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National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland: Consultation



Ritual Abuse by Organised Networks or Multiple Abusers

526. Some children may be subject to child protection concerns that extend outside of their immediate care environment as a result of ritual abuse. Ritual abuse can be defined as organised sexual, physical, psychological abuse, which can be systematic and sustained over along period of time. It involves the use of rituals, with or without a belief system and often more than one person as abusers. Ritual abuse usually starts in early childhood and involves using patterns of learning and development to sustain the abuse and silence the abused. 19 The abusers concerned may be acting in concert to abuse children or using an institutional framework or position of authority to abuse children. It occurs both as part of a network of abuse across a family or community and within institutions such as residential homes and schools. Such abuse is profoundly traumatic for the children who become involved. 20

527. Ritual abuse can also include abuse where some organised groups may use unusual or ritualised behaviour, sometimes associated with particular belief systems or linked to a belief in spiritual possession. It can be defined as organised sexual, physical or psychological abuse, which can be systematic and sustained over a long period of time, which can distort reality and is traumatic for the child.

528. Several high profile cases - Cleveland (1987) and Orkney (1991) - and investigations within residential schools and care homes have highlighted the complexities of investigating alleged organised abuse and supporting children. Investigating and welfare agencies need to be aware of the complexity of the issue. 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 in an 'on- or offline' basis.
  • Abduction. If children are abducted, this may involve internal or external child trafficking and this can be for a variety of purposes. Children are not able to make informed consent to abduction or trafficking ( see the section on child trafficking in this chapter for more information). Children recruited or abducted in this way may have no other life experience and appear to be willing agents or unable to leave the situation. This may be the result of extreme trauma as a child who has been violently manipulated may not know who to trust and be unable to make a unbiased assessment of their circumstances.
  • 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 by one or more perpetrators, including other young people.
  • Online safety. The internet and other emerging technologies are integral to children's lives, but may pose a threat in relation to children being enticed or entrapped, particularly for sexual abuse and exploitation ( see the section on online child safety in the chapter on Indicators of Risk for more information).
  • Prostitution. In some cases, children may be recruited or abducted for the purpose of their commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Ritualised abuse. Abuse can occur in some evangelical churches and cults through the use of ritual belief and practices such as voodoo. However, this type of abuse can occur in all communities and involves using sophisticated patterns of learning and development to sustain the abuse and silence the abused.

529. In all of these contexts, where a single complaint about possible abuse is made by, or on behalf of, a child, investigating and support agencies should consider the possibility that the investigation may reveal complaints and allegations about other children currently, or formerly, living within the same household, community or wider world. Allegations of organised abuse are also often made historically.

530. Disclosures of abuse may come from adults 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 disclosing due to:

  • fear of pornography, 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 disclosure.

531. 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 consistency of approach in their dealings with these children and families.

Planning the Process of Investigation

532. Some child protection cases are particularly complex because they can reveal or become entwined in other cases of alleged abuse. If child protection concerns and/or initial enquiries raise suspicions or establish links between individuals, these should be drawn to the attention of the Chief Social Work Officer of the local authority area in which the cases are located as well as their own area Chief Social Work Officer, if the concerns involve a child or children outwith the area. Senior managers from social work and the police must ensure that arrangements for the joint investigation of linked cases are in place, which ensure that children and adults who have referred abuse are adequately protected.

533. The 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 should always include the referring and support agencies and co-ordinating support services for children and families involved. Such cases require early involvement of the Procurator Fiscal and the Children's Reporter. Police and social work services should agree a strategy for communication and liaison with the media and 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.

534. Parents are usually entitled to the fullest possible information but in these circumstances, the decision is particularly complex if it is uncertain which families are involved. The local authority may need to restrict information provided to families and the public to avoid prejudicing criminal enquiries and this should be considered in the planning process. If agencies remove a child from their parents' care, the parents should normally be informed of the child's whereabouts. If the local authority suspects that parents or carers may be directly involved in abuse of a child or children, the social work service, in consultation with the police, should decide when and how information to parents or carers, and parental involvement, should be limited in order to safeguard the child, and record their reasons for doing so.

535. When planning enquiries, agencies should adopt a measured approach to investigation which takes care not to prejudice efforts to collect evidence for criminal prosecution of an abuser or group of abusers, but which has the welfare of any child or children at risk as the paramount consideration. They should identify as far as possible which children may have been vulnerable to abuse. The plan must reflect the different roles of agencies and set out arrangements for:

  • sharing full information at regular, well-structured briefings;
  • recording of all activity between the agencies; and
  • periodic joint review of progress and future plans.

536. The investigation of complex child abuse may require specialised 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 obtain specialist advice and support from agencies with particular knowledge of the issues.

537. 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 one another and destroying evidence. This may require enquiries, interviews or other assessment to be co-ordinated. 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 domestic distress and disruption.

538. It is good practice for local authorities and other agencies to establish links with neighbouring authorities and agencies to ensure access to necessary resources when dealing with complex multiple or organised abuse cases, for example, skilled staff and specialist resources, such as video studios. Any arrangement should identify the roles and responsibilities of different authorities and agencies. It should be borne in mind that for a child used for pornography and constantly filmed or accustomed to their image being manipulated, recording of interviews may be particularly frightening. Local inter-agency child protection procedures should include contingency plans to deal with such cases.

Supporting Children and Witnesses

539. Careful consideration needs to be given to the needs of the children or adults witnesses and victims in complex cases. Immediate, therapeutic, practical and emotional support may be required to allow trust to develop. A thorough assessment should be made of victims' needs, and services provided to meet those needs. It is good practice to provide a confidential and independent counselling service for victims and families. Guidelines should be agreed with counselling and welfare services on disclosure of information to avoid the contamination of evidence. Agencies who know the child or adult, including third sector organisations, may be involved in the planning stages of the investigation to ensure the investigation is managed in a child-centred way taking care not to prejudice efforts to collect evidence for criminal prosecution of an abuser or group of abusers.

540. Investigating organised abuse or 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. ( Further information on supporting child witnesses can be found in the section on criminal prosecutions in the chapter on Responding to Concerns about Children.)

Further Information

Child Trafficking

541. Child trafficking typically exposes children to continuous and severe risks of significant harm. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation. This definition holds whether or not coercion or deception was utilised as children are not considered able to make informed consent to such activity. This definition also applies to activity within a country as well as between countries. This should be noted as a child or young person coming to the attention of services may have been trafficked from another part of the UK.

542. Throughout the world children are trafficked for numerous purposes within and between countries and continents. While exploitation varies, children trafficked for one type of exploitation are often sold into another making simple categorisation problematic. Children are often exploited in relation to:

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

543. Worldwide there are also documented cases of exploitation in relation to organ donations and use in sport and military conscription.

544. Tackling child trafficking requires a multi-agency response at all levels . All agencies and practitioners must have an awareness of the issues pertaining to child trafficking and knowledge of potential indicators of concern. National guidance exists - see below for more information - but local areas should have protocols around child trafficking and ensure staff are aware of these protocols so they have a clear understanding of the processes and procedures to follow when they identify a child may have been, or is at risk of being, trafficked.

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


546. Child trafficking can be difficult to identify. By its very nature, the activity is criminal and hidden from view, so practitioners need to be sensitive to the indicators of trafficking when investigating concerns 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 the victim of trafficking or is at future risk. While the presence of any factor does not provide definitive evidence, the indicators should raise specific suspicions about the possibility of trafficking, particularly when appearing in combination. The indicators may apply to both UK nationals and/or migrant children and to both boys and girls. Practitioners should keep these in mind when working with children and making an initial assessment without directly asking children at the initial stage of enquiry. 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.

547. 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 wait until a child discloses, agrees or perceives they have been trafficked to initiate procedures. Children, apart from being threatened to remain silent, often are not aware they are victims of trafficking.

Other Legal Concerns

548. Trafficking raises important legal issues that require the involvement of agencies with UK competence. 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 ( UKHTC) and a linked authority within UK Border Agency for cases of immigration and asylum.

549. Whenever an agency or practitioner have concerns 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. Where a child/young person is suspected of having been trafficked, the child's safety remains the principal consideration and all necessary actions and inter-agency child protection procedures should be followed to ensure they are protected.

550. 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.

Further Information

551. The key source of information is the national guidance on child trafficking, issued in 2009 by the Scottish Government, Safeguarding Children in Scotland Who May Have Been Trafficked, which provides full details around definitions, indicators, child protection processes and roles and responsibilities of agencies. For further information, the following resources may be helpful:

Historical Allegations of Abuse

552. The term 'historical abuse' refers to allegations 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 allegations of abuse in early childhood. The allegations may relate to an individual's experience in the family home, community or whilst a looked-after and accommodated child in a residential, kinship or foster care setting.

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

554. If there is reasonable professional concern that a child may be at risk of harm this 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.

555. When an allegation of historical child abuse is received by social work services or the Police consideration must 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 alleged perpetrator(s). This may be in a professional capacity such as in a residential or foster care setting and/or within a personal family setting.

556. It is not uncommon for individuals to make allegations of historical child abuse to practitioners in a therapeutic setting but they do not feel able to report this to the police at that time or they may not remember the name of the alleged perpetrator or location. Consideration also requires to be given to whether the individual requires support as a vulnerable adult. In this situation it is important to balance their need for support in planning any intervention they require with the need to protect any child/children who may be currently exposed to any risk from the alleged perpetrator(s).

557. Many of the reasons people wait so long to disclose abuse are similar to the barriers facing children who are considering whether to disclose. Services supporting or taking part in the investigation of individuals alleging historical abuse should be mindful of potential barriers to disclosure. This 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.

558. Like all investigations into alleged abuse, a measured and planned approach should be taken by all involved agencies that balances an assessment of any current child protection risks with support for the individual in order for the investigation to be as successful as possible. Multi-agency communication and collaboration is vital and services should be proactive in ensuring they have a clear understanding of one another's roles and remits.

559. Individuals alleging historical abuse should be offered on-going emotional support. Local guidelines should identify local services and the referral routes for services that specialise in areas of childhood abuse and trauma. This would enable individuals to be successfully signposted for support both during and after the investigation, where required.

560. 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. Acknowledgement and understanding is required from services that this can be an expected part of the process, and rarely something the individual has control over. Services should be mindful of how this may impact on an individual's ability to convey successfully the information that the investigation requires.

561. Key to the investigation of allegations of historical abuse is being able to access records, in relation to individuals, former staff in residential care settings as well as foster carers, as may be required. Locating and retrieving records can be a challenge and the quality and level of recording variable in historical records. Local guidelines should have clear protocols in place in relation to record-keeping and record management practice.

562. Where investigations into allegations of historical abuse suggest that the alleged abuse was part of a wider organised network or involved multiple abusers, agencies should follow this guidance ( see the section on abuse by organised networks or multiple abusers in this chapter).

Further Information

Children who are looked after away from Home

563. Child protection concerns are not limited to a child's family circumstances, but 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. 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 that child. As with enquiries into children living in the community, a looked-after child voicing a concern must be listened to and what they say taken seriously. Equally, the carers must be treated with respect and their views also taken seriously.

564. Where the concern involves an allegation that a carer has abused the child, then the carers 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 type of concerns must address the range of additional considerations because of the setting of the child's care. Foster and kinship carers of looked-after children provide care from their own homes, living their family life 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 exploring concerns.

565. Looked-after children who have had to leave the care of their parents will present complex emotions, challenging behaviour and sometimes irrational actions as they struggle with being cared for by, what may often be strangers. 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 at the removal of their child to someone else's care. These feelings and tensions may be expressed in complaints about the care and treatment that their child is receiving.

566. 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 will have used allegations in the past to escape from difficult situations. Some will feel guilt at being cared for away from their family and may want to blame the carer(s) that they know their parents have in some ways failed to do safely.

567. When concerns about a looked-after child are raised, further disruption for the child, such as a sudden move into a new care environment, may damage their recovery from early disadvantage. The consequences of removing a child must be considered alongside the safety of the child. Placement stability should be maintained wherever safe and possible.

568. 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.

569. Social work practitioners have a responsibility to clarify any concern 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.

570. Where there is an allegation of abuse to a looked-after child then social work practitioners must 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 social worker for the child.

571. Central to any action to follow up concerns is a practitioner discussion on 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. This discussion must include the fostering or residential providers so that they can share any specific issues of the care setting that can impact on keeping the child safe. 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 facilitate the sharing of information and an assessment of the immediate information leading to a decision of what the next steps should be.

572. If emergency action is required to protect the child, then this should be fully discussed and any routes to protect the child while also preserving placement stability fully considered. Options for the way forward for a looked-after child are the same as for children in their own families:

  • a further period of information-gathering to help decide the way forward;
  • discussion between the practitioners and the carer about the possible reasons for the concern being raised; and
  • a child protection investigation of a potential criminal offence - as with other investigations, consideration needs to be given to other children living in the placement.

573. 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. Whatever route is agreed for further exploration of a concern it is important to decide the timing of telling the carers about the concerns and the scope of the further exploration of the concern.

Further Information

Online Child Safety

574. New technologies, digital media and the internet have now become an integral part of children's lives. They open up many educational and social opportunities, giving them access to, quite literally, a world of information and experiences. Whether on a computer at school, a laptop at home, a games console or mobile phone, children and young people are increasingly accessing the internet whenever they can and wherever they are. Widespread usability and access to the internet has enabled entirely new forms of social interaction to emerge, for example, through social networking websites, online gaming and other forms of social media. At the same time, these new technologies also bring a variety of risks, such as:

  • exposure to obscene, violent or distressing material;
  • bullying or intimidation through email and online (cyber-bullying);
  • identity theft and abuse of personal information through access to unrestricted information online; and
  • exploitation by online predators - for example, sexual grooming - often through social networking sites.

575. Where police undertake investigations into online child abuse and networks of people accessing or responsible for images of sexually-abused children, consideration must be given to the needs of children involved identified in these investigations. 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 alleged perpetrator. In many cases, this will involve children and young people who were targeted because of existing vulnerability. Local services need to consider how they can best support and co-ordinate any investigations into such offences and consequently, should understand the risks that these technologies can pose to children and the resources available to minimise those risks.

576. It is important that that children and young people understand the risks the internet can pose and can make sensible and informed choices online, so they can get the most from the internet and stay safe whilst doing so - particularly from those people who might seek them out to harm them. Practitioners and carers need to support young people to use the internet responsibly, and know what to do when something goes wrong.

Further Information

  • In February 2010 the Scottish Government published an action plan on improving child internet safety. It describes the steps that are being taken across the public, private and third sector, to support children, parents/carers and practitioners in understanding how the internet can be used safely and responsibly. Information on this, and more contacts and resources, can be found at www.scotland.gov.uk/internetsafety.
  • The Scottish Government has been working with UK Council for Child Internet Safety to promote a new Digital Code - Click Clever Click Safe: Zip it, Block it, Flag it:

- Zip it: Keep your personal stuff private and think about what you say and do online.

- Block it: Block people who send nasty messages and don't open unknown links and attachments.

- Flag it: Flag up with someone you trust if anything upsets you or if someone asks to meet you offline.

  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre ( CEOP), which is part of UK policing, provides useful information about the sexual exploitation of children and young people online ( www.clickceop.net). CEOP acts as a hub for information and resources for preventing and responding to child internet safety issues.
  • If a child has come across potentially illegal content online, specifically images of child sexual abuse, criminally obscene material or anything that incites racial hatred, then a report can be submitted to the Internet Watch Foundation ( www.iwf.org.uk).

Children and Young People who place Themselves at Risk

577. Some children and young people can place themselves at risk of significant harm from their own behaviour. Concerns about these children and young people can be as significant as the concerns about those children who are at risk because of their care environment. The main difference is the source of risk: commonly, these children and young people are at risk as a direct result of their own behaviour. Where such risk is identified, as with other child protection concerns, it is important that a multi-agency response is mobilised. The key test for triggering these processes should always be the level of risk to the individual child and whether the risk is being addressed, not the source of risk.

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

  • self-harm and/or suicide attempts;
  • substance misuse;
  • running away/going missing;
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour or relationships ( aspects of this are treated in the section on under-age sexual activity in this chapter);
  • sexual exploitation;
  • problem sexual behaviour;
  • violent behaviour; and
  • criminal activity.

579. Child Protection Committees are required to ensure there are multi-agency policies, procedures and systems in place for the identification, referral and response to these types of concerns.

Children who are Missing

580. Describing a child or young person as 'missing' can cover a range of circumstances. A child, young person or family (including unborn children) can be considered as 'missing' where 'Missing' can apply in different contexts:

  • 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), health or social services.
  • 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 place where they are expected.

581. 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 encapsulated within the term 'runaway' (though the individual circumstances and needs of the child or young person may be very different). Children and young people who go missing remain vulnerable from the factors that resulted in them going missing (for example, domestic abuse in a care environment) as well from the associated risks of 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 prey to sexual exploitation. Many cases are never reported to police and few ever approach agencies for help.

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

  • 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. -Parental abduction
  • 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 be missing due to being forced into marriage abroad or within the UK.
  • Trafficked children and young people - A child or young person may become missing due to being trafficked and later being removed from a placement. Asylum-seeking children are particularly vulnerable to vanishing, their substitute care can feel unsafe for them and many do not have a trusted adult advocating for them.
  • Sexual exploitation - A child or young person may become 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.' 21 Children who go missing from home or care may do so because they have to run 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 little resources. This can result in begging or stealing or staying with a complete stranger.

  • Social networking has become a key medium for young people children to make contact with and form online relationships with unknown characters. Vulnerable children can be particularly susceptible to online grooming. -Online safety
  • Vulnerable young people - Such young people are identifiable through criminal or risk-taking behaviour, poverty, disengagement with education, being looked after, self-harming, with mental health issues and/or through abuse. Being dispirited can fuel the desire to get away from their situation.
  • Transition - Young people moving through from children to adult services need processes in place to manage this experience, maximise support for them and reduce risk for them. This can be a particularly difficult time for young people and their parent/carer, carer or staff in residential care; if they demonstrate their stresses through very high risk and sometimes offending behaviour. Their vulnerability in transition can leave them open to substance misuse and sexual predators. These cases are very challenging to manage effectively and need collaborative approaches to include offender management services.
  • Home-educated children - A child may be unknown to services as a result of their removal from mainstream education.

583. The above circumstances are not mutually exclusive and, may be overlapping. 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, 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.

584. Many single agencies already participate in national as well as local alert procedures for the early identification of missing children. Child Protection Committees should sure there are multi-agency procedures in place including issuing a national alert to help trace the whereabouts of a child or young person who goes missing and 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 expediently managed within a developed inter-agency data-sharing protocol.

Child Rescue Alert

585. Child Rescue Alert is a partnership between the police, the media and the public that seeks the assistance of the public where a child has been abducted and it is feared that they may be at risk of serious harm. The aim is to quickly engage the entire community via media ( TV and radio) in the search for the child, offender or any specified vehicle through reports of sightings to the police.

586. The scheme will only rarely be invoked by the police where there is a reasonable belief that a child has been abducted and is at risk of serious harm; it will not apply routinely in cases where a child is missing and there is no indication that an abduction has occurred.

587. If it is suspected by an person or agency that a child has been taken by, or under the influence of a third party (which may include parental abduction or 'grooming'), it is essential that the police are notified as soon as possible in order that consideration may be given to launching an alert. In any event, all instances of missing children or abduction must be quickly reported to the police so that the appropriate decisions can be taken.

Further Information

  • Malloch, M. Evaluation of the ROC Refuge, Aberlour Child Care Trust, 2006.
  • Malloch, M. and Burgess, C. A scoping study of services for young runaways, Stirling University, 2007.
  • Scottish Executive Vulnerable Children and Young People: Runaways, Scottish Executive, 2003.
  • Rees, G. and Lee, J. Still Running II, The Children's Society, 2005.
  • Wade, J. Missing Out. Young Runaways in Scotland, Aberlour Child Care Trust, 2006.

Under-age Sexual Activity

588. 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. For some young people, this will be mutually-agreed activity: for others, it may be the response to peer pressure or the result of abuse or exploitation. Young people who are sexually active will, therefore, have differing needs, so services and practitioners must be able to provide a range of responses to both identify and meet those needs. National guidance provided by the Scottish Government provides a source of advice on the legal issues and the appropriate response for practitioners to take to 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 to one or both of them.

589. The law is clear that society does not encourage sexual intercourse in young people under 16 as it can be a cause of concern for the welfare of the child, even where it is, or appears, to be consensual. However, it does not follow that every case presents child protection concerns and it is important that a proportionate response is made and only appropriate cases are brought to the attention of the police. If there are no child protection concerns there may still be needs that require to be addressed either on a single agency or multi-agency basis. Consequently, child protection measures must be instigated:

  • if the child is, or is believed to be, sexually active and is 12 or under;
  • if the young person is currently 13 or over but sexual activity took place when they were 12 or under; and
  • where the 'other person' is in a position of trust in relation to the young person

590. 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 is provided. The practitioner has a duty of care to ensure that the young person's health and emotional 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.

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

  • set out guiding principles on practice;
  • ensure practitioners are familiar with the criteria to assist them in making quality assessments of the needs of the individual young person they are in contact with - this can be found in the Scottish Government national guidance, Underage Sexual Activity: Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People and Identifying Child Protection Concerns; and
  • provide guidance for practitioners as to what they can/should do on the basis of their assessment.
Further Information

  • For more detailed guidance on this area, please refer to the draft Scottish Government national guidance, Underage Sexual Activity: Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People and Identifying Child Protection Concerns, Scottish Government, 2010.

Armed Services

592. Family life in the armed services is, by its very nature, different to that in civilian life. Families have less control over where they live and have to cope with lengthy periods of separation often without extended family support. Families are frequently required to move both within the UK and overseas. Each service has their own welfare organisation, which supports service families and in addition the service authorities provide housing for some families. It is essential for local authorities and other agencies to note these differences and share information with the service authority when there are child protection or welfare concerns regarding a service family.

Royal Navy and Royal Marines

593. Staffed by qualified social workers and trained and supervised welfare workers Naval Personal and Family Service and Royal Marines Welfare ( NPFS and RMW) provides a professional social work and welfare service to all naval personnel and their families. NPFS and RMW also liaises with statutory social work services where appropriate, particularly where a child is subject to child protection concerns. Child protection involving a serving member of the Royal Navy or Royal Marines should be referred to the civilian Area Officer for Scotland who is in a position to negotiate service action of behalf of Naval families and NPFS and RMW should be invited to any case conferences or case discussions concerning them. The Area Officer for East and Overseas has an overview of all Naval child protection cases in the UK.

Area Officer NPFS and RMW North
1-5 Churchill Square
G84 9HL

Tel: 01436 672798
Fax: 01436 674965
Email NPFS-N-AreaOfficer@mod.uk

Area Officer NPFS and RMW East and Overseas
Queen Street

Tel: 02392 722712
Fax: 02392 725083


594. Staffed by qualified civilian Social Workers and trained and supervised Army Welfare Workers, the Army Welfare Service ( AWS) provides professional welfare support to Army personnel and their families. AWS also liaises with local authorities where appropriate, particularly where a child is subject to child protection concerns. Local authorities who have any enquiries or concerns regarding child protection or promoting the welfare of a child from an Army family should contact:

The Senior Army Welfare Worker
AWS Edinburgh

Tel: 0131 310 2845


Chief Personal Support Officer
HQ Land Command
Erskine Barracks

Tel: 01722 436564
Fax: 01722 436307
e-mail: LF-AWS-CPSO@mod.uk

Royal Air Force

595. The Royal Air Force has an independent welfare organisation on each station in an area. Social work is managed as a normal function of Command and co-ordinated by each station's personnel officer. The Officer Commanding Personnel Management Squadron ( OCPMS) is supported by Personal and Families Support Workers/Senior Social Work (P& FSW) practitioners from the SSAFA Forces Help P& FSW Service ( RAF). There are five teams in the UK and they are managed by qualified social work team managers. Where there are child protection enquiries or concerns regarding the family of a serving member of the RAF, the parent unit should be notified, or if this is not known, the nearest RAF unit by contacting the OCPMS or SSAFA Forces Help social work team manager. Every RAF unit has an officer appointed to this duty and they will be familiar with child protection procedures.

SSAFA Forces Help
Social Work Team Manager
RAF Leuchars

Tel: 01334 857962

Service Families Overseas

596. For Service families based overseas or being considered for an overseas appointment, the responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of their children is vested with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

597. MoD funds the British Forces Social Work Service ( BFSWS) overseas which is contracted to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Association, Forces Help ( SSAFA- FH) who provide a fully qualified social work and community health service in major locations overseas. Instructions for the protection of children overseas are issued by the MoD as 'Defence Council Instruction', Joint Service.

598. Larger Overseas Commands issue local child protection procedures, hold a Command Child Protection Register and have a Command Safeguarding Children Board.

599. Local Authority Social Work Departments should ensure that SSAFA- FH and NPFS for RN families are made aware of any service child who is subject of a child protection plan, and whose family is about to move overseas.

600. In the interests of the child, SSAFA- FH, the BFSWS or NPFS can confirm that appropriate resources exist in the proposed location to meet identified needs. Full documentation should be provided and forwarded to the relevant overseas command.

601. All referrals should be made to:

The Director of Social Work
19 Queen Elizabeth Street,
London, SE1 2LP

Tel: 020 7403 8783
Fax: 020 7403 8815

602. For the Royal Navy and Royal Marines:

Area Officer,
East and Overseas
HMS Nelson
Queen Street

Tel: 02392 722712
Fax: 02392 725083

603. Comprehensive reciprocal arrangements exist for the referral of child protection cases to the appropriate UK local authorities, in the event of either temporary or permanent relocation of children from overseas to UK.


604. Bullying may be defined as deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves. It can take many forms, but the three main types are: 22

  • physical (for example, hitting, kicking and theft);
  • verbal (for example, racist or homophobic remarks, threats and name-calling); and
  • emotional (for example, isolating an individual from the activities and social acceptance of their peer group).

605. Children will vary in their degree of resilience in dealing with the issue but bullying can result in significant harm (including self-harm) for a child or young person. It can take place within the school environment, the community or online via cyber- bullying.

606. Children and young people are entitled to feel safe and protected during their time in school. Schools will, in many cases, have a range of tried and tested strategies for dealing with bullying and safeguarding those in their care. All schools should have in place a clear, sound policy on the prevention of bullying which is shared with pupils, Parent Councils and the general parent body, and reviewed regularly.

607. There has been significant national work done on the subject of bullying by organisations, such as Respect Me and the Anti-Bullying Network, and both organisations can provide support and advice on the issue. The Department for Schools, Children and Families has also produced useful guidance specific to the issues of cyber-bullying.

608. Local services need to put policies and strategies in place that are both proactive and reactive to instances of bullying. These should promote a zero tolerance of all types of violence and encourage parental involvement and raise awareness of bullying. Staff need to be aware of the negative impact of bullying and take steps to address this, both with the victim and children and young people in general.

Further Information

609. More resources on bullying can be found at: