Assessment and management of young people: guidance

Guidance for local authorities on the assessment of young people who present a risk of harm through sexually harmful and/or violent behaviour.


The Framework for Risk Assessment, Management and Evaluation ( FRAME) aims to establish a consistent, shared framework that promotes defensible and ethical risk assessment and management practice that is proportionate to risk, legitimate to role, appropriate for the task in hand, and is communicated meaningfully. FRAME is led by the Risk Management Authority with the agreement and support of the key criminal justice agencies including Scottish Government, police, prison, criminal justice social work and forensic mental health services.

The purpose of FRAME is to bring consistency to the way in which agencies assess, manage and evaluate the risk presented by offending behaviour. It aims to achieve this by establishing agreed values, a structured approach, shared practice standards and a common language of risk. Acknowledging the uncertainty of risk and the challenges inherent in managing it, FRAME proposes a rights-based and evidence-informed approach to risk practice which will facilitate purposeful, appropriate and meaningful risk assessment and management across a range of agencies and offender groups.

The Practice Standards identify the core elements that should be common to risk practice. These standards build on the foundations, principles and language to set a bench-mark for effective practice. They provide a means to direct decision-making, evaluate and reflect on work within individual cases, and design and review organisational structures and policies regarding the assessment and management of risk.

The standards have been developed in recognition of the fact that risk is dynamic and changes over time. To that end, the first four of the five standards have been developed as a tiered or triage approach. This demands that the degree of assessment, planning or intervention offered in a particular case is proportionate to the level of risk. This individualised approach also allows for a responsive and person-centred consideration of needs.

The guidance that follows outlines the five FRAME standards and highlights some factors that should be considered when applying the FRAME standards to work with children and young people who offend.


Standard Statement

Risk assessment will involve identification of key pieces of information, analysis of their meaning in the time and context of the assessment, and evaluation against the appropriate criteria. Risk assessment will be based on a wide range of available information, gathered from a variety of sources. Risk assessment will be conducted in an evidence-based, structured manner, incorporating appropriate tools and professional decision making, acknowledging any limitations of the assessment. Risk assessment will be communicated responsibly to ensure that the findings of the assessment can be meaningfully understood and inform decision-making. Risk will be communicated in terms of the pattern, nature, seriousness and likelihood of offending.

Guidelines for applying the Standard

Risk assessment is a crucial step in identifying which young people require services, the type and intensity of service provision required and in guiding appropriate action planning. An integrated assessment framework aims to facilitate the development of a holistic understanding of the events, environment and situations surrounding individual children and young people. It is important that information to inform the single plan is drawn from a wide range of source including the agencies who are involved with the child or young person. Providing this information in a shared language by following agreed standards of practice can assist the risk and need assessment processes and help ensure that the plan is appropriate.

Undertaking different depths of assessment in response to different levels of risk presented by individuals is vitally important. Children and young people can respond to change or challenges in their lives through their behaviour. In many cases, it will be more appropriate to undertake a thorough and individualised assessment of need than to apply an actuarial tool which can yield useful but limited information. Ascertaining when to re-assess a child or young person can also be challenging. For example, many young people will often not have lengthy criminal histories that help identify behaviours within the context of a long-standing pattern of offending.

Some children and young people who have not offended but display sexual behavioural problems may also require assessment and may need to be managed under child/adult protection or risk management procedures. Again, an assessment of need, involving families, carers and education professionals will be required in these situations, taking account of diversity and age and stage of development.

All risk assessments in relation to young people who have been involved with moderate to serious offending behaviour should be informed by a structured risk assessment tool. The selection of appropriate risk instruments is the responsibility of the practitioner and the agency, and may be guided by criteria outlined by the RMA in the Risk Assessment Tools Evaluation Directory [7] . The assessment tool should be appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child or young person. Assessments need to be grounded in research and evidence in relation to children rather than a knowledge base exclusively relating to adult offending.

Assessments in relation to the risk of further offending behaviour are best undertaken within the context of structured professional judgement. This should be underpinned by holistic formulation of the relevant developmental, dispositional and environmental factors. Risk assessment tools are useful in informing this process but do not make up the entirety of the risk assessment. The purpose of assessment goes beyond the goal of classification and by virtue of its theoretical underpinning, offers a means to understand and respond to the behaviour.

Assessment is a process that involves three key steps. There are some considerations to be made when applying these steps with young people who offend.

  • Identification: The purpose of this step is to identify the key risk and protective factors that are present in the case. This will involve gathering detailed information from the young person, the agencies involved and, where appropriate, the young person's parents/carers. A range of child-centred methods, strategies and skills may be required to interview and engage the young person in order to collate this information and different means of communicating may be required if the young person has communication difficulties. Facts and feelings will need to be explored at this stage. Having an account of the offence or risk taking behaviour other than that provided by the young person is extremely important. Information from a wide range of other sources will also be required. Previous reports from relevant agencies such as health or education are essential, as will be the views of the professionals in the child's life. In comprehensive assessments this should involve developing a detailed chronology of key life events drawn from background reports and information from the parents/carers [8] . The identification step may also involve the application of specific risk instruments which might point towards the presence of particular risk or protective factors.
  • Analysis: Assessment must go beyond merely describing facts in order to move towards an understanding of a young person's situation and the reasons for his/her offending behaviour. The assessment should be grounded in an understanding of the child's developmental history and experience of being parented. With respect to the behaviour itself, questions such as ' is this a problem', ' how serious is it for whom' ' is it likely to require external assistance' and ' on what basis do we need to intervene - voluntary or compulsory' may be useful. In developing your analysis, it may be helpful to consider the pattern, nature, seriousness and likelihood of the behaviours. The behaviour needs to be understood within the context of the young person's environment, taking into account economic, cultural and religious positions which shape attitudes and opportunities [9] . An assessment of psychological wellbeing may also be required. Assessments should involve an estimate in relation to risk of future similar behaviour and the nature of possible future behaviour.
  • Evaluation: The purpose of assessment is to inform decision making therefore the conclusions of any assessment should lead to some consideration of what needs to be done and who needs to be involved. To assist in formulating a view on the best way forward the results of assessment need to be formally presented in reports to courts, the children's hearing or other forums including risk management meetings. Conclusions should contain an opinion of the level of risk and need and the rationale for the conclusions should be clearly outlined. Limitations relating to methodologies used or information available should also be clearly communicated. Assessments should not be open-ended and there should be a reference to when, or in what circumstances, re-assessment is necessary. The report should be linked to a clear plan of action and included within the young person's 'single plan'.

Assessments of children and young people need to recognise that offending behaviour is often a response to unmet need and should take place within the context of a detailed assessment of social, developmental and psychological needs as set out in the GIRFEC approach and Child and Adult Protection contexts.

Assessments of children and young people should involve their parents and / or carers whenever possible and appropriate. An understanding of family functioning and family strengths and challenges will be necessary in helping to understand the background to the child's behaviour as well as formulating a plan to support the child or young person move to an offence free life. When this is not possible or appropriate, the reasons for not involving parents or carers should to be clearly communicated in the assessment.

Children and their parents should be promptly and adequately informed of all decisions in relation to risk assessment and management unless there are justifiable reasons for withholding that information. This information should be presented to children in a manner adapted to their age, maturity and disability where relevant and in a language which they can understand. Provision of the information to the parents should not be an alternative to communicating the information to a child or young person. Normally, both the child or young person and parents/legal representatives should directly receive the information, preferably on a face to face basis. Decisions in relation to risk assessment and management should clearly outline the child's rights and the likely duration of processes and mechanisms for reviewing decisions affecting the child.

Further guidance in relation to general assessments of young people involved with offending behaviour can be found in the National Youth Justice Practice Guidance.

Serious Sexual or Violent Offending Behaviour

In assessments relating to serious behaviours such as sexually harmful or violent offending, an understanding of the behaviour within its development and situational context is essential. If the behaviour took place in a consensual context it may be better responded to in the context of harm reduction by being sensitive to any child or adult protection issues that may arise rather than charging either participant with a sexual offence [10] .

There are a small but significant number of children and young people who present a serious risk to themselves and others. Some young people charged with serious sexual and violent offences are dealt with by the children's hearing system. In these situations the risk posed by these young people will be assessed, identified and managed through local multi-agency arrangements. The development of a multi-agency assessment and plan will be especially important when the risks identified cannot be managed by a single agency and where the needs and risks are sufficiently complex or significant to require a coordination of effort. Each Local Authority should have in place clear protocols in assisting with the early identification, assessment and management of children who display harmful behaviours [11] .

In a small number of cases young people will be considered under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA) and the sex offender notification requirements. These will be young people who are dealt with in the adult criminal justice system. As above, the risk and needs of these young people will also be taken into account when devising plans and managing risk. The adults involved in the lives of these children and young people should also be included, where appropriate, to support the young person's understanding and ability to manage their own risk.

Children and young people who present a serious risk will be managed in a multi-agency way regardless of the system they are in. The needs of the young people will be addressed and the risk they present managed, involving all relevant adults and professionals as appropriate for each young person.

A template of a risk management plan suitable for use with children and young people can be found in the National Youth Justice Practice Guidance.


Standard Statement

All risk management plans and decisions will be based on a risk assessment which is of the appropriate level to support such a decision or plan. The actions to be taken will be clearly documented and their rationale will link explicitly to risk assessment. The risk assessment and management processes will be dynamic, with the capacity to respond to changes in risk.

The dynamic link between risk assessment and planning will be maintained through ongoing assessment and review. The level and immediacy of any response to change will be proportionate to the significance of the change and risk. Reductions and increases in restrictions or interventions will be justified and supported by a suitable reassessment of risk.

Guidelines for applying the standard

One of the principles of GIRFEC is to avoid children and young people being dealt with in a variety of different systems. It is expected the management of risks, will take place within the context of the single plan regardless of which system they are in (youth or adult services) or where they are living (including prison or secure estates). This recognises the fact that children and young people involved with offending behaviour are often vulnerable themselves and adults/professionals around them need to safeguard and protect them as well as manage any risks they present within the community. The risk management plan should flow from an assessment involving child centred approaches and tools, recognising both risks and needs, be integrated as part of the single plan, and case managed by the lead professional.

Risk management plans should outline clearly how risk is to be reduced as well as managed, and the plan for risk reduction should link to the assessment of how the child or young person's social, developmental and psychological needs can most appropriately be met at the present time to allow the individual to grow and mature. Risk management plans should identify early warning signs that might indicate that risk is increasing and should outline clear contingency plans, outlining courses of action that would need to be taken in such circumstances.

Risk is dynamic, changing with time and circumstances, so risk assessments must be regularly reviewed, particularly if there is a significant change in circumstances. Given the significant developmental changes that occur for children and young people, it is important to rely on the most recent information when making judgments about future risk. Indeed, assessments of risk that are more than 12 months old are probably of limited value. The frequency of review should be proportionate to level of concern about the risks, needs and vulnerabilities of the child or young person.

As children and young people continue to grow and change, new information about their level of functioning will become available. Although there is currently no evidence to support the idea that adult criminal behaviour can reliably be predicted from youth behaviours, there is evidence suggesting that the behaviour of children and young people can be used to predict future behaviour while they are still in their adolescence, and this possibility should be considered within any assessment undertaken [12] .

Families should be involved with reviews and re-assessments as far as is possible or appropriate. Multiple reviews and meetings should be avoided by combining these where appropriate. GIRFEC encourages the development of review structures to assess and evaluate the child or young person's progress through meetings with everyone involved with the child or young person.


Standard Statement

Risk management measures will be based upon and updated in response to current research evidence. Risk strategies of monitoring, supervision, intervention and victim-safety planning, and the associated activities which are used to manage the risk posed by offending behaviour will be tailored to the needs of the individual. Measures should be proportionate to the level of risk, defensible, and consistent with the remit of the responsible agencies.

Guidelines for applying the standard

When working with children and young people, this standards needs to be understood and applied in light of the following principles:

  • Measures and sanctions should always be constructive and individualised. Responses should be made with the least possible emphasis on punitive sanctions, bearing in mind the principle of proportionality, the best interests of the individual as well as his/her age, their physical and mental well-being and development, and the circumstances of the case. Wherever possible, links with education, vocational training, work, rehabilitation and reintegration should be promoted and maintained.
  • The young person's social, developmental and psychological needs should be addressed within the plan. A developmental perspective recognises that children and young people's personality and behavioural patterns are not fixed and that stabilizing and supporting the normal maturation process can support them to move away from engagement in harmful, victimising behaviour. Risk management measures should reflect a holistic approach which considers the young person's overall situation, including their personal and social relationships.
  • Connected to this, risk management plans need to be proportionate so they manage risk robustly, but do not limit developmental opportunities for the child or young person to such an extent that normal maturation is impaired. To allow for this, it is important to balance the protection of the public and the management of risk with thinking about how particular activities could be undertaken in a safe, pro-social manner. To facilitate this,, where appropriate, the adults in a child or young person's life - parents, carers, teachers etc - should be the main source of monitoring and supervision and need to be actively engaged with the risk management process.
  • The overall aim of intervention for children and young people who present a risk of harm is for them to be able to take responsibility for managing their own risk. Many children and young people who present higher levels of risk have experienced multiple trauma in their lives. In the early stages of interventions, and based on what is known about the impact of trauma on children / young people's development [13] it will often not be possible for the child or young person to take responsibility for managing risk themselves. For children and young people who have experienced considerable abuse and deprivation in their lives, it is highly unlikely that they will have the capacity or internal resources to be able to take full responsibility for their own behaviour at the beginning of an assessment or period of intervention. Children and young people in this situation will often have to learn skills relating to self-management through a process of work that will involve gaining insights and learning new social skills, all of which would have to be evidenced in a range of settings. It may also include working with them on issues relating to their own victimisation. The main responsibility for managing risk during the early stages of involvement with services therefore has to lie with adults. Nevertheless, wherever possible, a partnership approach where the child or young person, slowly takes more responsibility for their own management as more effective coping skills and social competences are developed is to be endorsed [14] .

Those children and young people who present a level of risk that needs to be responded to in an intensive way may fall under the remit of a specialist or intensive support services.


Standard Statement

The appropriate agencies will work together in the assessment and management of risk. The degree of communication, co-ordination and collaboration will be proportionate to the risk and complexities of the case. Information will be shared responsibly, in a timely manner, using shared language which supports the understanding of those involved. Information sharing will be at a level which is mindful of each individual's rights to privacy and confidentiality.

Guidelines for applying the standard

Effective inter-agency collaboration between different professionals should be encouraged to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the child or young person as well as an assessment of his/her legal, psychological, social, emotional and cognitive indicators. Such collaboration should always consider the child or young person's right to privacy.

GIRFEC provides the context for collaborative work with children and young people in Scotland. The GIRFEC approach aims to have in place a network of support to promote well-being so that children and young people who are involved with offending get the right help at the right time. This network will include family and/or carers where appropriate and the universal health and education services if required.

Effective inter-agency collaboration requires:

  • a shared understanding of the tasks, processes, principles, and roles and responsibilities outlined in national guidance and local arrangements for protecting children and meeting their needs;
  • improved communication between practitioners, including a common understanding of key terms, definitions and thresholds for action;
  • effective working relationships, including an ability to work in multi-disciplinary groups or teams; and
  • sound decision-making, based on information-sharing, thorough assessment, critical analysis and professional judgement

The level of co-ordination or collaboration may relate to level of risk presented by the child or young person as noted above. It may however be put in place by the response necessary to safeguard the child or young person if there are child protection concerns.

Young people's social networks are often very complex and fluid. For most young people day to day life involves spending time with family, attending school, mixing with peers and being involved with activities and pastimes which may involve attending clubs or groups. Adult based approaches to intervention and risk management tend not to take account of the needs that underpin healthy psychological development in childhood and adolescence and which are met by these complex social arrangements. Managing risk in this environment involves finding ways of collaborating with different services so that children can be provided with essential and necessary developmental opportunities in safe and protected ways.

There is considerable evidence that children and young people who are not supported to stay in school, who run away from home, or are known to the police are likely to fare worse in the long run than those for whom this is not the case [15] . Most of the child or young person's needs will be met from within this network. Only when support from the family and community and the support services can no longer meet their needs will targeted and specialist help be required. Additionally only when voluntary measures no longer effectively address the needs or risks should statutory measures be invoked to support the child or young person

Communication between professionals when sharing information about risk needs to be done with reference to relevant guidance and with a recognition of the rights of the child. Privacy and confidentiality are governed by legal provisions that aim to safeguard personal information including:

  • the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989);
  • Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • the Data Protection Act 1998;
  • professional codes of conduct; and
  • information sharing protocols

The same legal provisions also provide for sharing of information for purposes such as public protection, crime prevention and crime detection. The Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 specifically instructs that the responsible authorities will share information in relation to the management of risk for those subject to sex offender notification requirements.

In general, information will normally only be shared with the consent of the child (and / or parents /carers depending on age and maturity and where appropriate). However, where the child is at risk of harm, or where there are wider crime prevention or public protection /child protection implications or such action would prejudice any subsequent investigation, information may need to be shared without consent - although the intention to share information and the reasons for this will normally be notified to the child and be recorded.

Local Authorities should follow the principles below when sharing information:

  • all local authorities should have information sharing protocols in place to manage the risk presented by some (link to definition of serious harm in FRAME) young people age 12-18. These protocols should include clear direction in relation to information sharing, including why information is shared, with whom and in what manner. Risk cannot be managed effectively unless information is shared to all relevant parties;
  • protocols should contain detailed guidance around communicating with agencies and the community in relation to risks a child or young person may present. Such protocols should be compatible with National Concordat on the Sharing of Information on Sex Offenders in line with the 2006 recommendation of the Expert Group on serious and high risk offenders which concluded that the principles of the Concordat should apply equally to children's services thus ensuring a consistent approach across children and adult services; [16]
  • for young people who present a risk under age 12, information sharing guidance within Child Protection Procedures should be followed; [17]
  • for young people age 16-18 who present a risk, information sharing guidance within Adult Protection or Child Protection procedures may be appropriate; [18]
  • information in relation to risk, assessment and management should be shared with decision makers to ensure that;
    - any young person presenting a significant risk (of harm or of entering the criminal justice system) should not have their supervision requirements through the Children's Hearing system terminated due to this fact. Good practice would dictate that young people who present this level of risk evidence the need for compulsory measures of supervision by virtue of the fact that they find themselves in such circumstances; [19]
    - Sheriff's have confidence that risk can be managed within a community based setting, either through the Children's Hearing system/Child Protection or under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA);
  • for young people nearing their 18 th birthday appropriate plans should be in place to manage risks, ensuring that these are shared with all relevant professionals and agencies who will have risk management responsibility; [20]
  • Criminal Justice Social Work report authors should request all previous information, and ensure that relevant information is included in their assessment of young people under age 18;
  • the concordat in relation to information sharing protocols for young people should still be followed. This includes young people who are not subject to any statutory measures; [21]
  • local authorities have a responsibility to advise and share information with hosting authorities of any risks a young person presents if they have been placed in an out of region placement; [22]
  • a detailed plan(s) ( appendix 1) to manage risk should be included in all reports to inform decision makers, especially if risk can be managed within the community;
  • reintegration plans (included within the 'single plan') for young people up to 18 returning to their local communities should detail how risk will be managed and shared with all appropriate agencies;
  • disclosing of information to protect the public should be undertaken through self-disclosure by the young person where appropriate or within the parameters of child protection, or through formal disclosure by the relevant chief constable; and
  • a local authority is a responsible authority under the terms of Section 10 of the Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 and has a statutory duty to jointly establish arrangements for the assessment and management of risks posed in their area by any person who is subject to the notification requirements of Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.


Standard Statement

Individuals responsible for assessing risk, making decisions or designing plans on the basis of risk assessments, and implementing those plans will be appropriately qualified, skilled, knowledgeable and competent to carry out this work. Agencies will support quality assurance by establishing policies and structures, and by providing supervision and continuous professional development opportunities to staff. Routine mechanisms will be employed to assure the quality of assessment and management practice. Self-evaluation will occur at practitioner, agency and multi-agency levels to inform improvement and contribute to the evidence base.

Guidelines for applying the standard

Quality assurance is defined as: "a program for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service, or facility to ensure that standards of quality are being met". [23] Professionals need to know what is meant by the term quality assurance and have a written set of objectives to measure and evaluate their interventions.

All professionals working with children and young people to address their risk taking behaviour should receive ongoing and in-depth multidisciplinary training on the specific rights and needs of children and young people of different age groups. To work effectively with young people on an on-going basis, practitioners need to have the following minimum core skills:

  • an understanding of the legislative and policy context of working with children;
  • training in communicating with children at all ages and stages of development, including children with special needs and/or disabilities.
  • skills in engaging creatively with children to motivate and facilitate constructive change in their lives;
  • skills in engaging with families and helping facilitate positive change;
  • an understanding of child development;
  • an understanding of child protection;
  • an understanding of 'what works' with children and young people, both in relation to offending behaviour but also in relation to related childhood issues and difficulties e.g. low self-esteem, impulsivity, poor problem solving skills etc.;
  • an understanding of desistance and its application to young people's pathways out of offending behaviour;
  • a knowledge of particular factors relating to reintegration of young people into the community;
  • an ability to self-evaluate;
  • an understanding of good practice in working with children who have special needs, learning disabilities and difficulties and mental health issues, including the experience of trauma;
  • skills in working with service users who do not comply with services; and
  • knowledge of, and facility with, relevant tools for assessing children.

The training, experience and knowledge of the worker should link to the complexity of cases they are involved with in this field.

Those involved with assessment of violent or sexual offending should have a relevant professional qualification, training and competence in therapeutic approaches with children and specialised training and / or specialist supervision in assessment and intervention with this client group. Local Authorities risk management protocols should assist in making risk more understandable to enable professionals to employ strategies for effective risk management.

It is expected that those who work with children and young people will endorse values of working with them as children within the context of their particular family whenever possible and support the principles of minimal intervention and avoiding the criminalisation of children wherever possible.

Work with the critical few who present the highest risks to the community can involve considerable challenges to professionals. Clinical supervision, external consultation and co-working arrangements should be considered in working with these young people, which should be overseen and managed through local risk management protocols.


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