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What does 'risk of sexual harm' mean?

View profile for Jasmine Lees
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In November 2021, the NSPCC confirmed that a record number of people had contacted their service due to concerns around child sexual abuse, with nearly 5,000 calls made within a 6 month period. There are concerns that the risk of this type of abuse has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.[1]

What is sexual abuse

There are 2 forms of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact and this can be perpetrated both in person and online.

Contact abuse is where a person makes physical sexual contact with the child and non-contact may include exposing or flashing, exposing the child to sexual acts or making them become involved in sexual acts to include distribution of images.

There could also be concerns surrounding the grooming of children with regards to sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation on a larger scale. [2]

Local Authority involvement

The Local Authority may become involved with a family whereby concerns have been raised with regards to the risk of sexual abuse to children. This may occur as a result of referrals due to disclosures made by the children, another person witnessing sexual abuse of a child or concerns around the people around the children having current or previous involvement in child sexual abuse.

The Local Authority will want to eliminate the immediate risk to the child by ensuring there is no contact between them and the perpetrator and will want to ensure that any future risk is addressed if contact was to take place in the future (for example contact may need to be supervised). The Local Authority may ask for parents / guardians to abide by a safety plan and to sign a written agreement which stipulates how safe contact (if any) can be facilitated or to agree that contact should not be progressed in any instance.

If the Local Authority deem that the child(ren) is at risk of significant harm under the category of sexual harm then a Child Protection Conference may be held to determine if the child(ren) need to be subject to Child Protection Plans to safeguard them further. There may be various recommendations arising out of this conference such as further assessments such as a risk assessments or psychological assessments.

Assessments and support

If a child(ren) has been exposed to sexual abuse then work may be done with the children to support them or referrals may be made to services to ensure the children are supported. There is likely to be a multi-agency approach to ensure that services are aware of the concerns such as health professionals or the children’s school. A family group conference may be held to ensure that the wider family and support network are aware of the concerns to ensure that the children are protected.

If the Local Authority have concerns about the parents / guardian’s ability to protect the children from the risk of sexual abuse, they may hold a pre-proceedings meeting or initiate Care Proceedings for protective orders for the child(ren). This is typical where one parent or a parent’s new partner poses a risk where there has been previous convictions or allegations of sexual nature against children.

It is very important that a parent / guardian is seen to be working with the Local Authority to address any concerns that are held by professionals about a child. This may mean that parents have to consider separating from a partner who is deemed a risk or will have to cut contact with the risky person who them and the children have contact with. Any non-perpetrating parent may be asked to engage with work surrounding sexual risk with specialist organisations such as the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.  If the parent themselves are deemed a risk, they may also be asked to engage with these organisations or to complete various assessments to understand the impact of any risk. Agencies such as probation, prison officers or the Management of Sexual or Violent Offenders (MOSOVO) worker may information share about the current levels of risk or concerning behaviour with the Local Authority which in turn could increase the concerns.

How Johnson Astills can help

We understand that the Local Authority being involved with your children can be very stressful and that is why we are here to help and provide advice. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact  Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on careteam@johnsonastills.com  and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.