SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter sets out the procedures for managing risks and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people, who may be visiting or having contact with adults or other young people who are in a custodial setting.
Clear and timely communications are essential to ensure that inter agency cooperation takes place and all regulations are implemented in the best interests of the child.
The Prison Service Order (ref no 4410) sets out a range of measures to reduce the risks that certain prisoners, especially those convicted of, or charged with offences against children, may present to children whilst in prison.
This order imposes a number of mandatory actions on prison governors which include:
- To identify all prisoners who present a potential risk to children
- To ensure that details on children visiting all convicted prisoners are included on the Visiting Order;
- To ensure that convicted prisoners identified by this instruction are allowed to receive visits only from their children – these would include the prisoner’s birth children, step-children, adopted children and children of their partners provided the prisoner and partner were residing together prior to imprisonment.
- To draw to the attention of prison staff material which if sent to or received from a child might place his or her welfare at risk.
Contact with a child includes correspondence, prisoner’s telephones or social visits.
Telephone contact will include any access to office telephones where permission has been granted. It will also include any contact with children who have been invited to visit the prison as part of a group.
3. Contact Requests
If a prisoner wishes to apply to have child contact, the enquiring Prison Officer must provide an application form for the prisoner to complete. A separate request must be made for contact with each individual child.
It is possible that a request for contact could be made by a parent or from the child directly. If such a request is received the prisoner will be informed and asked if s/he wishes to submit a request for contact.
A register providing a record of applications must be held on file. This record will become part of the prisoner’s main record and will follow the prisoner on transfer. Each prison establishment should maintain a central record indicating which prisoners are subject to restrictions due to the risk they represent to children, details of which prisoners are allowed child visits or other contact and details of prisoners who have been refused child visits or other contact.
4. Parental Support for Contact
The prison establishment should ask the parent of the child whether they support contact. Children’s Social Care Services for the area where the child is living should ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child during a home visit. For the visit to take place, Children’s Social Care Services must also ascertain that the person who has Parental Responsibility and is currently caring for the child supports any contact.
In cases where the parent does not support contact, the prison establishment should inform Children’s Social Care Services of the parent’s decision.
5. Children in Care
When a prison establishment contacts Children’s Social Care Services as part of the multi-agency assessment and the child is in care, the local authority’s view about the appropriateness of contact must be obtained in writing. The test is always whether contact is in the child’s best interest.
Whether or not the local authority share Parental Responsibility, the views of the parent must also be included.
6. The Multi Agency Assessment
In order for the prison establishment to undertake the risk assessment to determine the risk to which a child might be exposed and the risk that a prisoner presents, it must contact and gather information from a range of agencies:
- The police in the child’s home authority must be contacted with details of the prisoner and the child including a photograph.
- The prison establishment’s probation officer should be provided with the details of the prisoner’s application and where a prisoner will be subject to licence supervision on release or has been recalled for breach of licence for the current offence the home probation area must be contacted and asked for information and comments. In addition if the prisoner is a young offender and is supervised, Children’s Social Care Services in the child’s home authority must be contacted.
- Where appropriate the NSPCC may be contacted for additional information as some prison establishments have developed a partnership with the NSPCC who will search their database for information relating to the risk of harm to a child.
- A letter to the Head of Children’s Social Care Services including all known details of the prisoner and the child with a photograph must be followed up with a prompt phone contact to the Safeguarding Manager in the Children’s Social Care Services.
The Safeguarding Manager will acknowledge the request in writing to the prison establishment within 2 working days and the Safeguarding Team will process it by:
- Checking any information across all electronic and manual records held by Children’s Social Care Services; and
- Establishing which Children’s Social Care Services Team is responsible for the child/ren involved.
Within one working day of receipt of the prison request, the Safeguarding Manager will notify the relevant Children’s Social Care Services Team who will action an assessment and respond with a report to the Safeguarding Team within 10 working days. The views of the child should be an important element of the assessment.
The Safeguarding Manager will forward the Assessment Report with recommendations to the prison establishment within 2 working days of receiving it from the Children’s Social Care Services Team.
7. The Decision
The operational manager with delegated authority in the prison establishment, normally the Head of Resettlement or Throughcare, who has responsibility for Public Protection, will make the assessment using the available multi agency information. The decision must take into account the following factors:
- The child’s needs, wishes and feelings
- The capacity of the parent to protect the child from likely harm
- The prisoner’s risk to the public
- The OASys assessment
- Static risk assessment (Thornton’s Risk Matrix 2000)
- Pre-sentence reports
- Previous convictions
- Custodial behaviour and any other documentation highlighting risk
8. Level of Contact Decided
The operational manager should decide the level of contact that will be permitted. It should be proportionate to the risk identified and the best interests of the child should always be the overriding principle in making these decisions.
Contact restrictions should be incremental and one of the following levels will be applied:
Level one: full restrictions apply. No contact with any child is permitted and all correspondence and telephone calls will be monitored.
Level two: contact is only permitted via written correspondence. All correspondence and telephone calls will be monitored.
Level three: contact is permitted via written correspondence and telephone. All correspondence and telephone calls will be monitored.
Level four: no restrictions necessary. May have contact via correspondence, telephone, visits and family visits. Routine sampling applies -reading of correspondence, listening to telephone calls, general observation in visiting area.
The level and frequency of monitoring will be proportionate to the risk identified. Monitoring should focus on whether the prisoner is attempting to contact children inappropriately and what references about children are made in general correspondence i.e. grooming or manipulation of a child or a parent.
Monitoring of prisoners who present a risk to children in the visits area is required to establish if appropriate contact is taking place between an offender and a child where child visits have been permitted. Other prisoners who present a risk to children and have not been permitted contact with a child must be supervised in such a way that contact is not possible.
Recorded and electronic information needs to be monitored e.g. audio cassettes, CD ROMs and Video CDs, because it affords an easy disguise for inappropriate information.
10. Correct Identification of Children
It is necessary to take steps to prevent a child being substituted with another possibly more vulnerable child where visits take place. Prison staff monitoring calls, correspondence and visiting areas need to be vigilant and prevent any inappropriate contact where identified.
Four passport style photographs will be required of each child and these should be updated annually or earlier if there is a significant change in a child’s appearance.
11. Reviewing Contact Decisions
Where a decision has been made to restrict contact, the decision will be reviewed when there is reason to believe that circumstances have changed. Reviews can be made at any time on the initiative of prison staff or at the request of the prisoner. It is good practice to review decisions every six months.
Any decision to change the level of contact permitted must be based on what is best for the child. The child’s welfare is paramount at all times. The decision must take into account the views of the Police, Probation and local Children’s Social Care Services, via the LA Safeguarding Team.
12. Appeals Process
All prison establishments have procedures for prisoners who wish to appeal a decision to restrict contact or not to permit any contact at all with a child.
If the prisoner wishes to challenge the information held on file, the information provided by other agencies should only be disclosed to the prisoner with the agreement of the other agency.