SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines key points to consider when an adult makes a disclosure about abuse they experienced as a child under the age of 18 years.
In January 2022, this chapter was refreshed throughout in line with local guidance
- Action to be Taken by Professionals Receiving the Disclosure
- Response from Police and Social Care
- The Needs of the Adult Survivor
Child abuse may relate to physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect and may have occurred at any point during the adult's childhood; there is no time limit on reporting these offences.
Child sexual abuse is prevalent, with 7.5% of adults aged 18–74 years having reported experiencing child sexual abuse in England and Wales before the age of 16 (Office for National Statistics, 2020). Experiencing child sexual abuse can have various short and long-term impacts, including physical and mental health problems, socio-economic issues, effects on relationships, religious/spiritual impacts, and vulnerability to re-victimisation (Fisher et al., 2017). To cope with these impacts, victims and survivors may need the help of statutory and voluntary support services.
An alleged perpetrator may continue to present a risk to children, and if the information is not shared, there is potential for children to remain at risk of harm and further abuse. It may also be the case that there are other historical victims. It is not always obvious when an original complaint is made that a single allegation may become part of a complex child abuse investigation.
Non-recent abuse disclosures may involve allegations regarding deceased perpetrators. High profile cases have highlighted the need to take these allegations seriously. For example, disclosures may involve allegations about a perpetrator who has abused multiple victims.
2. Action to be Taken by Professionals Receiving the Disclosure
Practitioners working with adults should make clear at the time of any disclosure, circumstances where information may need to be shared and explain that some types of information may need to be shared without consent in order to prevent further abuse. This is in line with current information sharing protocols and is particularly relevant to those in a therapeutic role.
When an adult discloses that they were abused as a child, you should gather enough information to decide what the appropriate next steps are, including:
- What has been disclosed and by whom; anonymous referrals will be received if this is the request of the disclosing adult, however the professional cannot be anonymous.
- When the abuse occurred (and if possible, over what period);
- Where did the abuse take place and were there any other victims;
- Who the perpetrator was (if the person will not name the perpetrator, try to establish the relationship, e.g. family member, teacher);
- If the alleged perpetrator of the abuse is still alive, and where they may have lived;
- Whether the alleged abuser is known to be in contact with children currently and the identity of any child who may currently be at risk, if known.
Try to avoid asking further leading questions or specific detail of the abuse. However, if the individual starts to speak in detail, let them finish telling their story; be careful to accurately record what is said. You should discuss the matter with your manager and designated lead for child protection.
Once it is believed sufficient information or evidence is known to actively investigate an allegation a referral should be made to the Police:
- If the alleged perpetrator is still alive and is known or suspected to have contact with children a referral should be made to social care in the area the perpetrator is currently residing. If this is in a position of responsibility authority or trust working with children, either paid or in a voluntary capacity, the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) should also be informed
- If the alleged perpetrator is deceased or is known to have no contact with children, a referral should be made via 101 to the police
Whilst acknowledging that there are balances and challenges in supporting adults who make historical disclosures of abuse, decisions regarding referral to the Police must be taken in a timescale that protects children.
The referral should be made to the police via 101, Police Officers at Central Referral Unit / Starting Point / MASH will pick up the referral and it will be dealt with in one of the following ways and appropriate referrals/actions taken:
- Where there is a known child at current risk – a Section 47 (see Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure) investigation will be needed;
- Where the alleged perpetrator is or was a professional – the Allegations against staff, carers and volunteers procedure (see Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure) should be followed;
- Where there are several unrelated children and/or more than one perpetrator – Investigating Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure should be followed;
- Where it is believed that children may be currently at risk but their identity is unknown there should be a strategy discussion/meeting (see Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure, Strategy Discussions / Meetings) with Social Care, Police and Health;
- A criminal investigation may be needed.
4. The Needs of the Adult Survivor
If the person making the disclosure is considered to be an Adult at Risk, advice and where appropriate a referral should be made to Adult Social Care, Adult Mental Health Services and/or local voluntary sector services for survivors support.
Police, Children's Social Care and the referring agency should agree who keeps the adult survivor informed of progress (where possible and appropriate) as they may have real anxieties about the consequences of their disclosure and may have concerns for their personal safety. If the decision is not to investigate there may be other avenues that the adult survivor may wish to explore.