The role of police officers in the area of child protection is one of the most sensitive and difficult areas of police work. The physical and sexual abuse of children is conducted in secret and victims are encouraged to remain silent about their experiences. Obtaining sufficient evidence to secure a conviction can therefore be extremely difficult.
Getting the balance right as a police officer is difficult. Intervention can lead to the breakup of families where a heavy handed approach is not the right one. Alternatively, failing to act with sufficient force can make a situation much worse.
The Child Abuse Investigation Unit rely upon multiple agencies to provide them with information about young victims of abuse and violence. Referrals come through schools, from the victims themselves or from social services. It is essential for the police to work closely with social services and to seek to put protective arrangements in place while investigations are carried out.
Should a suspect be bailed or not? If they can return to a family where a suspected victim of abuse lives, there is a clear risk that the abuse will continue. However, placing a suspect on remand in custody can be highly damaging to a family. It is possible for bail conditions to be applied or for a potentially at risk child to be placed elsewhere with alternative family members whilst investigations are conducted and a decision is made as to whether or not charges should be brought.
All complaints of abuse are meticulously investigated but few lead to charges being brought. It can be difficult for the police to obtain enough evidence to discharge the burden of proof particularly in historical cases of abuse where the alleged perpetrator has died or evidence has been lost over time. Corroborative evidence of abuse is often needed and is certainly very helpful in securing a conviction.
Every police force in the country has a child protection unit where all officers have undergone detective training and are highly trained to work in this very sensitive area.
Detective Sergeant Grubb