Assessing the risk of sexual harm

Learning from a service designed to assess men who pose a sexual risk, and help professionals make decisions about keeping children safe

Playing on a car mat

Assessing the Risk Protecting the Child (ARPC) was our service for families of men who pose a sexual risk to children, but are not in the criminal justice system. Over several sessions, our practitioners carried out a three part assessment of:

  • the risk the man may have posed to the child or children in the family  
  • the capacity of the children’s protective parent or carer to protect them from the risk (this could be the man’s current or former partner, or another family member) and 
  • the views and wishes of the child or children about seeing the man. Following the assessment, we provided the professional who referred the family to ARPC with a report, including recommendations about the actions they needed to take to keep the children in the family safe.

ARPC was delivered at nine NSPCC service centres from 2011-16. Our final evaluation of the service integrates what we learned from earlier qualitative evaluations, looking at the views of the families using the service and the social workers who referred them, with new survey results and data about what happens to families after the assessments were completed.

Following a strategic review of programmes and resources, we’re no longer taking referrals for ARPC. However, we’re sharing the learning from the final evaluation of ARPC, as it will be helpful to others delivering this type of service.

Assessment reports helped professionals working with the families to make child protection decisions

The professionals who referred families to ARPC felt that the assessment reports were high quality and gave them a detailed understanding of the risks posed by the man being assessed.

Over half felt that the assessment report determined the actions they took to protect the child. The others felt that the report confirmed the actions they would have taken anyway, but that having their views confirmed in writing by someone independent helped them feel more confident about taking those actions.

This shows that cases such as these can be complex, and social workers may not always have a background of working with men who pose a sexual risk to children or the expertise to confidently assess risk.

There was a high level of agreement with the recommendations made in the assessment report, but they were not always implemented

Most of the professionals who referred families to the service agreed with the recommendations made in the assessment reports. They found it helpful that the reports made practical recommendations and clearly demonstrated how the author came to their conclusions.

Two-thirds of report recommendations had been implemented within 6 months of the assessment report being completed. Sometimes recommendations were not implemented if family circumstances had changed or sometimes the support suggested was not available locally.

Social workers would also have welcomed more guidance about how to implement some of the recommendations.

Social workers and service users had differing views on capacity to change

The children’s protective parents or carers felt the assessment process had given them a better understanding of the potential risks to their child and had made them more able to take action to protect their child.

The professionals who referred them to the service agreed with this, but a lower proportion of professionals felt the protective parent or carer was able to take action to protect their child.

Similarly, children and young people felt that the assessment sessions with NSPCC staff had helped them and taught them new things about what to do if they felt unsafe. However, a lower proportion of referrers felt that children had learnt what to do if they felt unsafe. This could mean that social workers have a more realistic view on capacity to change than service users; it could also be explained by the referrers not having enough detail about the change experienced by families to make a judgement.

Assessments can only ever give a snapshot on risk and need to be carried out regularly

A third of the men who posed a sexual risk to children had experienced a change in their circumstances after their assessment, which had an impact on their risk level. The level of risk posed by the men had increased in a fifth of cases.

The assessment reports make recommendations to help keep children safe, but these will always rely on family circumstances remaining the same.

Risk needs to be managed through a lifelong safety plan and referrals may need to be made to other agencies in future.

Final evaluation

Our final evaluation report of ARPC gives more detailed information about the assessment process, the assessment report, and what happened to families after the assessment was complete.

Join our free webinar

We’re also planning a free webinar to discuss the learning from the service in more detail, including feedback from service users and the staff carrying out the assessments.

If you would like to attend please register your interest.

More from impact and evidence

Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child

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Women as Protectors

Helping mums and carers who are in contact with a man who poses a risk of sexual harm to children.
Women as Protectors service

Letting the Future In

Letting the Future In helps children who have been sexually abused.
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Support for professionals

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)