Assessing the risk - Evidence, impact and evaluation At a glance

We worked with the Sexual Behaviour Unit in Newcastle to develop Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child to help protect children from men who pose a sexual risk. We evaluated the service to see how it was being used, how it could be improved and how it could help in making decisions about child protection.

How sexual abuse affects children

1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. But a high number of these cases go unreported, undetected, unprosecuted and untreated.

Sexual abuse can have many varied impacts on children and young people. The stress suffered by an abused child can have a significant impact on the child's health and development. It can impact on behaviour and relationships, including risky or harmful sexual behaviour, delinquency, crime and poor parenting. In the longer term, the consequences can limit future opportunities and lead to further problems later in life.

Dealing with the consequences of childhood sexual abuse also has a significant economic cost to the NHS, criminal justice system and children's social care services.

Read more about child sexual abuse.

How Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child helped prevent child abuse and neglect

The majority of adults who pose a risk to children are not in the criminal justice system. They are frequently not assessed or subject to any treatment. They are often living with or having contact with children (Hebb, 2005; Fisher and Beech, 1998).

We know the key factors that should be assessed, and what constitutes good practice in assessment and treatment (Hanson, K et al 1998; Beech, A, Craig, L, Browne, K, 2009).

However there is a significant unmet need for good quality assessment and treatment of known or alleged sex offenders not in the criminal justice system.

By assessing the risk that these men posed to children in their own family, or their partner's family, Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child aimed to:

  • keep children safe
  • reduce and manage risk in the longer term
  • provide local authority children's services and others safeguarding children with a benchmark of risk management to enable informed decisions in child protection.

The assessment process used a child-centred model, which kept the protection of children and young people as the focus.

Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child used a guide developed by the NSPCC and the Sexual Behaviour Unit in Newcastle. The guide was based on the latest knowledge and best practice in sex offender assessment, drawing on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), attachment theory and the Good Lives approach.

How we're evaluating this service

Our evaluation team hold in-depth interviews with staff, social workers and the men and protective parents who have attended Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child.

The evaluation for Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child was mainly qualitative and focused on:

  • how the assessment guide was being used and how it could be improved
  • how the assessment reports produced helped inform child protection decision making
  • what the men and protective parents and carers who were assessed thought of the assessment process.

In-depth interviews were held with the NSPCC staff using the assessment guide, referring social workers who had requested assessment reports and men and protective parents and carers who had been assessed.

There was also a tracking exercise which followed-up what happened as a result of each assessment, 3, 6 and 12 months after it was completed and a survey with children and young people who were involved in the assessment.

The biggest challenge was getting the men and protective parents and carers assessed to take part in an interview.

Men and protective parents and carers often only attended the service because they felt it was the only way of getting contact with the named child. If the assessment recommended that they shouldn't have contact with the child or that contact should be restricted, it could have left them feeling angry or upset and they might not have wanted to take part in the evaluation.

Even if they initially agreed to be contacted about an interview, they might have:

  • changed their mind
  • changed contact numbers
  • not been available at the agreed interview time.

Where the practitioner had a good relationship with the man or protective parent or carer, they facilitated the discussion about when would be a good time to be contacted about the interview.

For other cases, a range of approaches were used including emphasising that the interview was separate from the assessment and wouldn't influence the outcome, reinforcing that we were interested in hearing about positive and negative experiences, trying calling at different times of the day and evening and using text messages.

It was also difficult to contact referrers for interview given their busy workloads and the need to respond to emergencies at short notice. A persistent approach was taken to getting in touch with referrers calling at a range of different times of day, particularly early morning, leaving messages and checking availability with colleagues in their office.

The evaluation was carried out internally by the NSPCC evaluation department.

Contact Emma Belton for more information.

What we learnt

Practitioners, referrers and service users all gave us feedback on their experience of the service.

We found that the family assessment reports provided by the service had helped professionals to decide on the actions and support needed to protect children.

However this impact will always be limited. The assessment is only done at 1 point in time and the level of input given cannot change deep-seated attitudes and behaviours.

Read the evaluation.

What we're doing next

Following a strategic review of programmes and resources, we are no longer accepting referrals to Assessing the risk, protecting the child. However, the learning from our evaluation will be helpful to other services delivering similar services.

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Donate now

Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

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  1. Beech, A.R., Craig, L.A. and Browne, K.D. (eds.) (2009) Assessment and treatment of sex offenders: a handbook. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

  2. Fisher, D. and Beech, A. (1998) Reconstituting families after sexual abuse: the offender's perspective. Child abuse review 7(6): 420-434. [Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child abuse review 7(6): 420-434].

  3. Hanson, R.K. and Bussiere, M.T. (1998) Predicting relapse: a meta-analysis of sexual offender recidivism studies. (Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 66(2): 348-362.

  4. Hebb, J. (2005) Outside the frame. Community care 1554: 32-33. [Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Community care 1554: 32-33].