Child Safeguarding Units
Within West Yorkshire Police are located local Safeguarding Units (SGU’s) that include Police Officers and Support Staff who specialise in areas relating to Child and Public Protection. They routinely deal with child abuse allegations, including abuse within the family setting, abuse by professionals, carers, organised abuse in addition to those children who may be at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.
The SGU’s are also responsible for dealing with individuals who are registered sex offenders, under the terms of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 and other offenders who are regarded as a potential danger to the community.
SGU’s work jointly with a range of other agencies, but primarily Social Services Departments in relation to Child Abuse and the National Probation Service, in relation to Sex and Other Dangerous Offenders.
Staff dealing with such issues are specially selected for their skills in dealing with complex and sensitive crime. They receive comprehensive initial training and a period of tutorship with an experienced Unit member. The training includes methods of obtaining evidence from vulnerable victims and witnesses, the preservation and security of forensic samples and other specialist training on how to investigate child abuse and sex offences.
A Detective Chief Inspector based at Police Headquarters, Wakefield oversees the governance of this function in respect of policy and procedure. The DCI represents the Force on strategic and policy matters in respect of Safeguarding and kindred matters. Local Senior Managers represent the police on the five local authority based Local Safeguarding Children's Boards for West Yorkshire.
The decisions as to whether or not criminal proceedings should be initiated are based on three main factors:
- Whether or not a criminal prosecution is in the best interests of the child.
- Whether it is in the public interest that proceedings should be instigated against a particular offender.
- Whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Whilst the responsibility to instigate criminal proceedings rests with the police, they will always seek the views of the victim and other agencies, such as Social Services and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The focus of police activity is the investigation of criminal offences, whilst the focus of Social Services work is the pastoral needs of children and their families. In addition to their duty to investigate criminal offences, the police have emergency powers to enter premises and ensure the immediate protection of children, believed to be suffering from or at risk of significant harm. This power, entitled Police Protection, also allows officers to ensure children are able to remain in such places of safety eg a hospital, where this is considered necessary. In such cases, the local authority Social Services Department will then assess the circumstances of the case and take a decision about future actions required to further protect the child..
In all cases of suspected child abuse, consultation will take place with the local Social Services Department and if necessary, a strategy meeting or case conference will be held to consider the best way forward. The Police are committed to sharing information where this is necessary to protect children.
Police checks for example, to ascertain if someone has a conviction for an offence against children are conducted into ongoing child protection investigations and emergency placements. Other checks are made on people who have a responsibility for the care of children, for example teachers and social workers or who have significant access to children.
Similarly, the police can expect other agencies to share with them information and intelligence they hold to enable the police to carry out their duties. Evidence gathered during a criminal investigation, may be of use to local authority solicitors who are preparing for civil proceedings to protect the victim. The Crown Prosecution Service should be consulted, but evidence will normally be shared if it is in the best interest of the child.
The Police are invited to attend all initial case conferences and in all cases a written report will be provided to the Chair of the conference as a minimum, detailing all the relevant information held by the police. Wherever possible,and in line with national ACPO guidelines,the police will attend these meetings.
Where it is necessary to conduct a medical examination of a child, the most appropriate course of action, should be determined between the Police and Social Services during the strategy discussion. All allegations received against any professional, e.g. foster carer, teacher, social worker, will be referred to the local SGU Detective Inspector for the relevant SGU office to discuss with Social Services.
Public Protection Officers are based in each locality and are responsible for the maintenance of the Force Register of Sex Offenders and for the administration and monitoring of sex offenders, in accordance with the Sex Offenders Act 1997. Local Officers regularly attend Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement meetings (MAPPA), at which a multi-agency discussion takes place on the risk posed by individuals living within the community. These panel meetings, which are confidential, share all relevant information about individuals who have the potential to be a danger to children and others within the community and appropriate risk management plans to combat this risk are then developed and ,in time, reviewed.