is expected soon on how employees should respond to abuse allegations against
staff. But can all agencies follow standard procedures in this most sensitive
of areas? Natalie Valios reports.

allegation of abuse against a member of staff puts any employer in a difficult
position. On the one hand, it will not want to persecute a valuable member of
staff who may be innocent. On the other, allegations must be investigated, and
investigations must be thorough and conclusive.

there is little consistency in the way organisations respond to allegations
against staff. For the same offence one council might suspend a social worker,
another would sack them, another might transfer them, while another may let
them stay in the job, says Ray Wyre, an independent consultant on sexual crime.

believes it is about time social services directors standardised their
responses to dealing with allegations against staff. Some social services
directors disagree. "It’s unworkable to have a formula that says allegation
"x" equals automatic suspension. Every case needs to be assessed on
its merits," says Andrew Webb, county manager for children’s services at
Cheshire social services department, and a member of the Association of
Directors of Social Services children and families committee.

has recently represented the ADSS on a working party set up by the Department
for Education and Skills. It looked at how school policies dealing with
allegations can cover teachers and other non-professional staff, and will hold
true for all employers including social services departments.

resulting guidance will be issued soon. It will offer advice on how schools
should manage allegations while keeping within recommendations set out in Working
Together to Safeguard Children

guidance is expected to advise employers to exercise discretion when an
allegation is made. Rather than instantly launch into complex child protection
procedures, it says carry out simple checks first. For example, ascertain
whether the alleged victim and offender were in the same place at the time the
alleged incident is said to have happened. Next, assess whether an allegation
would constitute significant harm were it true.

not, an employer should question whether it warrants a full-scale child
protection investigation or an internal investigation. But be aware, cautions
Webb, that one of the costs of dismissing an allegation as less serious is the
possibility that it might be masking a more sinister event.

children disclose minor concerns in order to lead you to more serious abuse,
because it’s too awful for them to tell you about," he says. "If you
have even the slightest concern that this is part of a pattern of abuse or
constitutes significant harm, you have to go straight into child protection
procedures and agree a strategy for investigating," he adds.

allegations against staff are dealt with under professional misconduct
proceedings. But staff who are the subject of an allegation can find themselves
facing a concurrent criminal investigation and even civil procedures in
relation to their own children. Suspension is often the first response. But
with investigations sometimes taking up to two years to be resolved, staff are
often left in limbo and sometimes in the dark about the progress of an
"ongoing" investigation. Occasionally, it several weeks before they
are even told the full extent of the allegation against them. Enid Hendry is
the NSPCC’s head of child protection, training and consultancy. She chairs two
local area child protection committees and is all too aware of the lengthy
process involved in such investigations. "Organisations have a
responsibility to the child, but they have a responsibility to their staff too,
to deal with the matter promptly, sensitively and as fairly as possible,"
she says. "You have to think about staff as human beings with their rights
and needs, and provide them with some support while the allegations are dealt

trawling – the process of writing to or visiting all known residents of a
children’s home once an allegation has been made against a member of staff – is
one of the most controversial areas in child abuse investigations, and a Home
Office report into retrospective child abuse cases, which includes an
examination of trawling, is due to be published soon. Detractors of trawling
say it encourages false allegations. Others believe there is no other option
available if the truth is to be discovered.

Cook, Barnardo’s principal manager of operations, quality and development, says
there is no easy answer: "It may be necessary to cast the net far and
wide, but that can lead to investigations that take several years. This can
leave members of staff under a cloud for a long time, which isn’t satisfactory
for anyone." There needs to be a balance between taking allegations of
abuse seriously and completing an inquiry speedily, so staff aren’t left in the
dark over whether there are going to be criminal proceedings brought against

Working Together to Safeguard Children, Department of Health, 2000. See

Facing up to falsehood

A male social worker who was subsequently
exonerated of allegations against him describes the experience of being
investigated by his employer and the police

First comes the investigation
stage, then the police interview and lastly the waiting period. The
investigation stage feels horrible because you don’t know who has made an
allegation, or what they have suggested. Naturally you imagine the worst will
happen: you will lose your children, you’ll not be allowed to see your
grandchildren again, your face will be in all the papers, you’ll be taken to
court, convicted and be put on the Sex Offenders Register. You anticipate these
outcomes although you know you are completely innocent. These imaginings never
leave you, day or night. They lurk in the background of all you are doing; or
they weigh down your belly with a feeling of foreboding.

When you are finally taken for the police
interview it, perversely, comes as a relief. You expect to regain a little
control by speaking up for yourself. But the interview process strips away much
of your human dignity. You are arrested so that while “helping the police” you
may not just walk away. This leads to the search and removal of your
possessions, which are listed down to the last paper clip. You can keep your
handkerchief, but not your belt and tie in case you decide to end humiliation
once and for all. However polite the questioning, you are dependent on the
police officers for food, drink and toilet breaks. You don’t know if you will
be leaving when the interview is over – you are already locked into the custody

The final stage is one of
interminable waiting. The police report to the Crown Prosecution Service, who
spend six to eight weeks with the file. Next the police meet social services to
discuss what has been found out. You did your best at the interview, but were
you convincing or believed? You are at liberty, but never free of the nagging
worry that the worst may yet happen. The weeks drag by, slow day by slow day,
while you try to do the ordinary things in life, never knowing when your fears
will be confirmed. And then suddenly it is all over; the social workers all smile
at you once more, because they now accept what you knew all along – that you
were innocent. They are happy and close the file. But for you it is only
anticlimax. Three months wasted in waiting and wondering and worrying, with
stress and sleepless nights, and your relations suffered with you every minute
of the time

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