Policing child abuse: challenges and opportunities for specialist units

Denise Martin, Lynn Kelly, Sharon Jackson, Sabina Byszko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Drawing on the literature from the field and the recent experience of an evaluation into a child abuse investigation in Scotland, the purpose of this paper is to argue that evidence from the literature suggests that a more holistic approach drawing on the ideas of communities of practice could improve the way in which child abuse investigations are conducted.

This paper has been informed by a recent evaluation of a new national unit that was set up to investigate suspected child abuse in Scotland. This unit was established as part of the transition from eight regional police services in Scotland to a single national police service, Police Scotland. An important part of this evaluation was to consider the messages from previous research into the development of national police units and the role of the police in child protection investigations more generally.

What was uncovered were the challenges that police officers face in the current context of child abuse investigation particularly around construction of child abuse investigations, collaborative working, staff well-being and training.

Practical implications
The practical implications of this paper are as follows: police investigations into child abuse experience a range of issues, multi-agency and holistic approaches are more effective, agencies should be encouraged to establish communities of practice and staff need adequate levels of support and training.

This paper contributes towards a growing body of work examining the way in which child abuse investigations are conducted by police and the importance of inter-agency collaboration to support this. It contributes to academic debates and knowledge of the overall investigation process where, to date, there has been a paucity of literature and research that has tended to focus on evidence and experiences and to a boarder literature recognising the need for holistic approaches to tackle child abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-141
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Justice
  • Policing
  • Victims
  • Police
  • Training/professionalization
  • Child abuse
  • Communities of practice
  • Special units


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