The focus of the team I work with is on protecting children from sexual harm from adults. This involves working with sex offenders, their partners and their children.
My role involves carrying out assessments with convicted or alleged offenders to determine the level of risk they pose to children. This assessment can then be used to determine whether it is safe for the offender to return to their family home or, if they are still living there, whether it is safe for them to continue to do so. It can also be used to decide whether court proceedings are necessary to stop the offender having contact with the children in their care.
To make sure that all decisions I make when assessing offenders are in the best interests of the children involved, we always engage partners and children in the work that we do. This can be crucial when the offender denies their offences.
When the non-offending partner finds out about their partner’s offending behaviour they can often have feelings similar to that experienced during the grieving process. My work with them will take them through these feelings, while assessing their ability to look after the children in their care. I will also give them the information and advice they need to make decisions about their future relationship with their partner. This in turn will help them protect their children and make the best choices for them.
The most enjoyable part of my work is with the children. I talk to them about any concerns they may have and what they would like to happen in the future.
One of the most intense situations I have had to deal with was in a recent case where three children shared their experience of sexual abuse with me. As the work progressed and I developed a relationship with them, they eventually felt safe enough to share their experiences with their mother. This helped their mother deal with the situation, and the children were safer as a result. It also helped inform the work that the team were doing with the offender.
When working with children, even if they are as young as five, it is vital you explain to them why they cannot see the offender anymore. You need to empower them with that knowledge so they don’t feel guilty about being separated.
Recently I worked with a 10-year-old girl who had been removed from the care of her grandfather. She had not been given an explanation about why this had happened and, as a result, felt confused and was blaming herself. Through my work with her, she was able to deal with this confusion and guilt and gain an understanding about why she could not live with her grandad anymore.
My job can be emotionally draining, especially when working directly with offenders. It is important that I remain non-judgmental, although this can be challenging when I know that the offender may have committed an offence against a child.
It is very rewarding, however, to know that, through my work with child sex offenders, I am helping to keep children safe and give them a brighter future.
Helen Stanley is a NSPCC children’s services practitioner in Birmingham
This article appeared in the 13 December issue under the headline “The child’s safety is the reward”