Children in contact with sex offenders - advice

This advice provides additional information regarding reports about children in contact with convicted or registered sex offenders.

Document ID number 2012, version 4, 27 September 2018.

 

Introduction

See procedure Child in contact with sex offender for tasks that must be undertaken.

Child protection may receive a report about a child in contact with convicted or registered sex offenders from:

  • Victoria Police Sex Offenders Registry
  • Victoria Police Compliance Managers (based in Criminal Investigation Units (CIUs) or in Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs))
  • other parties.

This advice applies whether the report constitutes a new report, or a new familial or non familial allegation during an open case.

It includes some brief background information in relation to the National Child Offender System (NCOS), formerly known as the Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR), and an overview of the Sex Offender Registration Act 2004 (Victoria).

The advice makes the distinction between convicted and registered sex offenders; however the same approach to assessment and investigation applies to both.

Guidance

NCOS

NCOS is a web-based record system designed to assist police to register, monitor and share mandatory information across state jurisdictions about registered persons as provided by legislation. It enables alerts to be generated when registered persons notify they are planning to travel interstate or overseas. All Australian state and territory police jurisdictions actively use the register.

In Victoria NCOS is managed by the Victoria Police Sex Offenders Registry (SOR).

Sex offenders register

Victoria Police maintains a register of sex offenders under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) . The register helps ensure that people convicted of sex offences against children (and other serious sexual offences) after 2003 are monitored by police once they have served their sentence. The term sentence is broadly defined in the SORA to include custodial and non-custodial sentences.

An individual can be placed on the register for a period of eight or 15 years, or for life, depending on the type and severity of the offences. Persons under the age of 18 years who are convicted for sexually abusive behaviours (referred to in the Sex Offender Registration Act as a registrable juvenile offender) can be placed on the register for four years, or for seven and a half years.

A registrable juvenile offender can only be placed on the register following an application from the prosecution and where the court is ‘…satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that the person poses a risk to the sexual safety of one or more persons or of the community…’ (s. 11, Sex Offender Registration Act).

The SORA imposes reporting obligations on registered sex offenders (RSOs) including a requirement they report to a Victoria Police compliance manager the name, age, address and phone details of children they are in contact with. If the child’s age, address or phone number is not known to the registered sex offender, the details of the contact and/or the location of the contact must be provided by the RSO.

The SORA defines child contact as occurring when the RSO:

  • is residing with the child or stays overnight at a place where the child resides or is staying overnight
  • is caring for or supervises a child
  • has provided their contact details to a child or receives contact details from a child
  • is having any form of physical contact for the purpose of forming a personal relationship with the child
  • is having any form of oral communication (whether face-to-face, telephone or internet) for the purpose of forming a personal relationship with the child, and
  • is engaging in any form of written communication (whether electronic or otherwise) for the purpose of forming a personal relationship with the child.

Note: the SORA does not impose conditions on the RSO regarding whether or not they may have contact with, or reside with a child; however the SORA does state that it is an offence for an offender to engage in, or apply for, employment that is child related.

Convicted sex offenders

With some exceptions, people convicted of sex offences against children prior to the introduction of the Sex Offenders Registration Act are not subject to registration. Alternatively, persons convicted and placed on the sex offender register may have been de-registered due to their period of reporting having expired.

From a child protection perspective, the serious risks posed by convicted child sex offenders are the same whether they are registered or not. Reports regarding convicted child sex offenders should be assessed in the same way as reports regarding RSOs.

Role of Victoria Police

Victoria Police compliance managers are detectives tasked with monitoring RSOs’ compliance with the SORA and to mitigate the risk they pose to the community.

The SOR employs an actuarial risk tool known as the Static-99 to estimate sexual offending recidivism risk. The Static-99 is a ten item actuarial assessment instrument for male sexual offenders who are at least 18 years of age.

The Static-99 is completed by trained practitioners at the SOR and is utilised to determine the level of risk management required, whereby higher risk offenders are deemed to warrant greater monitoring. In addition to the Static-99 rating, monitoring may be increased based on dynamic risk assessment that suggests an offender may be progressing towards an offence or has increased opportunities to offend (for instance, that the child sex offender is living with a child).

Child protection practitioners need to be aware that an offender assessed as low risk on the Static-99 can still pose a high risk to a particular child. The Static-99 indicates current likelihood of offending based on static (for example historic) factors, therefore a risk assessment that considers dynamic (changeable) factors is required to determine the risk they pose to individual children.

Compliance managers rely on RSOs self-report and police intelligence to monitor compliance. All RSOs are required to report to their compliance manager on an annual basis and advise of any change of circumstances and contact with children.

If the RSO reports they are having contact with, or residing with a child, Victoria Police will make a report to child protection.

Receiving a report regarding a sex offender in contact with children – intake

A report from the SOR or a compliance manager constitutes a mandatory report from police relating to concerns of likelihood of sexual abuse. These reports are known as NCOS or ANCOR reports.

Reports from the SOR or compliance manager differ somewhat from other reports received by child protection as they are based on knowledge of the potential perpetrator of abuse, rather than any direct knowledge regarding the subject child or other persons within the child’s immediate family.

Most offenders on the SOR have been convicted of at least one sexual offence against a child (although offenders who have been convicted of adult only offences may be placed on the register).

When considering whether or not there is a likelihood of significant harm to the subject child, previous behaviour is a key predictor of future behaviour, and therefore of risk to the child.

Specific guidance regarding assessment in these circumstances is provided below.

Consultation with principal practitioner and team manager

All reports about a child in contact with a sex offender must involve a consultation with the principal practitioner and team manager.The practitioner’s team manager or supervisor must be consulted at all key decision making points post intake, particularly at investigation planning, protection application, placement in out-of-home care, reunification and case closure. All consultations are to be recorded on CRIS.

A divisional or statewide principal practitioner must endorse any recommendation to seek an external assessment.This must be recorded on the CRIS file.

Endorsement for case closure

Where consideration is being given to closing a report about a child in contact with a sex offender at any phase of child protection involvement, the decision for closure must be reviewed by a team manager in consultation with a divisional or statewide principal practitioner.

Re-report regarding a sex offender in contact with children

RSO’s are required to report specific personal details, and any changes to those details, to their Victoria Police compliance manager on an minimum annual basis, including details about residence or contact with children.

Victoria Police directs compliance managers to report to child protection each time a RSO advises that they are residing with or having contact with children. This means that children may be re-reported to child protection a minimum of every twelve months if they remain in contact with the RSO.

A re-report constitutes a mandatory report from police relating to the likelihood of sexual abuse, and as such a new report or new familial or non-familial allegation must be generated in CRIS.

Where consideration is being given to closing a re-report at intake, it is important to clearly detail the rationale for closure. This includes referencing wherever possible information from the most recent report or investigation including any clinical assessments and confirmation that the circumstances of the child have not significantly altered since the previous report. The assessment of each report must consider the ‘dynamic’ risk factors particular to the offender, as any change of circumstances may warrant the matter proceeding to investigation. For example:

  • the child subject to the report may have now entered the age range of the offender’s victims which may raise concern
  • the offender is no longer employed
  • there may be substance abuse, criminal activity, family violence issues present or, previous issues now present at a more concerning level.

Consideration should be given to the broader family circumstances and the capacity of the non-offending partner, and others, to protect the child. 

Information sharing

Information that a person is on the SOR is highly sensitive in nature. Once this information has been provided to Child Protection it is subject to the information sharing provisions of the CYFA.

While the CYFA authorises disclosure of information where Child Protection believes on reasonable grounds that sharing the information is required to carry out its responsibilities under the CYFA, information about a registrable offender is to be treated with particular care.

Before disclosing the information, Child Protection must take reasonable steps to notify the registrable offender of the intention to disclose the information, unless telling the offender would endanger the life or safety of any person.

Child Protection may only disclose information in relation to a registerable offender if they believe on reasonable grounds the disclosure is in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of the child.

Penalties apply to unauthorised disclosure of the information set out in s. 42D of the CYFA by staff.

As it is the associated sex offending behaviour that is directly pertinent to the safety of the child, consideration should be given to whether disclosing the history of sex offending is sufficient, or whether it is essential in the particular case to disclose that the person is a registered sex offender.

Child protection should encourage the registered sex offender to disclose their registration on the SOR to the non-offending parent, child or young person.  Although child protection is primarily concerned with assessing the risk to a child or young person, child protection must consider the impact of this disclosure on the RSO and the family.

See Information sharing in child protection practice.

Disclosure by authorised persons other than child protection

The Secretary has authorised police officers (as defined in the Victoria Police Act 2013 (Vic)) to act under s. 42D(2) to disclose information relating to a registrable offender in certain circumstances. This means, a police officer can disclose to a non-offending parent or caregiver information regarding a RSO if they believe on reasonable grounds that the disclosure of the information is in the best interests of the child or young person and is necessary to secure their safety and wellbeing.

Victoria Police members disclosing information under s.42(D) are required to report to child protection details of the believed or confirmed contact and outcome of the disclosure (for example, RSO left the property).

Unborn reports

A child protection practitioner must not disclose to the mother of an unborn child that the person with whom she is in a relationship with is a RSO. Child Protection may however disclose to this person the RSO has a criminal history relating to a child sexual offence or offences.

Seeking information from sexual offender programs

Seeking additional information relating to the protective concerns from information holders, as defined by the CYFA or others, is critical to understanding dynamic risk, formulating an accurate assessment of risk and needs as well as planning an intervention.

In the case of reports regarding RSOs in contact with children, the offender may have been linked to a sex offenders program run by Corrections Victoria. If the offender has served a correctional sentence for more than nine months or has been assessed by Corrections Victoria Specialised Offender Assessment and Treatment Service (CV SOATS) to be at a moderate-high or high risk it is likely that they will be involved in or will have completed a treatment program. Corrections Victoria, as information holders, can share information with child protection.

Information requests to CV SOATS are coordinated centrally by the Office of Professional Practice.Contact the Office of Professional Practice at officeofprofessionalpractice@dhhs.vic.gov.au to confirm the current information exchange process.

Seeking information from courts

For offenders sentenced in the County or Supreme Court, the Judge’s sentencing remarks are usually available. Sentencing remarks provide a summary of the trial content and may reference victim statements. Sentencing remarks are not available for matters heard in a Magistrate’s Court. The offender’s criminal record details the Court in which an offender was sentenced and the sentencing outcome.

The Australasian Legal Information Institute website austlii.edu.au contains Australia-wide judgments and sentencing remarks from a range of jurisdictions. Where sentencing remarks for Victorian County or Supreme Courts are not available on AustLii, alternate options for requesting sentencing remarks are outlined below.

For matters heard in a County Court, contact the sentencing judge’s associate in writing to request them releasing a copy of the sentencing remarks. The Court can assist to identify the sentencing Judge and details of all sitting Judge’s associates are available on the County Court website.

Sentencing remarks for matters heard in the Victorian Supreme Court can be accessed via the Supreme Court website.​

Seeking further information from Victoria Police Sex Offender Register or Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams 

The SOR coordinates the responsibilities of Victoria Police in relation to RSO’s. Victoria Police compliance managers have responsibility to monitor offender compliance with their reporting obligations, and assume responsibility for reports to child protection where it is known or suspected the offender is having contact, or living with, children.

Upon receiving a report, information provided about the nature of contact between the RSO or convicted sex offender and the child should be verified. If the offender is a RSO, information may therefore be required from both the Victoria Police compliance manager and the SOR to assist in the investigation of the report. For convicted child sex offenders not on the SOR, additional information may be obtained from Victoria Police SOCIT’s.

Additional information in relation to the report is critical in formulating an assessment of risk and needs, and in planning the investigation. Requesting, for example, information on the offender’s summary of charges will assist in formulating a risk assessment in relation to the child.

To obtain such information from the SOR, all requests must be put in writing (e: ancor.registrar@police.vic.gov.au). For the purpose of general RSO enquiries, divisions can contact the Sex Offender Registry on (03) 9247 5839.

Sex offender monitoring

It is essential for child protection to maintain dialogue with the Victoria Police compliance manager or the SOR whenever a report is received regarding a RSOs contact with children. Upon initiating contact, it is critical to maintain an information sharing feedback loop with the compliance manager or the SOR regarding investigation outcomes and other significant developments.

During the course of an investigation, child protection practitioners may become aware that a RSO is having contact with children who were not the subject of the initial report. This contact must be recorded as a report by child protection and reported to the compliance manger or the SOR. While not a ‘Police-ANCOR’ report, the same assessment and endorsements are required as if it were.

From the Victoria Police perspective, where the registered offender has not advised otherwise, such contact may put them in breach of the Sex Offender Registration Act and may constitute an offence.

Managing information obtained in responding to the report

Any release of information to child protection regarding a national police history check, summary of charges or sentencing remarks is regarded as strictly confidential. This information must be managed in accordance with Undertaking a national police history check, the Information sharing in child protection practice and the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014.

It is essential for child protection to maintain dialogue with the Victoria Police compliance manager or the SOR whenever a report is received regarding a RSOs contact with children. Upon initiating contact, it is critical to maintain an information sharing feedback loop with the compliance manager or the SOR regarding investigation outcomes and other significant developments.

During the course of an investigation, child protection practitioners may become aware that a RSO is having contact with children who were not the subject of the initial report. This contact must be recorded as a report by child protection and reported to the compliance manger or the SOR. While not a ‘Police-ANCOR’ report, the same assessment and endorsements are required as if it were.

From the Victoria Police perspective, where the registered offender has not advised otherwise, such contact may put them in breach of the Sex Offender Registration Act and may constitute an offence.

Investigation of NCOS/ANCOR reports

The investigation of reports from the SOR or a Victoria Police compliance manager regarding children in contact with sex offenders should be conducted in a manner consistent with procedures followed in relation to reports generally. Specific guidance regarding assessment in these circumstances is provided in the ‘Considerations for good practice’ section below.

Joint investigation with police

Joint investigation with police, which would be normal practice in relation to reports concerning alleged sexual abuse, may be problematic in relation to NCOS/ANCOR reports. Police may take the view that the report does not derive from a ‘complaint’ and this may limit police involvement in any investigation. Specific negotiation with the local SOCIT may be required. SOCITs are increasingly assuming the role of compliance managers, however this varies across the state.

Contact with the SOR or with the compliance manager may provide further information to assist in planning the investigation. See Investigation planning – advice.

In the event that the local SOCIT is unable to assist with a joint visit, consideration should be given to undertaking a joint visit with the compliance manager. This approach should only be pursued following consultation with and approval from the local SOCIT. Undertaking a joint visit with the compliance manager may be of particular assistance when conducting an offender interview.

Regardless of whether or not a joint investigation with the local SOCIT is undertaken, the terms of the protocol with Victoria Police still apply. If during the course of the investigation the child protection practitioner receives information a child has been sexually abused, physically abused or seriously neglected, the matter is to be reported to police as soon as possible.

See Joint visits with police – advice.

Protective intervention and beyond

Progression of NCOS/ANCOR reports from investigation to protective intervention and protection order should be conducted in a manner consistent with procedures followed in relation to reports generally. Specific guidance regarding assessment that underpins this procedure is provided in the ‘Considerations for good practice’ section below.

Considerations for good practice

Focus of assessment

Assessment should occur in line with the best interests case practice model.

Potential for significant harm

The report from NCOS/ANCOR would generally include details in relation to the conviction that led to the offender being placed on the SOR and any subsequent sexual offences . Intake and subsequent assessments should therefore start from the premise of a likelihood of significant harm due to sexual abuse. Investigation does not need to focus on whether or not a previous sexual offence against a child has occurred: however it is important to gauge the attitude, beliefs and perceptions of the registered offender and other parties, particularly the non-offending parent, to the previous offence(s).

It is possible that other parties, including the mother of the subject child, are unaware of the RSOs history of sexual offending.

In most instances the focus of the investigation will be on likelihood of harm. At the point of the report to child protection it would not be known whether the child had made a disclosure or displayed any changes in behaviour that would give rise to a concern. These issues need to be explored during the investigation.

Particular attention needs to be placed on what is termed grooming behaviour. It is common for a sexual offender to make efforts to condition and build rapport with a child in order to reduce their resistance to, and increase compliance with, sexual abuse. This is known as 'grooming behaviour' and, whilst difficult to isolate, it is important that practitioners have an understanding of this behaviour pattern.

Grooming behaviour may include:

  • inappropriate 'accidental' touching
  • giving gifts or attention for inappropriate purposes
  • exposing the child to pornography or sexual acts (either openly or 'accidentally')
  • talking about sex inappropriately in front of a child
  • manipulating a child through threats or the misuse of authority.

Capacity for protection within the family

A primary focus in assessing the capacity for protection within the family is the non-offending parent. In order to behave as a protective parent there must be a sense of potential risk or danger to the child.

  • Is the other party (most often the mother) in a position to act protectively?
  • Is the other party aware of the offence/s?
  • What is their understanding of and attitude towards the offence?
  • Do they believe there is a risk?
  • If so, do they have the capability to protect the child as a result of that belief, now and in the future?

Vulnerability of the child

The ability of the child to protect themselves should be considered as part of the wider assessment. The age and developmental stage of the child will be primary factors here. The child may be the victim of a known previous sexual assault, or have other history that would influence your assessment of their vulnerability. Opportunity for harm to occur should also be considered, including the offender having contact with the child alone, or capability of other parties present to protect the child.

Analysis of national police history checks

The Sentencing Act 1991(Vic) governs the ability for a record of no conviction to be recorded on a criminal record despite there being a finding of guilt (and the person being placed on the register).

Despite the potential for confusion, a record of no conviction should not be interpreted as a finding of not guilty (for the offence(s) which resulted in them being placed on the SOR)).

External assessment

An external assessment can be considered in order to provide additional, specialist information to contribute to the assessment of the risk of harm the offender may pose to the child. The decision to seek an external assessment needs to be endorsed by a divisional or statewide principal practitioner.

When considering contracting an external assessment, seek advice from a senior practitioner, team manager, practice leader or principal practitioner. They will be able to provide or seek out guidance about appropriately qualified professionals to undertake the assessment required. They will also be able to provide guidance regarding preparation of the referral documentation; including questions specifically sought from the assessor. It is important to provide current and historical contextual information in order to ensure the assessment considers all information relevant to the child's protection. Without this information, an assessment may be based only on the self report of the RSO which would be of limited value.

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