This chapter was updated in July 2015.
The term historical abuse refers to any allegations of child abuse, which occurred when the victim was a child, and which have been made when the victim is an adult.
Historical abuse is not confined to abuse which occurred within institutions or at the hands of professionals; historical abuse allegations may also be made about non-professionals, i.e. family members, carers, or other young people.
The responsibility for the investigation of allegations of historical abuse is the responsibility of the area where the alleged abuse occurred.
Some allegations will relate to abuse in institutions or may involve a complex network of abusers. In such circumstances, there is the potential for a lack of coordination which could undermine the investigation process and impact on the provision of support to victims.
There may be circumstances where the allegations made cross two or more local authority areas. This will require negotiation between senior staff in each area to agree which area should take lead responsibility.
The scale and nature of some allegations will not be apparent immediately, and it is possible that additional victims or alleged perpetrators will be identified in the course of enquiries. It is crucial that the potential for this is recognised at the outset, with a clear agreement between partners as to how the investigation will proceed to avoid where possible compromising any subsequent investigation or the inadvertent alert to other alleged perpetrators.
There could be tensions between criminal and civil claim processes where these are running concurrently. Effective communication between the key partners is essential to manage this.
Allegations may relate to a high profile individual – in these circumstances, the same investigative principles should apply. It will be important to ensure media issues are properly considered at an early point in the enquiry, ensuring each partner's Communications teams are coordinated and there is an agreed Communications strategy in place.
Cross reference with organised/complex abuse.
3. Key Issues
Investigating historical abuse will be a complex and difficult responsibility. The only source of information is likely to be the account of the victim and possibly corroborating witnesses. The passage of time is likely to impact on the clarity of the detail recollected. Importantly, there may be information contained within social care records which could assist the investigation.
The delay in reporting an allegation of abuse should not in itself be considered as a factor in deciding whether the allegation is founded. There are many valid reasons why the victim may have felt unable to disclose at the time of their abuse. It is recognised that fear of being disbelieved, not taken seriously, fear of the perpetrator, retaliation, shame and embarrassment have all been factors which have prevented victims from disclosing.
Complaints should be taken seriously regardless of the amount of information available, for example, where the name of the people involved is not available or cannot be recalled.
Counselling and support can have a cathartic effect in prompting a disclosure of historical abuse.
The victimisation of another child – particularly their own – can lead victims of historical abuse to discuss their own experiences for the first time.
The wishes of the victim and their expectations of the investigation processes and outcomes sought should be taken into consideration and managed honestly from the outset.
Agencies may need to share information, necessary to safeguard children, regardless of the wishes of the victim, and in those circumstances victims should be told together with the reasons why, with investigating bodies recognising that the victims may need support and advice to cope with such a situation. It is important that social care, police and other relevant colleagues, including for example Risk and Insurance, should discuss and agree next steps to be taken, in line with legal advice as necessary.
If an allegation concerns a current employee of local authority social care, enquiries should be undertaken by a person independent of the line management of the employee.
Consideration should be given to any risks posed to vulnerable adults and, if necessary, a referral made to the adult safeguarding coordinator.
There are a number of ways that historical abuse can come to light, e.g. complaints to local authority or solicitors' letters regarding compensation claims, and there may be parallel processes in progress as noted above, however the historical abuse procedure should still be followed.
Initially, allegations of historical abuse should be judged against the current thresholds and criteria and not against those which may have been in place when the abuse occurred.
Historical abuse allegations can span a period of 50 plus years when societal values and attitudes towards children, sexual behaviour, families and parenting, children's rights and child abuse were significantly different. The public perception and tolerance of the threshold of what constitutes abuse has lowered. This, combined with the wider publication of reports and enquiries into cases of abuse, has changed the perception of society, victims and the criminal justice system.
The priority will be the protection of any current potential victims through the identification of the alleged perpetrator's current work status and employment. Further enquiries need to be made regarding their domestic circumstances and any access to children they may have, including extended family members.
In cases of historical abuse where there are no ongoing concerns about the current risk to children, the lead agency is likely to be the police.
Consideration will need to be given to convening a multi-agency strategy meeting in consultation with the Local Authority Designated Officer.
5. Support for Victims
Individuals making allegations of historical abuse may have carried their traumatic experiences with them for a significant number of years. Signposting to support services is essential.
Local support groups:
Imara (Local Contacts) (a Community Interest Company (CIC) to offer early intervention support to children, teenagers and families after a disclosure of child abuse).