, and dismissal or referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or regulatory body).

DO ensure that the subject of the allegation is:

  • Treated fairly and honestly and helped to understand the concerns expressed and processes involved;
  • Kept informed of any progress and outcome of any investigation and the implications for any disciplinary or related process as far as is possible subject to the restrictions within any Police investigation;
  • Offered support in line with the organisation’s Human Resources Policies and Procedures.

Ofsted should be informed of any allegation or concern made against a member of staff in any day care establishment for children under 8 or against a registered child minder. They should be invited to attend any Strategy Meeting regarding a childminder or, in the case of other day care agencies, where the allegation is against the manager or owner or there are wider concerns about management practice linked to the allegation.

Confidentiality

Every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality and guard against publicity while an allegation is being investigated or considered. In accordance with National Police Chiefs' Council guidance, the Police will not normally provide any information to the press or media that might identify an individual who is under investigation, unless or until the person is charged with a criminal offence. (If exceptional circumstances apply to depart from this rule, the reasons should be documented and partner agencies consulted beforehand). Media implications should be considered in Strategy Meetings/Discussions and reported to the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Manager.

Under Section 13 of the Education Act 2011 there are restrictions on the publication of any information that would identify a teacher who is the subject of an allegation of misconduct that would constitute a criminal offence, where the alleged victim of the offence is a registered pupil at the school.

Such restrictions remain in place unless or until the teacher is charged with a criminal offence, though they may be dispensed with on the application to the Magistrates’ Court by any person, if the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so, having regard to the welfare of:

  1. The person who is the subject of the allegation; and
  2. The victim of the offence to which the allegation relates.

There is a right of appeal to the Crown Court.

Support

Children and their families/carers should be supported, helped to understand the process and kept informed of the results of enquiries, disciplinary processes and outcomes.

The accused person(s) should be offered support by their employing agency including advice on contacting a relevant union or professional organisation, and access to occupational health and employee welfare arrangements where applicable. In the case of foster carers, they should be offered independent fostering support during the course of any investigation.

Suspension

The possible risk of harm to children posed by an accused person needs to be evaluated and managed, in respect of the child(ren) involved in the allegations and any other children with whom the accused has contact. Only an employer can suspend an employee. Suspension can be recommended but cannot be required by a Local Authority, Police, or Children's Social Care. Suspension is not a neutral act and should not be automatic so employers must consider carefully whether the circumstances warrant suspension from contact with children until the allegation is resolved. Suspension should be considered in any case where:

  • There is cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm;
  • The allegation warrants investigation by the Police;
  • The allegation is so serious that it might be grounds for dismissal.

If Children's Social Care or Police are to make enquiries or investigate, then the LADO should ascertain their assessment of the risks the accused individual may pose. The LADO should also ascertain the views of Children's Social Care and the Police regarding the necessity or the appropriateness of informing the employer or suspending the accused individual.

In the case of foster carers, the fostering agency, together with the placing authority, should risk assess if some or all placements can continue or if the carers’ fostering role should go on hold. This should be subject to regular review (please refer to relevant fostering agencies own procedures for details).

Resignations and 'settlement agreements'

Every effort should be made to reach a conclusion in all cases even if:

  • The individual refuses to cooperate, having been given a full opportunity to answer the allegation and make representations;
  • It may not be possible to apply any disciplinary sanctions if a person's period of notice expires before the process is complete.

‘Settlement agreements' must not be used (i.e. where a member of staff agrees to resign provided that disciplinary action is not taken and that a future reference is agreed). A settlement/compromise agreement which prevents the employer from making a DBS referral when the criteria are met for so doing would likely result in a criminal offence being committed for failure to comply with the duty to refer.

Organised abuse

Investigators should be alert to signs of organised or widespread abuse and/or the involvement of other perpetrators or institutions. They should consider whether the matter should be dealt with in accordance with Complex Abuse Procedures which, if applicable, will take priority. See Organised and Complex Abuse Procedure.

Whistleblowing

If a member of staff believes that a reported allegation or concern is not being dealt with appropriately by their organisation, they should report the matter to the LADO.

All staff should be made aware of the organisation's whistle-blowing policy and feel confident to voice concerns about the attitude or actions of colleagues.

Timescales

It is in everyone's interest for cases to be dealt with in a timely manner, fairly and thoroughly and for unnecessary delays to be avoided.

For those cases where it is clear immediately that the allegation is unsubstantiated or malicious, they should be resolved within 1 week. Where the initial consideration determines that the allegation does not involve a possible criminal offence, it will be for the employer to deal with it, although if there are concerns about child protection, the employer should discuss them with the LADO. In such cases, if the nature of the allegation does not require formal disciplinary action, the employer should institute appropriate action within 3 working days. If a disciplinary hearing is required and can be held without further investigation, the hearing should be held within 15 working days.


5. Disciplinary Process

Disciplinary or suitability process and investigations

The LADO and the Designated Senior Manager should discuss whether disciplinary action is appropriate in all cases where:

  • It is clear at the outset or decided by a Strategy Meeting / Discussion that a Police investigation or Local Authority Children's Social Care Enquiry is not necessary; or
  • The employee has made an admission of guilt; or
  • The employer or LADO is informed by the Police or the Crown Prosecution Service that a criminal investigation and any subsequent trial is complete, or that an investigation is to be closed without charge, or a prosecution discontinued or the person acquitted.

The discussion should consider any potential misconduct or gross misconduct on the part of the member of staff, and take into account:

  • Information provided by the Police and / or Children's social care;
  • The outcome of any investigation or trial;
  • The different standard of proof in disciplinary and criminal proceedings.

In the case of self employed people, supply, contractors and volunteers, normal disciplinary procedures may not apply. In these circumstances, the LADO and employer should act jointly with the relevant agency, if any, in deciding whether to continue to use the person's services, or provide future work with children, and if not, whether to make a referral for consideration of barring or other action. See Section 8, Substantiated Allegations and Referral to the DBS.

If formal disciplinary action is not required, the employer should institute appropriate action within 3 working days. If a disciplinary hearing is required, and further investigation is not required, it should be held in accordance with the timescales in the employer’s Human Resources Procedures.

If further investigation is needed to decide upon disciplinary action, the employer and the LADO should discuss whether the employer has appropriate resources or whether the employer should commission an independent investigation because of the nature and/or complexity of the case and in order to ensure objectivity.

The aim of an investigation is to obtain, as far as possible, a fair, balanced and accurate record in order to consider the appropriateness of disciplinary action and / or the individual's suitability to work with children. Its purpose is not to prove or disprove the allegation. In all circumstances the employer should comply with their own policies for conducting disciplinary or suitability investigations into employees’ conduct,

If, at any stage, new information emerges that requires a child protection referral, the investigation should be held in abeyance and only resumed if agreed with Local Authority Children's Social Care and the Police. Consideration should again be given as to whether suspension is appropriate in light of the new information.

In the case of foster carers, there must be an ad hoc fostering review at the end of an investigation, which is presented to the agency’s fostering panel. Termination of approval may be recommended as a result of the findings of the investigation or the review.

Sharing information for disciplinary purposes

Wherever possible, the Police and Children's Social Care should, during the course of their investigations and enquiries, obtain consent to provide the employer and/or regulatory body with statements and evidence for disciplinary purposes.

If the Police or CPS decide not to charge, or decide to administer a caution, or the person is acquitted, the Police should pass all relevant information to the employer without delay.

If the person is convicted, the Police should inform the employer and the LADO straight away so that appropriate action can be taken. If an admission is received at an earlier stage of the process this should be shared with the employer via the LADO in a timely manner recognising that the employer may be able to conclude their internal process more quickly since there is a lower burden of proof for employers taking action than there is for criminal proceedings.


6. Record Keeping and Monitoring Progress

Record keeping

Employers should keep a clear and comprehensive summary of the case record on a person's confidential personnel file and give a copy to the individual. The record should include details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, the decisions reached and the action taken. It should be kept at least until the person reaches normal retirement age or for ten years if longer.

The purpose of the record is to:

  • Provide accurate information for any future reference;
  • Provide clarification if future DBS disclosure reveals an allegation that did not result in a prosecution or a conviction;
  • Prevent unnecessary re-investigation if the allegation should resurface at a later date.

Any records held should be agreed with the LADO in order to ensure that there are no breaches of confidentiality or sharing of information from other partners which the employer is not entitled to do.

Details of allegations that are found to be malicious should be removed from the personnel records of education staff in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment (DfE).

The LADO should keep comprehensive records in order to ensure that each case is being dealt within a timely manner. The records will also assist the Hull Safeguarding Children Board to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the procedures for managing allegations and provide statistical information to the Department for Education (DfE) as required.

Monitoring progress

The LADO should provide advice, guidance and support as required - ensuring inquiries are expedited by:

  • Monitoring the progress and co-ordinating appropriate review arrangements;
  • Making arrangements to ensure effective information sharing between parties; and
  • Clarifying roles, responsibilities and accountabilities within the process.

Police should set dates to review progress of the case and to consult with the CPS about charging the individual, continuing with the case or closing the investigation.

Designated Senior Managers should notify the LADO of any significant events e.g. resignation by the accused person, and inform them in writing of the outcome of any disciplinary investigation.

  • Indicative timescales which are aimed for are: 80% of cases should be resolved within 1 month;
  • 90% within 3 months (unless there are criminal prosecutions).
All but the most exceptional cases should be resolved within 12 months


7. Unsubstantiated and False Allegations

Where it is concluded that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate an allegation, minutes of the strategy meeting should evidence consideration of what further action, if any, should be taken.

False allegations are rare and may be a strong indicator of abuse elsewhere which requires further exploration. If an allegation is demonstrably false, the employer, in consultation with the LADO, should consider referring the matter to Children's Social Care to determine whether the child is in need of services, or might have been abused by someone else.

If it is established that an allegation has been deliberately invented, the Police should be asked to consider what action may be appropriate.


8. Substantiated Allegations and Referral to the DBS

Substantiated allegations

If an allegation is substantiated and the person is dismissed or the employer ceases to use the person's service or the person resigns or otherwise ceases to provide his/her services, the LADO should discuss with the employer whether a referral should be made to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

If a referral is to be made; it should be submitted within 1 month of the allegation being substantiated.

Bodies with a legal duty to refer

The following groups have a legal duty to refer information to the DBS:

Bodies with the power to refer

The following groups have a power to refer information to the DBS:

  • Local authorities (safeguarding role);
  • Education and Library Boards;
  • Keepers of registers e.g. General Medical Council, Nursing and Midwifery Council;
  • Supervisory authorities e.g. Care Quality Commission, Ofsted.

If the person being referred to the DBS is a teacher in England they should also be referred to the National College for Teaching and Leadership.

The LADO should also advise the employer on making referrals to professional bodies or regulators for example; the General Medical Council, or Nursing and Midwifery Council. If a referral is appropriate the referral should be made within 1 month.

Where any concerns arise during the course of an investigation about the actions of voluntary organisation which is a registered charity, this should be referred to the Charity Commission for investigation.

Similarly, National Governing Bodies for sports and faith organisations should be notified if there are any lessons learnt and support needed within the local setting concerned.


9. Learning Lessons

The employer and the LADO should review the circumstances of the case to determine whether there are any improvements to be made to the organisation's procedures or practice.


10. Procedures in Specific Organisations

It is recognised that many organisations will have their own procedures in place, some of which may need to take into account particular regulations and guidance (e.g. schools, registered child care providers and fostering agencies). Where organisations do have specific procedures, they should be compatible with these procedures and additionally provide the contact details for:

  • The Designated Senior Manager to whom all allegations should be reported;
  • The person to whom all allegations should be reported in the absence of the Designated Senior Manager or where that person is the subject of the allegation;
  • The LADO.


Appendices

Click here to view Appendix 1 - Allegations / Concerns Regarding Staff / Carers / Volunteers Flowchart.

Click here to view Appendix 2 - Allegations against People who Work with Children Initial Reporting / Consultation Form for Designated Officers (see Documents Library).

Click here to view Appendix 3 - Allegations of Abuse Against People who Work with Children Leaflet Nov 2010.


Further Information

Guidance for Safer Working Practice for those Working with Children and Young People in Education Settings (October 2015)

DBS Referrals – Forms and Guidance

Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment (DfE)

Hull City Council Children’s Social Care Procedures Manual, Allegations Against Foster Carers

End.