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Guidance on the Management of Disclosures of Non-Recent (Historic) Child Sexual Abuse (2016)

25 November 2016

Practitioner psychologists have a duty of care to their clients, and in the safeguarding of others. However this may place them in complex positions when trying to negotiate and balance their duties and responsibilities. The guidance and advice presented in this document aims to address some of these dilemmas.

The primary purpose of the attached document is to outline the options which psychologists have in responding to disclosures of non-recent sexual abuse, their responsibilities and accountability, and the various avenues of support available for both psychologists and their clients.

A major part of this involves laying out the potential issues, and potential responses, which may be involved when an allegation of non-recent abuse is made, including (but not limited to):

  • how the disclosure may affect the therapeutic relationship
  • what circumstances may require a psychologist to breach confidentiality
  • how to proceed if the client wishes to formally report a crime

The document also delves into the wider role of psychologists in situations involving historic abuse, including ways in which they can help raise awareness, improve supervision, and work more effectively with the police and the judiciary.

Further Information:

  1. Children’s Legislation: Key legislation outlines professional duties to ensure the welfare of children is paramount, and our responsibilities to ensure that they are protected from significant harm. These are The Children Act 1989, 2002, 2004; the Children (NI) Order (1995), The Children (Scotland) Act (1995) and supported by Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015).
  2. Mental Health Legislation: Key legislation concerning clients within mental health settings are The Mental Health Act (1983; 2007) and The Mental Capacity Act (2005) together with associated Codes of Practice.
  3.  Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014: covering abuse of premises for child exploitation and forced marriage supported by professional guidance: The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage and Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage.
  4. Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003: dealing with the offence of FGM including the offence of assisting a girl to carry out FGM on herself while also creating extra-territorial offences to deter people from taking girls abroad for mutilation.
  5. Public Disclosure Act 1998: concerning the management of whistleblowing related to safeguarding concerns within organisations. Noting the availability of a national helpline providing support to those who have concerns and may who may need support in ensuring these are heard and acted upon.
  6. Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (2006): A vulnerable adult is any person aged 18 years or over who is unable to self-care or who cannot protect him/ herself against significant harm or exploitation. This could apply to people who have mental health problems, disabilities, and sensory impairments or who are old and frail. The person may be in receipt of care at home, in the community or in an institutional setting. The adult has the right to live a life free from neglect, exploitation and abuse under the Human Rights Act (1998).
  7. Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015: from 13 April 2015, section 20 of this Act applies to individuals such as doctors, dentists and nurses and it states: "It is an offence for an individual who has the care of another individual by virtue of being a care worker to ill-treat or wilfully to neglect that individual."
  8. Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014: Regulation 13: To meet the requirements of this regulation, providers must have a zero tolerance approach to abuse, unlawful discrimination and restraint. This includes: neglect, subjecting people to degrading treatment, unnecessary or disproportionate restraint, deprivation of liberty.
  9. Human Rights Act (1998): applies to all public bodies within the United Kingdom, including central government, local authorities, and bodies exercising public functions requiring the courts to interpret all legislation in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act deals with fundamental rights, for instance , against discrimination, inhuman and degrading torture ; aiming to protect against, for instance, slavery or servitude or intrusions of privacy in respect of family life and correspondence.
  10. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989, Article 19), sets out international commitment to signatory Governments ensuring children are protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. 
  11. Royal colleges and professional bodies’ Intercollegiate Guidance: Safeguarding Children and Young People: roles and competencies for health care staff. (2014 ) published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and other publications by this college stress the importance of ensuring appropriate safeguarding training for professionals.
  12. The Code for Crown Prosecutors: The Code, at paragraph 4.12(c), asks prosecutors to consider the circumstances and harm caused to the victim when considering whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.

From the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Website (link)

  1. Remember that the Data Protection Act is not a barrier to sharing information but provides a framework to ensure that personal information about living persons is shared appropriately; 
  2. Be open and honest with the person (and/or their family where appropriate) from the outset about why, what, how and with whom information will, or could be shared, and seek their agreement, unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so; 
  3. Seek advice if you are in any doubt, without disclosing the identity of the person where possible; 
  4. Share with consent where appropriate and, where possible, respect the wishes of those who do not consent to share confidential information. You may still share information without consent if, in your judgement, that lack of consent can be overridden in the public interest. You will need to base your judgement on the facts of the case noting the practice of involving the Caldicott Guardian and applying Caldicott principles in dealing with disclosure without consent; 
  5. Consider safety and well-being: Base your information sharing decisions on considerations of the safety and well-being of the person and others who may be affected by their actions; 
  6. Necessary, proportionate, relevant, accurate, timely and secure: Ensure that the information you share is necessary for the purpose for which you are sharing it, is shared only with those people who need to have it, is accurate and up-to-date, is shared in a timely fashion, and is shared securely; 
  7. Keep a record of your decision and the reasons for it – whether it is to share information or not. If you decide to share, then record what you have shared, with whom and for what purpose

  • NAPAC – National Association of People Abused in Childhood

P O BOX 63632

NAPAC will provide support for clients and this charitable organisation’s national freephone Support Line may be contacted on: 0800 085 3330.

This organisation has online information booklets and videos which client’s may find useful available at: www.napac.org.uk. This organisation takes the approach that grading of abuse is inappropriate and that any abuse is wrong. For those advised that the CPS do not consider a case can be pursued, it is clearly relevant that support organisations will affirm that this does not belittle the experience of harm or make the abuse acceptable.

  • The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)

Weston House,
42 Curtain Road,
London EC2A 3NH.

Gives free access to practical, evidence-based guidance on vulnerable witnesses and defendants.

Please note: The Advocates Gateway Toolkit 10, ‘Identifying Vulnerability in Witnesses and Defendants’ dated 10 July 2014.


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