People Posing a Risk to Children - Guidance and Procedure
AMENDMENTIn November 2018, this chapter was updated including an updated link to the MAPPA Guidance.
1. Persons Posing a Risk to Children - Introduction
A good indicator of future risk is past behaviour and, therefore, where persons with convictions for offences against children come into contact with children, an assessment should be made of the risk posed.
The terms 'Schedule One Offender' and 'Schedule One Offence' have been commonly used for anyone convicted of an offence against a child listed in Schedule One of the Children and Young persons Act 1933. However, a conviction for an offence in Schedule One does not trigger any statutory requirement in relation to child protection issues. An inclusion on the Schedule was determined solely by the age of the victim and offence for which the offender was sentenced, and not by an assessment of future risk of harm to children.
Therefore the term Schedule One Offender is no longer used and it has been replaced with 'Persons Posing a Risk to Children'. This clearly indicates that the person has been identified as presenting a risk, or potential risk, to children.
Once an individual has been sentenced and identified as presenting a risk to children, agencies have a responsibility to work collaboratively to monitor and manage the risk of harm to others. Where the offender is given a community sentence, offender managers monitor the individual's risk to others and their behaviour, and liaise with partner agencies as necessary.
Where such an offender is known to be, or is suspected of being, in contact with a child or children now, or in the immediate future, a referral should be made to Children's Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure, and consideration should be given to the making of enquiries under these procedures to determine whether any protective action should be taken.
2. The MAPPA Process
An understanding of the nature of violent and predatory offenders and the potential they have for hurting children is an important element in both assessment and Child Protection Planning and managing the risk of harm to children. See National MAPPA Guidance.
Workers need to be aware that violent and predatory offenders typically move from relationship to relationship and from area to area and require monitoring from all the agencies involved. They will spend significant periods of time in prison and on release may move areas to live somewhere where they are not known. If there are concerns about the levels of contact of an unknown adult with children either directly or through a family member it is important to contact the police to see if they are known and have previous cautions or convictions. It should not be assumed that the individual or family member involved will have any knowledge or any accurate knowledge of the actual offence.
Violent and predatory offenders are assessed and managed on a multi agency basis through MAPPA. Many of them will be under the supervision of the National Probation service (sits alongside the Prison Service within Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service) which has protecting the public as a primary objective. MAPPA procedures are also available for use by any of the agencies involved including Children's Services. Not all violent and predatory offenders are adults; MAPPA processes also manage violent and predatory child offenders.
Although rare for the risk factors of violent and predatory offenders to be reduced sufficiently for them to become a low risk of committing serious harm, the risk they present may be reduced e.g. through:
- Cognitive behavioural programmes – probation providers deliver such programmes for convicted sex offenders and convicted domestic violence perpetrators and other violent offenders;
- Working with the offender through partners to control drug and alcohol abuse;
- Additional monitoring with agencies such as the police and mental health services.
When the risk increases to an unacceptable level those offenders who are subject to release on licence from prison are recalled to prison. The test here is whether or not a sufficiently robust risk management plan can be put in place to enable continued management of the offender in the community.
3. Identified Persons Posing a Risk to Children - the Procedure
Indicators of people who may pose a risk to children include:
- A Person Posing a Risk to Children; those found guilty of an offence that indicates that the new term reflects future risk as opposed to past convictions;
- Individuals known to have been cautioned / warned / reprimanded in relation to an offence against children;
- Individuals against whom there is a previous finding in civil proceedings e.g. Sex Offender Order or care proceedings;
- Those about whom there has been a previous Section 47 Enquiry which came to the conclusion that there had been abuse;
- An individual who has admitted past abuse of a child;
- Others whose past or present behaviour gives rise to a reason to suspect that a child may be suffering or likely to suffer significant harm e.g. a history of domestic violence and other serious assaults;
- Offenders against adults who are notified to the local authority, because the prison or probation services are concerned about the possible risk to children;
- Offenders who come to the attention of the MAPPA.
On notification or discovery of a person who may pose a risk to children, Children's Services must treat this information as a child protection referral and instigate a Section 47 Enquiry:
- If the person is living in a household with children;
- Has contact with children; or
- Is suspected of posing a risk to children in the area.
Checks (including the prison service that may hold important information) must be undertaken to establish:
- Any children believed to have been abused by the individual in the past;
- Other children who are believed to have been in contact with the individual in the past and may therefore have been at risk;
- Children with whom the individual is currently in contact in a family or work / voluntary setting;
- Children (or groups of children) with whom the individual may seek contact, such as children attending a school located near the home of an individual known to target such children.
All assessments of risk must consider the:
- Needs of the children affected;
- Level and pattern of abusing or offending behaviour, including behaviour thought to have occurred, but which has not led to a criminal conviction;
- Level of protection which is likely to be provided by other significant adults;
- Ability of the children to protect themselves.
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.
Disclosure of Information by Local Authority
This procedure applies when disclosure to third parties of an offender / suspected offender's previous history is being considered.
Subject to the conditions set out in Pan Bedfordshire Practitioner's Guide to Information Sharing to Safeguard Children and Young People, the general presumption is that information should not normally be disclosed, except if one of the following applies:
- Consent from the suspected offender / alleged offender / offender;
- Statutory requirements or other duty;
- Duty to the public.
Legal advice should be sought where doubt exists as to the lawfulness of disclosure.
Absence of a conviction for child abuse in a criminal court does not prevent a local authority from informing parents or carers of the potential risk posed by someone who is honestly believed on reasonable grounds to have abused other children.
Generally the risk assessment for disclosure of information on convicted abusers will be led by the Police and Probation service (see MAPPA), but Children's Services may need to consider the risk also of those alleged abusers who:
- Have been charged with an offence and the outcome of their case is pending;
- Were not prosecuted because the required standard of proof did not allow for a criminal case to be pursued;
- Were not prosecuted but the case 'left on file';
- Were acquitted.
In view of the possibility of legal challenge by the individual concerned or a future victim, all agencies must, in addition to seeking any legal advice required maintain a written audit trail of events, actions, discussions, decisions and the reasons for them.
Prior to any decision by Children's Services to disclose information, a risk assessment must be undertaken, in order to establish what risks the person poses to children in the prevailing circumstances and the risks associated with disclosure.
The risk assessment and management of alleged / suspected offenders will usually be through MAPPA. Children's Services has a particular role to play when an individual is setting up home with a new partner who has children.
The risk assessment must consider both enduring and changeable factors and take account of:
- Nature and pattern of previous offending;
- Compliance with previous sentences or court orders;
- Proximity of potential victims;
- Probability that a further offence will be committed;
- The harm such behaviour will cause;
- Any behaviour indicating likelihood that (s)he will re-offend;
- Any expert opinion e.g. psychiatric;
- Any other relevant information e.g. specific vulnerability of child(ren).
The risk assessment must also consider the following risks:
- Displacing or increasing offending;
- Pushing an offender 'underground';
- Potential consequences to the offender and her/his family;
- Potential consequences in the context of law and order;
- Any other operational considerations.
Where possible, the individual should be consulted to provide information to assist the risk assessment.
The individual should be given the opportunity to challenge the information on which the decision to disclose is being made, and the response considered as part of the risk assessment.
The Head of Child Protection / Children's Services Manager and legal department must be consulted regarding the possibility of disclosure and the decision taken by the service manager, in consultation with Police and Probation at a Strategy Discussion/Meeting.
If the Police do not support any planned disclosure based on the potential risk to an identified child, further legal advice must be taken.
Each decision to disclose must be justified on the likelihood of harm which non-disclosure might otherwise cause and the pressing need for such a disclosure.
Consideration must be given to other, less intrusive methods that might achieve any required objectives:
- If the offender is supervised by Probation, the use of its powers may assist or obviate the need for disclosure;
- Consent to disclosure should be sought from the individual in question (unless this increases the risk to any child);
- Consideration should be given to allowing the individual to make the disclosure themselves, which may be sufficient to achieve the objective e.g. promise to move to less provocative surroundings (unless this increases the risk to any child).
Where a decision to disclose is agreed, the risk management process must consider at a Strategy Meeting:
- Nature of the information to be disclosed;
- Extent of its distribution;
- Time scales;
- Who will disclose the information and how;
- Advice and guidance to be given to the recipients regarding the use they are to make of the information;
- Identification of a contact person identified to provide further advice and guidance to the recipient.
Following disclosure, the social worker, Police or probation officer must note:
- How seriously the child / carer took the information;
- The carer's ability and plans to protect the child;
- The carer's immediate plans for protection.