Child sex offender disclosure scheme An Information Service factsheet

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The child sex offender disclosure scheme (CSOD) was rolled out across all England and Wales police forces in 2011, following a successful pilot. It lets people who care for children apply to find out if someone has a record for child sexual offences.

Published: July 2015


How the scheme works

The child sex offender disclosure scheme in England and Wales (also sometimes known as “Sarah’s Law”), allows anyone to formally ask the police if someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences. Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.

Scotland run a similar nationwide scheme called Keeping children safe which allows parents, carers and guardians of children under 18 years old to ask the police if someone who has contact with their child has a record for sexual offences against children, or other offences that could put that child at risk.

No such scheme is formally available in Northern Ireland. However, information on sex offenders can be, and is, shared in a controlled way by the police where necessary for the purposes of child protection or risk management.

In 2000, Sarah Payne, an 8 year old girl, was abducted and murdered by Roy Whiting who had previously been convicted of abducting and indecently assaulting a young girl.

Following Sarah's death, the News of the World, supported by Sarah's parents, launched a campaign calling for a UK version of what is known as “Megan's Law” in the United States. The proposed "Sarah's Law" would require the police to make information about local sex offenders available to the public.

However, evidence from the United States showed that if an offender's details were automatically made public, a proportion would no longer comply with the notification requirements and could disappear, leaving the authorities unsure of their whereabouts and unable to monitor them (Fitch, 2007). There is also a risk of vigilante attacks from members of the public (Fitch, 2007).

Following a Home Office investigation into the operation of Megan's Law in the US and a review into protecting children from sex offenders (Home Office, 2007), a UK disclosure scheme was developed. To avoid the risks associated with the US system, the UK scheme only disclosed information when a member of the public asked about a specific individual and then only to the carer or parent of the child at risk.

The scheme was piloted in four police areas in in 2008. An independent evaluation of the pilot (Kemshall and Wood, 2010) concluded that the scheme had worked well. In August 2010 the Home Office announced that it would be rolled out across all 43 police areas in England and Wales.

People who require further information on how the scheme operates in their own community and how they may make applications for disclosure should contact their local police force for more information.

If the police make a disclosure, parents and carers must keep the information confidential and only use it to keep their child safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached. A disclosure is delivered in person, as opposed to in writing, with the following warning:

  • "that the information must only be used for the purpose for which it has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard children;
  • the person to whom the disclosure is made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and they will not disclose this information further;
  • a warning should be given that legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached. This should be explained to the person and they must sign the undertaking" (Home Office, 2011).

If the parent or carer is unwilling to sign the undertaking, the police must consider whether the disclosure should still take place.

What is our view on the child sex offender disclosure scheme?

We have called for a regular independent evaluation of the scheme so that consideration can be given as to whether it is offering adequate protection to children. Statistics are held by individual police forces, so regular independent evaluation would help with understanding the scale of the scheme and if it is being implemented consistently. A national picture can be built of how many people are using the scheme, who they are and whether the scheme is offering adequate protection to children.

Guidance for...

England and Wales

Sex offender disclosure scheme guidance
The Home Office has produced a number of guidance documents and tools to help practitioners implement the scheme.
View the Child sex offender disclosure scheme guidance document and appendices

Child sex offender disclosure scheme communications guidance
A communications guidance pack is also available, based on the lessons learned by the four pilot areas. They are aimed at helping police forces increase awareness and understanding of the scheme.
View the Child sex offender disclosure scheme communications guidance

Scotland

Keeping children safe: information disclosure about child sexual offenders
The Scottish Government has produced a leaflet for members of the public explaining how community disclosure can keep children safe, how people can apply for a disclosure, and what kind of information might be given.
Download Keeping children safe: information disclosure about child sexual offenders (PDF)

Northern Ireland

There is no guidance available as no such scheme is formally available in Northern Ireland.

Further information

'Sarah's Law' postcode lottery may leave children at risk from sexual abuse

Children may be at risk of harm from sexual predators as very few police forces are making full use of ‘Sarah’s Law’.
Read more

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References

  1. Fitch, K. (2007) Sex offender management: children’s rights, Megan’s Law and the child sex offenders review. ChildRight, 238: 18-21.

  2. Home Office (2007) Review of the protection of children from sex offenders (PDF). London: Central Office of Information (COI).

  3. Kemshall, H. and Wood, J. (2010) Child Sex Offender Review (CSOR) public disclosure pilots: a process evaluation (PDF). London: Home Office.