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 2, 1 March 2016.

 

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 Officers (based in Criminal Investigation Units (CIUs) or in Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs))
  • other parties.

The 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 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. 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 Sex Offender Registration Act 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. A young person with 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 court may only make a registration order under the Sex Offenders Registration Act 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 Sex Offenders Registration Act imposes reporting obligations on registered sex offenders (RSOs) including a requirement they report to a Victoria Police compliance manager:

  • the names and ages of any children who:
    • generally reside in the same household as them or
    • with whom they have regular unsupervised contact.

The Act also requires RSOs to report:

  • any occasion they have provided their contact details to a child or received contact details from a child
  • any occasion they have had physical contact with a child
  • any occasion they communicate with a child through face-to-face contact, phone contact, or internet communication (such as email, text message or through social media)
  • any occasion they have written communication including internet communication.

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.

Note: the Sex Offender Registration Act does not impose conditions on the RSO regarding whether or not they may have contact with, or reside with a child; however the Act 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. However, from a child protection perspective the serious risks posed by convicted sex offenders are the same, whether they are registered or not. Reports regarding convicted sex offenders should be assessed in the same way as reports regarding RSOs.

Role of Victoria Police

Victoria Police compliance managers (formerly known as case managers) are detectives tasked with monitoring RSOs’ compliance with the Sex Offender Registration Act and to mitigate the risks they pose to the community. Compliance managers work within CIU’s or SOCITs.

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 determines 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 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 pose a high risk to a particular child. The Static-99 risk score indicates long-term likelihood of sexual reoffending. A systemic child protection risk assessment 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.

Principles underpinning child protection involvement

As with all child protection practice, in receiving and responding to a report regarding a sex offender in contact with a child, the best interests and decision-making principles detailed in the CYFA apply.

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).

This should be central to the intake assessment as it relates directly to the concept of likelihood. 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 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. Ensure all consultations are 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 in the intake phase or at anytime during 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

Registered offenders are required to report specified personal details and any changes to those details to their Victoria Police compliance manager on an annual basis, including details about residence or contact with children. Victoria Police directs compliance managers to report to child protection each time a registered offender advises that they are residing 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 registered offender.

A re-report constitutes a mandatory report from police relating to 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 investigation including any clinical assessments and confirmation the circumstances of the child have not altered since the previous report. The rationale should clearly detail 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, or family violence issues now present and so on.

Consideration should be given to the broader family circumstances and the capacity of non-offending partners 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.

Although the CYFA authorises disclosure of the information for the purposes of assessing a risk to a child or investigating a protective intervention report, this information should be treated with the strictest of confidentiality and should only be shared with a person outside child protection where the disclosure of the information is needed in a child’s best interests.

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 may only disclose information about a person on the SOR to a non-offending parent, child or young person with the consent of the RSO or where otherwise required in the best interests of a child or young person. 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.

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.

Unborn reports

A child protection practitioner is not able to disclose to the mother of an unborn child the person with whom she is in a relationship with is a RSO. Child protection may however, disclose this person has a criminal history relating to a 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, is likely to be critical to formulating an assessment of risk and needs, and in planning an intervention

In the case of reports regarding RSOs in contact with children, the offender may have been linked to a sexual 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 to be at a high or moderate-high risk it is likely that they may be involved in a treatment program or may have completed a program. In any case, Corrections Victoria, as information holders, can share information with child protection.

Information requests to Corrections Victoria (CV) Specialised Offender Assessment and Treatment Service are coordinated centrally by the Office of Professional Practice. Contact the Office of Professional Practice at officeofprofessionalpractice@dhhs.vic.gov.au or phone (03) 9096 9999 to confirm the current information exchange process.

Seeking information from courts

For those 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, as these are only available to the parties to the initial proceeding.

The offender’s criminal record details the jurisdiction 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 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.

  • Select ‘Law and Practice’ on the Supreme Court home page
  • On the Judgments and sentences page use the appropriate link to search for the sentencing remarks you are after.

For assistance or advice about obtaining sentencing remarks contact the Office of Professional Practice at officeofprofessionalpractice@dhs.vic.gov.au or phone (03) 9096 9999.

Seeking further information from Victoria Police Sex Offender Register

The SOR coordinates the responsibilities of Victoria Police in relation to registered sex offenders. 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 sex offender and the child should be verified. Information sharing may therefore be required from both the Victoria Police compliance manager and the SOR to assist in the investigation of the report.

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

Sex offender monitoring

It is critical 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 this contact, it is critical to maintain information sharing feedback loop with the registry with regard to offender movement and developments.

During the course of an investigation, child protection practitioners may become aware that a RSO is having contact with other children not the subject of the initial report. This contact must be recorded as a report by child protection and reported to the Victoria Police 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 the offender 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 Information sharing.

All information relevant to the safety and wellbeing of the child must be recorded in CRIS. Where the victim named in the sentencing remarks or summary of charges material is not the subject of the current report, their name is not to be recorded on the child protection file.

Investigation of NCOS/ANCOR reports

The investigation of reports from the SOR or a 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 that may assist in the planning of the investigation. See Investigation planning – advice.

In the event that the local SOCIT is unable to assist with an NCOS/ANCOR report, consideration should be given to undertaking a joint visit with the Victoria Police 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.

It is important to note that 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 previous conviction that led to the offender's name being placed on the SOR. Intake assessment and subsequent assessment should 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 – this is a given: however it is important to gauge the attitude, beliefs and perceptions of the registered offender and other parties, particularly the prospective non-offending parent, to the previous offence(s).

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

In most instances therefore the focus of investigation would be on likelihood of harm. At the point of the report to child protection it would not be known whether the subject child had made a disclosure or displayed any uncharacteristic changes in behaviour that would give rise to a concern. These issues of course 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 prospective non-offending parent. It is a prerequisite that 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 the 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:

  • Is the offender having contact with the child alone?
  • If not, are other parties present capable of protecting the child?

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.

When considering contracting a specialist to undertake an 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 the most appropriately qualified professionals able to undertake assessments in a particular area.

They will also be able to provide guidance relating to the provision of summaries of the child and family's history and context to the contracted specialist. It is particularly important to provide relevant contextual information in order to ensure the assessment considers all the information relevant to the child's protection and development known to child protection. Without this information, an assessment may be based only on the self report of the RSO which would be of limited value.

Focus on the principles

A central consideration for good practice is obviously to maintain a concerted focus on the best interests and decision making principles set out in ss. 10-14 of the CYFA, particularly the universal principles in ss. 10 and 11.

The principles enshrine a range of key elements that underpin good practice, such as a focus on partnership, inclusion of the child and family in the decision making process, intervention limited to that necessary to secure the safety and wellbeing of the child, a direction the child should only be removed from their parent's care where there is an unacceptable risk of harm to the child, a focus on providing assistance to families, and more.

Good quality supervision is of course a key consideration. It may be a useful strategy to always reflect on the principles as part of the supervision process.

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