Historical child abuse


The term 'historical abuse' refers to allegations of neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse which took place before the victim was 16 (or 18, in particular circumstances) and which have been made after a significant time lapse. The complainant may be an adult but could be an older young person making allegations of abuse in early childhood. The allegations may relate to an individual's experience in the family home, community or whilst a looked-after and accommodated child in a residential, kinship or foster care setting.


Individuals may disclose historical abuse in the context of receiving support in a therapeutic or counselling setting within the statutory or third sector. Others may report historical allegations directly to the police, social work services, health or education. It is also possible that the person reporting historical abuse may not be a direct service user but a parent/carer or other family member of an individual accessing these services.


When an allegation of historical child abuse is received by any agency, consideration must be given to the investigation of any current child protection concerns. This should include determining whether there are any children potentially still at risk from the alleged perpetrator(s). This may be in a professional capacity such as in a residential or foster care setting and/or within a personal family setting in the wider community, within other institutional settings or combination.

 It is not uncommon for individuals to make allegations of historical child abuse to practitioners in a therapeutic setting but do not feel able to report this to the police.  Consideration should be given to whether the individual requires support and protection as a vulnerable adult. In this situation it is important to balance their need for support in planning any intervention they require with the need to protect any identifiable child/children who may be currently exposed to any risk from the alleged perpetrator(s).  Where possible, there should be an agreement between agencies to allow individual support plans to be put in place.


If there is reasonable professional concern that a child may be at risk of harm this will always over-ride a professional or agency requirement to keep information confidential. All service providers have a responsibility to act to make sure that a child whose safety or welfare may be at risk is protected from harm. Service users should always be made aware of the circumstances when confidentiality needs to be breached, preferably during the initial stages of contact with a service.  Details of all alleged perpetrators must be shared with police and social work.


As with all investigations into alleged abuse, a measured and planned approach should be taken by all involved agencies that balances current child protection risks with support for the individual.  Multi-agency communication and collaboration is vital and services should be proactive in ensuring they have a clear understanding of each others’ roles and remits.


Individuals alleging historical abuse should be offered ongoing emotional support and provided with local services and the referral routes available that specialise in areas of childhood abuse and trauma. This would enable individuals to be successfully signposted for support both during and after the investigation, where required.


Practitioners need to be aware that it is not uncommon for a person to experience an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms as they are questioned about their abusive experiences.  Services should be mindful of how this may impact on an individual's ability to convey essential information to inform the investigation.


Key to the investigation of allegations of historical abuse is access to relevant records, including those relating to, for example, former staff in residential care settings and foster carers or health records.  Locating and retrieving records can be a challenge and the quality and level of recording variable in historical records.


Historic Child Abuse Inquiry


The Inquiry was set up by Scottish Government and launched its first call for evidence on the 23rd March 2016.

The overall aim and purpose of this Inquiry is to raise public awareness of the abuse of children in care, particularly during the period covered by the Inquiry.  It will provide an opportunity for public acknowledgement of the suffering of those children and a forum for validation of their experience and testimony. The Inquiry will do this by fulfilling its Terms of Reference which are set out below.

  1. To investigate the nature and extent of abuse of children whilst in care in Scotland, during the relevant time frame.
  2. To consider the extent to which institutions and bodies with legal responsibility for the care of children failed in their duty to protect children in care in Scotland (or children whose care was arranged in Scotland) from abuse, and in particular to identify any systemic failures in fulfilling that duty.
  3. To create a national public record and commentary on abuse of children in care in Scotland during the relevant time frame.
  4. To examine how abuse affected and still affects these victims in the long term, and how in turn it affects their families.
  5. The Inquiry is to cover that period which is within living memory of any person who suffered such abuse, up until such date as the Chair may determine, and in any event not beyond 17 December 2014.
  6. To consider the extent to which failures by state or non-state institutions (including the courts) to protect children in care in Scotland from abuse have  been addressed by changes to  practice, policy or legislation, up until such date as the Chair may determine.
  7. To consider whether further changes in practice, policy or legislation are necessary in order to protect children in care in Scotland from such abuse in future.
  8. Within 4 years (or such other period as Ministers may provide) of the date of its establishment, to report to the Scottish Ministers on the above matters, and to make recommendations.


For further information on the Inquiry and for information on how victims can apply to give evidence please visit the website


For ease the Fact Sheet for victims and the Application to give evidence are available below.


Further Information:







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