9.6 Known Offenders and Others who may Pose a Risk to Children
This section provides procedures in relation to the response required to individuals who are known or suspected to have caused significant harm to children (a person under the age of 18).
The term 'Schedule 1 Offender' was used by a variety of agencies, and was ill defined and, to a certain extent, unhelpful since it defined people by their offending history rather than the ongoing risks they pose. The Home Office replaced this with ‘Person Posing a Risk to Children’. This includes people who are under 18 but excludes younger children displaying non-exploitative sexual exploration. Where this is undetermined or unclear these procedures should be followed. When this procedure is used in relation to a person under 18 posing a risk, Children who harm other children should be considered.
Offending history is an important factor in such assessments but it is not the only one.
Practitioners need always to exercise professional judgement and remember that there are also other types of offences where a child may be the intended victim but where the primary offence is not a child specific offence e.g. telecommunications offences, harassment etc.
Indicators of people who may pose a risk to children include:
On notification or discovery of a person identified as presenting a risk, or potential risk, to children, children’s social care must treat this information as a child protection referral.
A S.47 enquiry must be instigated if the offender / person who poses a threat, is living in a household with children, has contact with children or poses a risk to children in the area.
Checks (including with the prison service that may hold important information) must be undertaken to establish:
All assessments of risk must consider the:
A child protection conference must be convened if the threshold criteria are met and if any child(ren) require continuing protection, therapeutic intervention or family support services.
Prior to any decision by children’s social care to disclose information, a risk assessment must be undertaken, in order to establish what risks the alleged offender or suspected offender poses to children in the prevailing circumstances and the risks associated with disclosure. The welfare and safety of children is the paramount consideration.
The generic term ‘adult or young person identified as posing a risk’ is used but clearly an assessment of risk must be based both on the actual offences committed and on other soft information that may be available.
The actual offence(s) for a convicted offender may not place the person in a high risk category in terms of likelihood of future offending or degree of risk posed to children. Staff must be alert to the potential for future risk and to the fact that an offending history gives only partial information and is based on what an adult has been successfully prosecuted for rather than on the full extent of past activity.
Adults or young people who pose a risk may have contact with children both within and external to the family systems where they live. Seeking information on the level of contact with children generally must be an overt part of working with such an adult or young people and written agreements must be put in place on the level and type of contact allowed. All professionals working with the family must be aware that such an agreement exists and its content. Any evidence that suggests a breach of this agreement must be taken seriously and seen as information about a potential increase in risk. This information will come from both the adult or young people him/herself, from partners and from the network. As far as possible information that is given must be checked with independent sources and the need to do this must be made explicit to the adult or young people who poses a risk and to his/her partner or other relevant family member. In order to gain information about levels of risk posed, sufficient information must be shared with partners or family members and with the network so that informed assessments of risk can be reached by other adults in the network.
A number of known and suspected offenders will be subject to assessment already, with the possibility of treatment follow up. This is an early opportunity to identify the network and seek interagency agreement as to who might need to be informed of the potential risk and how this might be done.
Some adults or young people who pose a risk may deliberately target women with children or seek to have their own biological children as a means of gaining access to a wider circle of children. Some women e.g. those with a learning difficulty may be particularly vulnerable. Thus as part of child protection plans drawn up to protect children who live in the household of such an adult or young person, active consideration must be given to other children who come into contact via friendship, baby sitting etc. This must include friendships etc with the partner or family member.
The role of the partner in protecting both children in the household and that wider group of children who have contact is crucial and must form part of the risk assessment of the couple. This expectation of the partner acting as a protective adult must be explicitly acknowledged by all parties and by the partner him/herself. Staff should remember that this does not offer a complete guarantee that a partner will act in a protective way as the adult who poses a risk is likely to exert a powerful influence on their partner’s reasoning and judgement in relation to what is perceived as risky.
Assessment of risk must be a dynamic process that is ongoing. For example do children in the household or the system become more vulnerable as they get older? Are boys or girls more likely to be targeted? Thus possible changes and developments in networks must form part of ongoing monitoring and work with the adult. The explicit question ‘which children are coming into contact with this person and on what basis?’ must be checked regularly.
Some children may be subject to Child Protection Plans because of contact with an adult or young person who may pose a risk. Monitoring visits must be regular and purposeful, maintaining an overt focus on the possibility of risk. Managers must be alert to the fact that workers may not be able to hold this need for ongoing vigilance in mind and be able to act as a further checking mechanism by raising the issue in supervision and by ensuring via auditing that attention is being paid to the possibility of the adult or young person gaining increasing access to children.
If workers are unsure about what to share and who to share it with they must discuss this with their line manager who should in turn seek appropriate advice from someone with sufficient expertise.