Managing allegations of abuse

Last updated: 28 Apr 2022
Introduction

Managing allegations against or concerns about people who work or volunteer with children

Any allegation or concern that an employee or volunteer has behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed, a child must be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively and promptly, regardless of where the alleged incident took place.

Depending on the situation, an appropriate response may involve:

  • the police investigating a possible criminal offence
  • your local child protection services making enquiries and/or assessing whether a child is in need of support
  • your organisation following the relevant disciplinary procedures with individuals concerned.

You should also make sure any children involved are given appropriate support.

This page shares best practice for managing allegations or concerns about abuse by someone who works or volunteers with children.

Your organisation should also have procedures for responding to allegations of abuse made against a child.

> Find out more about managing allegations made against a child

If you think a child is in immediate danger
Don't delay – call the police on 999,
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Managing allegations of abuse training

Face-to-face training to help you gain the skills you need to manage allegations of abuse made against staff or volunteers in England and Scotland.

Learn more about the course

 

Procedures

Procedures for managing allegations and concerns

All organisations that provide services for or work with children should have clear procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse, complaints or concerns about a member of staff or volunteer as part of their overarching safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures.

This includes people who you do not directly employ but who are working or volunteering with the children and young people in your care, for example supply teachers.

All staff and volunteers should read and understand your policies and procedures for managing allegations.

Roles and responsibilities

Every organisation should have a senior manager who is responsible for dealing with allegations or suspicions of abuse about someone who works with children. This may be the same person who is the nominated child protection lead for the organisation.

Make sure that all staff and volunteers know who the responsible person is and how to contact them. If there is a  concern about the nominated person, it should be reported to their deputy or another senior manager.

The nominated person should be fully trained in managing allegations against or concerns about abuse by a member of staff or volunteer. They should know who to contact if any concerns are raised, such as the police or local child protection services.

In England, this includes the local authority’s designated officer (sometimes called the LADO or DOLA) who manages allegations against people who work with children.

Whistleblowing 

Staff and volunteers should feel confident about challenging the behaviour of others and voicing concerns. They should also know who to contact if they feel unable to report an incident within their organisation. They can make a report to the police or local child protection services, or by contacting our Whistleblowing Advice Line:

> Find out more about the Whistleblowing Advice Line on the NSPCC website

Responding

Responding to concerns and allegations

Your organisation must take any concerns raised about staff or volunteers seriously, regardless of who the person is, how long they've been involved with the organisation, or whether they are directly employed by you.

You should not attempt to investigate the matter, but you should gather the facts of the case and keep written records.

If an allegation is made that a staff member or volunteer has:

  • behaved in a way that has harmed, 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 they may pose a risk of harm to children
  • behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.

You must report this immediately to the relevant agencies (for example the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, your local child protection services or the police).

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

Liaise with your local child protection services and the police to ensure that you are responding appropriately.

If the allegation is against someone you do not employ directly, then the organisation they work or volunteer for should be involved in the investigation.

In England, each local authority must have one or more designated officers whose role is to manage and oversee investigations of allegations against people who work with children (Department for Education, 2018c).

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has created an online portal for charities in England to help manage safeguarding allegations made against an employee or volunteer.

Resignations and ‘settlement agreements’

If someone resigns from their post or refuses to cooperate with the process, this must not prevent an allegation being followed up.

'Settlement agreements' (where a person agrees to resign and the employer agrees not to pursue disciplinary action) must not be used in cases of alleged abuse.

Confidentiality and support

You should make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of all parties while an allegation or concern is being investigated. Make sure everyone involved in the investigation understands this.  

Consider how best to support the children involved, their parents or carers, and individuals who have had an allegation made against them. This includes:

  • telling parents or carers and the employee or volunteer concerned about the allegation as soon as possible (as long as this does not place any children at further risk of harm)
  • telling them how you are going to manage the allegation
  • keeping everyone informed about the progress and outcomes of the case.

Record keeping

It’s important to keep a clear and comprehensive summary of:

  • all allegations that have been made
  • details of how allegations have been followed up and investigated
  • decisions made about the allegation and actions taken.

> Read our guidance on child protection records retention and storage

Referring

Duty to refer unsuitable people to criminal records agencies

Legal duty to refer

If you provide regulated activities or work for children, you have a legal duty to refer anyone who has left your organisation because they harmed or might have been at risk of harming a child. Regardless of whether the person was dismissed or left of their own accord, a referral should be made to the relevant disclosure and barring agency. Failure to do this is a criminal offence.

Regulated activity providers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales use the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to make referrals. Organisations in Scotland use Disclosure Scotland. Both agencies are aligned and recognise each other’s decisions. A person who is barred from working with children in one nation will be barred across the UK.

A report to other appropriate regulatory bodies might also be made. These could include:

  • regulators for your organisation (for example the Charity Commission in England, Northern Ireland and Wales or the Charity Regulator in Scotland)
  • regulators for particular professions (for example the Teaching Regulation Agency in England and Wales or the General Teaching Council in Northern Ireland and Scotland).

> Find out more about safer recruitment

What is regulated activity or work?

Regulated activity or work refers to the types of work with children or vulnerable adults which people can be barred from doing. The DBS and Disclosure Scotland both have their own criteria for what constitutes regulated activity or work.

> Read more about vetting disclosure and barring checks

Who can make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Disclosure Scotland?

If you employ paid staff or volunteers in a regulated activity or regulated work, you can make a referral to the DBS or Disclosure Scotland.

Examples of other types of organisations with a duty to refer include:

  • personnel suppliers and employment agencies
  • local authorities
  • professional regulatory or supervisory bodies
  • educational institutions.

If a parent or member of the public has a safeguarding or child protection concern about someone who is working in a regulated activity or work with children, they should contact the police, social services or the person’s employer.

If you have concerns about a child or an adult who is working or volunteering with children, you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

When to make a referral to the DBS or Disclosure Scotland

It’s important to follow your organisation’s child protection and disciplinary procedures to establish facts and gather evidence before making any referral.

A referral must be made to the DBS or Disclosure Scotland, if a person has left your organisation because evidence has been found that they:

  • harmed a child
  • pose a risk of harm to a child
  • accessed or have been in possession of sexual abuse material relating to children
  • accessed or have been in possession of sexually explicit images depicting violence against someone
  • sexually abused a child
  • or have received a caution or conviction for a relevant offence.

This is referred to as ‘relevant conduct’ by the DBS.

A referral can be made if none of this conduct has taken place but it is still believed that a person may harm a child, or put a child at risk of harm. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the DBS refer to this as the ‘harm test’ (DBS, 2017).

With the information provided, the DBS or Disclosure Scotland will decide if the person should be added to their barred list to prevent them from working in a regulated activity or work with children again in the future.

Even if there has been no police involvement, or the decision has been made not to take criminal proceedings further, a referral can still be made to the DBS or Disclosure Scotland.

What your referral should include

When making a referral, it’s important to provide the DBS or Disclosure Scotland with as much supporting evidence as possible to enable them to make their decision.

Along with the person’s name, personal information and employment details it’s important to include:

  • details of any external investigations carried out by the police or other agencies
  • details of any other internal disciplinary actions, or complaints about the person’s conduct
  • training and supervision records that are accurate and include dates
  • signed and dated witness statements
  • an impact statement from the child who has been affected, if appropriate
  • a chronology and detail of events from the initial notification of inappropriate conduct to the final outcome of any investigations
  • other appropriate evidence to support harmful or potentially harmful conduct, such as taped or videoed interviews.

The referral shouldn't identify any children by name. Rather than naming a child you should use their initials or refer to them as Child 1 or Child 2. Children’s gender and age can also be included.

Learning lessons

Learning lessons

If an allegation is substantiated it is vital to think about lessons that can be learnt. This should include:

  • considering any factors that may have contributed to or failed to prevent abuse occurring
  • reviewing safeguarding and child protection measures to ensure ongoing vigilance
  • making changes to organisational policies and procedures as necessary.

> Find out more about how to prevent abuse by someone in a position of trust

In some cases, a case review may be appropriate. This means an independent reviewer will speak to all the agencies involved and consider the case. They will consider whether there are lessons that should be shared more widely to improve safeguarding practice.

Legislation and guidance

Legislation and guidance on managing allegations

There are differences in the way allegations should be handled in each nation of the UK.

In England, the national guidance is Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. (Department for Education, 2018).

Local safeguarding partners will also have child protection procedures.

There is separate statutory guidance for schools in England: Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges (Department for Education, 2021)

In Northern Ireland, the national guidance is Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2017). Section 7.2.10 covers allegations of abuse by a person in a position of trust.

Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) has also published a circular advising school principals and governors on how to manage an allegation of abuse against members of staff (DENI, 2015)

In Scotland, Safer recruitment through better recruitment (Care Inspectorate, 2016) includes guidance on dealing with concerns or allegations about a worker’s fitness to practise or harm to a user of a service.

In Wales, volume 5 of Working together to safeguard people deals with handling individual cases to protect children at risk, including managing allegations of abuse (Welsh Government, 2019).

The guidance for schools is Keeping learners safe (Welsh Government, 2021).

Keep up to date with new legislation and guidance by signing up to CASPAR, our current awareness service for policy, practice and research

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References

References and resources for managing allegations

Care Inspectorate (2016) Safer recruitment through better recruitment (PDF). [Dundee]: Care Inspectorate.

Department for Education (DfE) (2021) Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges. London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF). [London]: Department for Education (DfE).

Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) (2015), Dealing with allegations of abuse against a member of staff (PDF). [Bangor]: DENI.

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2017) Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland. Belfast: DHSSPS.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (2019) Barring referrals: your guide to how and when to make one (PDF). [London] Disclosure Barring Service.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (2018) DBS barring referral guidance. [Accessed 14/02/2022].

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (2017) Making barring referrals to the DBS. [Accessed 14/02/2022].

Mygov.Scot (2021) Make a referral to Disclosure Scotland. [Accessed 16/07/2021].

Welsh Government (2021) Keeping learners safe: the role of local authorities, governing bodies and proprietors of independent schools under the Education Act 2002. [Cardiff]: Welsh Government.

Welsh Government (2019) Working together to safeguard people: volume 5: handling individual cases to protect children. [Accessed 03/02/2021].

Further reading

For further reading about safer recruitment, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keyword "recruitment".

> Find out more about the Library and Information Service