Last reviewed 13 September 2019

Although rare, there are occasions when a manager or designated safeguarding lead, is asked to conduct an investigation into a safeguarding incident or a disclosure. This may be requested by the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). Liz Hodgman, Childcare Consultant, explains how an investigation can be conducted in a childcare provision.

This can be a very sensitive time for the staff team, children and parents involved and although the investigation needs to be thorough it must be handled carefully. It is important the investigation does no further harm.

Investigating officer

The first stage in the process is to agree who will be the investigating officer. This person needs to be in a senior position within the provision, however they must not have directly line managed any of the staff involved in the allegation. They must have the level of experience and professional knowledge to be able to critically analyse the situation. They need to be able to gather, collate and analyse information from several sources.

Terms of reference

Once the investigating officer has been agreed they will need to draw up the terms of reference. These will clearly set out the:

  • aims and objectives of the investigation

  • the scope

  • methodology

  • timeframe

  • any limitations

  • confidentiality and restrictions on circulation of the report.

See the Terms of Reference and Scope of Investigation template.

Communication with parents

It is really important that the investigation starts with believing the child.

Communications with the child’s parents need to be handled very sensitively. They may experience a range of emotions during the investigation. They may be distressed, angry, wanting someone to blame or even unbelieving. It is important that they are communicated with throughout the investigation, being kept informed of the progress and any changes to the proposed timeline. Avoid using jargon, acronyms and complex words where possible. At the start of the investigation, it is best to explain the possible outcomes of the investigation and the wording that will appear in the report as this can be confusing for them.

Planning the investigation

When planning the investigation, it is useful to use the 4 P’s, People, Paper, Parts and Places. This will help ensuring that the investigation has covered all areas. The People might include the child(ren), parents, staff and other professionals. Paper will be any documents relating to the case, for example the child’s nursery file. Parts will be any equipment or resources that are raised in the allegation. Places would include the nursery or other venues named.


Once you have decided who you will want to interview and in which order, you will need to arrange dates/times and venues with them. Plan for the interviews, ensuring that they can happen without disruption. Make sure you have switched off your mobile and ask the interviewee to do the same where possible. Try to keep the interviews to less than an hour. If they need to be longer, plan for some comfort breaks. It is important that as the investigator you remain polite, calm and professional at all times. Provide tissues and water and be prepared to manage some emotional situations.

Each interview needs you to plan and prepare in advance. Following an introduction, explain why the investigation is taking place and the purpose of the interview. Try to put the interviewee at their ease, they are more likely to communicate with you if they are feeling relaxed. Ask them for an account of the situation and for any background information that might be relevant. Plan some questions especially where there are gaps in your knowledge, however be prepared that the interview may need to be flexible and go in a different direction than planned, especially if there are further disclosures. Seek clarification to ensure you have understood them correctly and challenge if appropriate. Closing the interview is important as you do not want the investigation process to cause any harm. After the interview, document carefully what was discussed, keep it factual. If you do feel it is relevant to include your opinion, then ensure that it is clearly documented as such.

You will need to request any documentation from the relevant sources. This may take some time if they are from different sources.

You may need to seek the opinion of an expert, for example a doctor or social worker.

As you work through the process, start drafting your report, ensuring it is clear, factual, objective and concise. Be consistent in the use of names and avoid using terms such as child’s mum or dad. You will have introduced their relationships at the beginning of the report, so the reader will know who you are referring to by their name.

Investigation outcomes

Once the draft report is complete and you have recorded whether you have found any evidence or not you will need to reach an outcome. Safeguarding investigation outcomes are as follows.

  • Substantiated — There is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation that a child has been harmed or there is a risk of harm.

  • Malicious — There is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation and there has been a deliberate act to deceive. The police should be asked to consider what action may be appropriate in these circumstances.

  • False allegation — There is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation, however, there is no evidence to suggest that there was a deliberate intention to deceive.

  • Unsubstantiated allegation — There is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation. The term, therefore, does not imply guilt or innocence.

  • Unfounded — The additional definition of “unfounded” can be used to reflect cases where there is no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made. It might also indicate that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw. Alternatively, they may not have been aware of all the circumstances.

Cases in which an allegation was proven to be false, unsubstantiated or malicious should not be included in employer references. A history of repeated concerns or allegations which have all been found to be false, unsubstantiated or malicious should also not be included in any reference.

Sharing the report

Depending on who requested the investigation, it is advisable to share the report with the LADO and gain their confirmation of the outcome, before sharing the report with any other parties.

It may not be appropriate to share the full report and appendices with the parents of the child(ren) involved in the case. This may be because the report contains information on other children and would breach GDPR. It may also contain information on individual staff members or regarding the provision that would not be appropriate to make public knowledge. After discussion with the LADO, a summary of the report with the main findings should be written and shared with parents. It is recommended that this report is shared in a meeting with them where they can ask questions and seek clarification, rather than sending an email.

Relationship between staff and parents

During the gathering of the evidence and the investigation, it is vital that the staff and parents’ relationship is managed carefully. Parents may not feel able to continue to bring their child to the provision until after there has been a conclusion reached. However, some parents will continue to bring their child. This can be a very difficult time for the staff who have been named in the allegation and their colleagues. It will take time to rebuild trust from the parents and staff. It is important to remember that every staff member will react differently. This will depend on whether they have experienced this sort of situation before, how it was handled, the outcomes and their own understanding of the situation. Supervision for the individual members of the team is vital during and after the investigation. This will allow them to safely explore their feelings, share their concerns and process what is happening. Some practitioners will struggle to move on after an investigation even when the outcome is unsubstantiated. They will need ongoing support, and some may require professional counselling.

The investigating officer should also have supervision in place both during and after the investigation to help them process what they have heard and understood.

Moving on after the investigation

Moving on after an investigation can be challenging. The report should include an action plan based on the areas of learning identified during the investigation. This will help the team as it will give them something to focus on and help make improvements to their practice. Ongoing supervision and team building events will also help in the rebuilding of the team’s moral. Some practitioners may request a change in the room that they work in. This could be so that they avoid contact with the child who was at the centre of the allegation and the parents. While it is better to support the practitioner to remain in the room and rebuild the relationship, this can be an alternative solution if the practitioner is really struggling with coming to terms with the allegation and investigation.

See the Safeguarding Investigation Report template.