Councils have been urged to establish new arrangements between family courts and police to better protect children from sexual harm.
In a research article published by respected journal Family Law*, councils and local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) were described as the most appropriate places to enforce new civil prevention orders (CPOs).
The new CPOs – coming into force as part of the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act – were established to improve the protection given to children at risk of sexual harm. They replace the previous orders, which the authors deemed “not fit for purpose”.
Donald Findlater, director of research and development at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and a co-author of the article, told Community Care that professionals “are not doing enough” to protect children at risk of sexual harm.
Family Law highlighted the opportunity for courts and councils to make better use of CPOs. “Where a court makes findings of sexual abuse, and the nature of the findings made suggests that there is reasonable cause to believe that the individual presents a risk of sexual harm to children, local authorities should routinely refer such cases to the police to prompt applications for CPOs,” it stated.
It continued: “It would fall on the local authority to take the lead in making referrals to the police/NCA [National Crime Agency] for CPOs…”
Professionals need to be aware of the arrangements, Findlater said, so that when findings are made in the family court, and there is evidence to suggest a CPO is needed, this information can find its way to the police. Police can then apply for these CPOs.
“At the moment there are currently thousands of children at risk of sexual harm in the UK, and we aren’t doing enough,” Findlater said. He added that LSCBs should discuss ways of using the new orders – a recommendation also made by in the Family Law article.
It stated: “This opportunity to use findings of fact made in public and private law proceedings, to support applications for CPOs in criminal proceedings, could usefully and most appropriately be discussed at LSCBs, the key multi-agency forum for safeguarding policy and practice development”.
It continued: “It is hoped that this discussion informs and prompts family law practitioners to utilise the opportunities offered by [CPOs] to make referrals and facilitate safeguarding and child protection for all children who may be at risk of sexual harm proved in respect of individuals in family law proceedings; over and above the specific children who are the subject of the proceedings.”
Findlater pointed out that judgements in the civil court may protect one child in one circumstance, but can leave an individual who poses a threat to other children free to do so.
An application for CPOs can only be processed through police forces but, in their analysis of what the new laws mean, the writers found that for the referral process to work effectively there needs to be a straightforward referral process, using either existing protocols between councils and police or working together to develop a bespoke referral process.
Findlater said co-operation between professionals when using these orders for child safeguarding is “utterly essential”, adding that he hopes the article will open people’s eyes to the potential of CPOs.
“It was our concern, myself and the other authors, that after family court proceedings there was a lack of a desire to seek out CPOs, that can help with the protection of other children.”
*August  Fam Law 1174.