Undertaking a mass allegation investigation
What's important to us
There may be times when we find ourselves in a situation where a person has been accused of harming a group of children and/or young people in much the same. An investigation into allegations of this nature can be extremely complex. Careful and considered planning of each of the steps in the investigation along with involvement of key agencies ensures we deal with the matter safely, in a timely manner, and with the best interests of all the children and/or young people in mind.
When you think you may be dealing with a potential mass allegation, refer to the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family Mass Allegation Investigation Joint Operating Procedures. These procedures are the agreed working arrangements between the New Zealand Police, and Oranga Tamariki in the event on a mass allegation investigation (MAI).
These procedures will be followed alongside the Child Protection Protocol: Joint Operating Procedures (CPP) on every occasions when dealing with a MAI.
It is appropriate to apply these procedures to situations where a MAI is suspected until such time that it is established that the procedures are not applicable.
What is a mass allegation investigation?
A MAI is an investigation of suspected abuse of three or more mokopuna (excluding sibling groups), where that abuse may constitute a criminal offence.
It is possible to extend the application of the MAI process if an allegation is made about a person who is recognised as having increased access to mokopuna. Even if the allegation/s involve fewer then three mokopuna, consideration must be given to treating the matter as an MAI, until the conclusion of the screening phase.
The mokopuna involved may be linked through a variety of circumstances including:
- a family/whānau member
- a group or activity they participate in
- a facility they attend
- their care arrangements.
Where you suspect you may be dealing with a MAI please refer to the Joint Operating Procedures and liaise with the Police Child Protection Team immediately to start planning. The Joint Operating Procedures contains a number of appendices at the end of the document that can be used to assist with your planning.
1.1 Considering harm to a child or young person
When considering harm to a child or young person it is important to remember that section 14 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 considers more than abuse as grounds for care and protection. It includes offending behaviour; serious differences between children and young people and their caregiver, as well as the behaviour of the child or young person themselves. A common link between these circumstances is that they are, or are likely to be, harmful to the child or young person.
As such, concerns about the level of actual or potential severity of harm to children and young people will be a determining factor for Oranga Tamariki and Police in considering whether action should be taken. Serious harm can differ for each child or young person dependent on the behaviour and actions causing concern, the context they occur in and the characteristics of individual child or young person. It can be a result of what someone else does, or does not do, to, or for, a child or young person. Serious harm may also be the result of the child or young person’s own behaviour and actions. The impact or potential impact on the child or young person must be the key consideration, not simply the suspected or reported behaviour itself.
Section 14 does not require serious harm to have occurred for a child or young person to be in need of care and protection. The likelihood of serious harm is adequate to warrant intervention.
Addressing and need for care and protection
Please refer to section 1.2 of the standard operation procedures
Comprehensive joint planning between Police and Oranga Tamariki will help to provide appropriate support to victims and their families. Addressing care and protection needs is primarily the role of Oranga Tamariki and will be supported by Police.
Appropriate steps must be taken to manage the safety of the mokopuna involved, e.g. suspension of contact with the alleged offender for the duration of the investigation – this may include the offenders own children or those living with them.
If safety cannot be secured by consent and good planning, legal options to secure the safety of children and/or young people must be considered.
Police and Oranga Tamariki should also consider the wellbeing of the mokopuna involved. In particular this assessment should consider the risk of harm resulting from the actions of mokopuna and whether their behaviours are placing them at risk of ongoing harm e.g. excessive drinking, sexual experimentation, posting images on social media etc. Consider whether their parents are aware of the behaviours, acknowledge that they are of concern, are able to support the child or young person to make appropriate choices and access the appropriate supports as required.
Sometimes allegations may not be made until a significant period of time (perhaps months or even years) has passed after the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Please refer to section 10.8 of the document for information regarding the role Oranga Tamariki had in these investigations.