In 1992 the National Children’s Homes’ (NCH) report ‘Children and Young People who Sexually Abuse Other Children’ represented a turning point in the identification of the scope and needs of young people who sexually abuse others. The report confirmed that approximately a third of all child sexual assault was carried out by children and young people under the age of 18 years. However, agency responses were found to be uncoordinated, with services sporadic and inadequate so that decision making became a virtual lottery.
The NCH report was followed by government guidance (Working Together 1991) in which the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to these cases was recognised. At about the same time a number of small-scale projects were established but the progress was piecemeal and patchy. This was reflected in one of the principle findings of the ‘Thematic Inspection of the Work of the Probation Service’ (HMPI, 1998) which stated that there was an absence of any strategic framework for the management of young sex offenders.
The establishment of a National Youth Justice Board following the Crime and Disorder Act(1998) provided, at long last, an opportunity to address the development of services for these young people in a more strategic and consistent manner.
In addition, services to children and young people who sexually abuse are currently responding to a recent and welcome shift in our understanding and approach to this area of work.
Previous practice had been based upon adapting what we had learnt about how to assess and treat adult sex offenders. This led to the development of individual and group treatment programmes for young people that were modelled on work with adults and assumed a clear and established individual pattern of abuse that was addressed almost exclusively to cognitive behavioural interventions. Young people engaging in sexually abusive behaviour were generally viewed as dangerous and in need of long-term specialist treatment programmes, provided in isolation from family and carers or the wider social environments in which they lived.
There is now recognition, that there are significant limitations on what we can appropriately transfer from adult sex offender work to work with young abusers. Research has provoked us to take a broader perspective on the assessment and treatment of young people who sexually abuse, moving away from a focus solely on sexual behaviour. Current thinking and practice place more emphasis on the involvement of parents and carers in treatment and take into account the developmental perspective and distinct needs of children and young people. It is now generally accepted that intervention with young people who sexually abuse should allow for the integration of individual treatment goals within the young person’s family and social context.
Most recently, the Part 8 review report entitled ‘Childhood Lost’ that was produced in December 2001, in response to the Dominic McKilligan case, identified the need for strategic and joined up thinking in relation to this group of young people. The report stated ‘All of us – politicians, professionals, media and the public – need to learn the lessons so that robust services are developed to prevent and intervene in the development of abusive behaviour’.
In 1999 the 10 new Youth Offending Teams and other interested professionals in Greater Manchester successfully made a joint bid to the Youth Justice Board to fund a three year development project, AIM (Assessment Intervention and Moving on), which was awarded Pathway status by the Home Secretary. The projects objectives were to establish a common sense of purpose in key agencies and to encourage them to acknowledge their role and responsibility in the collaborative development of services to children and young people who sexually abuse.
To date the project has established policies, procedures and best practice linked to a comprehensive training programme for practitioners and managers. Central to the vision of the project was the development of an initial multi-disciplinary assessment model that sits within a framework of response and links to subsequent interventions.
Agreement was reached with Greater Manchester police to allow a 28 day bail period for the AIM initial assessment to take place in respect of those young people admitting a first sexual offence, that was not serious enough to go straight to court. In respect of those going immediately to court, an additional protocol is in place. In the court arena the assessment model can be used to form the basis of a pre-sentence report, thus giving practitioners an increasingly recognised and structured basis from which to argue their case.
This means that all young people regardless of the route they come to the professional’s attention would be subject to the same assessment model that should provide much of the information required for the ASSET or Children in Need assessments and vice versa. The language and terminology employed by the initial AIM model is not specific to a particular discipline and the model is designed to be used within the existing timescales in operation by the criminal justice and child protection system.
A partnership approach to the assessment process is advocated whereby co-workers from youth justice (for those young people over 10 years) and child care agencies conduct joint initial assessments.
The following 10 steps wherever possible, should be adhered to by the assessors.
- The agency to whom the referral is made (lead agency) should identify a co-assessor, agree a date for the completion of the report and book an AIM multi-disciplinary meeting to be held and chaired within the child protection unit.
- Watch the memorandum interview or read the victim statement.
- Listen to the PACE interview or any account given by the young person regarding their sexual behaviour.
- Read any available files and collate information held by other professionals.
- Refer to the relevant assessment model to identify what is now known/not known.
- Plan the interviews with the young person and their parents/carers with a view to gaining the missing information and engaging them in a process that prepares them for a helping service to be received.
- Interview the young person.
- Interview the parents/carers.
- Use the assessment model to draw conclusions around risk, strengths, needs, capacity to change and the degree of support parents/carers can provide. To make a recommendation to the police regarding disposal.
- Take the completed assessment to the AIM multi-disciplinary meeting, where roles, tasks and resources can be identified and agreed. Review date set, if appropriate.
The Models of Assessment
Following on from the original AIM initial assessment model for those young people aged 10 – 18 years, has been the development of three additional and complimentary models that give a wider and more holistic perspective to this area of assessment, than previously seen. All 4 of these assessment models will assist the practitioner in gathering and analysing relevant information in order to focus on early identification gathering and analysing relevant information in order to focus on early identification of concern, risk, need and strengths in order to inform initial recommendations, based on a continuum of responses ranging from early community based intervention with low risk cases to intensive work with the most high risk groups, often in out of home settings.
They will indicate to the practitioner, either progress to a comprehensive assessment and/or plan delivery of interventions. They are not intended for use at the latter stages of assessment, although the information gathered here may form a useful baseline for subsequent evaluation.
Ultimately, the models do not make decisions for assessors but can support decision making. They are drawn on current evidence; understanding and thinking which should inform and influence good practice.
In circumstances where the young person and their family are unwilling to engage in the assessment interviews, indirect assessment (paper exercise) may take place using the model. Although it should be noted that in such circumstances the assessment outcomes will be less reliable.
All the models emphasise the importance of using the assessment process to engage young people and their families in a process that they can view as fair and beneficial.
Finally, recent developments in this area of work place particular emphasis on a partnership approach and it is therefore appropriate to acknowledge the partnership working via multi-disciplinary training events, focus groups and consultation with practitioners from Greater Manchester that contributed to these models. The assessment frameworks included in this manual are in part the result of their collaboration and commitment.