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What is a forensic risk assessment?

A forensic risk assessment aims to assess the level of risk that a person might pose and the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated.

It is particularly used for perpetrators of crime within court, parole and tribunal settings. Many secure and community services use forensic risk assessments to decide on the placement, needs and resources required for risk-management including what support should be in place.

A depressed person

Who carries out a forensic risk assessment?

Expert social workers, psychologists, professionals with a probation or criminal justice background carry out forensic risk assessments. Our team of experts at WillisPalmer are extensively trained and experienced in this area.

The tools used for forensic risk assessments are at best 70-75 per cent accurate and therefore, we believe it is imperative that the professionals we use are highly skilled, experienced and trained in this area.

Lyndon Herring, who carries out forensic risk assessments for WillisPalmer said: “The burden of responsibility is huge. We have potential outcomes such as ‘false positives’ and ‘false negatives’. False negatives are where the assessor has under-estimated the level of risk and this can result in children being abused. False positives are where assessors have erred on the side of caution and say that someone is a high risk but no further victims are abused, yet that individual has perhaps missed out on the opportunity to have a family life.”

In what circumstance might a forensic risk assessment be required?

An adult male has been convicted of a sexual offence 10 years ago and has served a term of imprisonment. The man then meets a new partner, she becomes pregnant and once seen by ante-natal services, and a health visitor, it might emerge that the woman’s partner has a previous conviction for a sexual offence. The case could potentially go to court as to whether the man may be a significant risk to the unborn child or any other children the new partner may have and a forensic risk assessment might be carried out to ascertain the level of risk posed to the unborn child and the woman’s other siblings. The woman may also be assessed as to her capacity to protect the unborn child and her children from any risk the man may pose.

An adult male has been imprisoned for sexual offences against children. He is due to appear before the parole board and so he may face a forensic risk assessment to ascertain whether he could have his sentence reduced or appeal for a transfer to a lesser category establishment (From a Category C to a Category B for example).

Why do sex offenders carry out crimes against children?

Sex offenders are typically male but some females do carry out sexual offences. While it is not defined as to why someone might carry out an offence against a child in the same way it is not defined as to why someone would carry out any other crimes, there is usually a reason behind such behaviour. The perpetrator may have experienced abuse themselves as a child or young adult, they may have experienced difficulties during childhood, but there is usually a reason as to why someone commits such a crime.

“It is absolutely possible to prevent sexual perpetrators from offending again,” says Diane Wills, forensic risk assessor and co-author of ‘The Practical Guide to working with Sex Offenders’.

“I carry out the therapy with these men to ascertain where risk lies, what the triggers may be and then work on strategies to manage that risk more safely.”

“Because of the variety of roles I have held, I carry out my work with a multi-disciplinary approach including criminology, forensic psychology and social work. I have a wide knowledge base and therefore I work with men to try and understand them and what led to them offending, then applying my knowledge and thinking about strategies to prevent future re-offending,” adds Diane.

What tools are used to carry out a forensic risk assessment?

A variety of tools can be used including:

  • RM2000 - RM2000/s is a risk assessment tool for use with adult males who have ever been convicted of a sexual offence committed when the individual was age 16 or over. The RM2000/s predicts sexual recidivism
  • SARN - The SARN is a standardised treatment planning tool used within the HM Prison Service (Hogue, 2009). It seeks to identify the long-term psychological risk factors relevant to individuals who have committed sexual offences.
  • SVR 20 - is a 20-item structured framework published in 1998 intended to evaluate risk of sexual violence and informing risk management.
  • HCR 20 - is a 20-item structured clinical guide for the assessment of violence risk intended for use with civil psychiatric, community, forensic, and criminal justice populations.
  • RSVP - is a 22-item structured guide for the assessment of those who have committed sexual offences, divided into five domains: sexual violence history, psychological adjustment, mental disorder, social adjustment and manageability.
  • SARA - The SARA is a 24-item structured guide for spousal risk evaluations in individuals who are suspected of, or who are being treated for, spousal abuse
  • B SAFER - The B-SAFER is a 10-item structured guide for the assessment and management of risk in adult males and females with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV).
  • ODARA - The ODARA is an actuarial risk assessment that calculates how a man who has assaulted his female partner ranks among similar perpetrators with respect to risk. It also calculates the likelihood that he will assault a female partner again in the future.
  • SAM – The Stalking Assessment and Management is a structured professional judgment measure for assessing stalking risks.
  • PCL-R - The PCL-R is a 20-item scale for the assessment of psychopathy in research, clinical and forensic settings.
  • SOTP – Sex Offender Treatment Programmes
  • OASys - OASys is an actuarial risk and needs assessment tool used by the prison and probation services in England and Wales. The OASys is composed of 14 subsections and generates a summary risk score in order to assess likelihood of reoffending and risk of harm to self and others.
  • SAPROF – This tool identifies protective factors.
  • ARMADILLO - is designed to assess individuals with development disorders.

How can WillisPalmer help?

Over the past 17 years, WillisPalmer has developed an unrivalled reputation for undertaking a range of expert forensic risk assessments. All our experts have undertaken specific training in this complex area of work and all are experienced and knowledgeable in the field. We are frequently commissioned by various organisations including local authorities and solicitors, government departments responsible for safeguarding and risk management, religious institutions and sporting organisations (UK-wide) in order to provide specialist reports in respect of adults, young people and children who may pose a sexual risk to others.

We are able to undertake assessments in the context of public or private law proceedings; with convicted or alleged perpetrators; or with professionals about whom there may be a concern. Our risk assessments are always based upon a combination of structured professional judgement; self-report questionnaires; actuarial matrices and psychometric testing (where appropriate).

Our multi-disciplinary team have attended specific post-qualifying training in respect of child sexual abuse risk assessment. Their backgrounds derive from local authority children and family social work; probation; the prison service, health and NSPCC. All have at least ten years work experience in this area.

We acknowledge that risk assessment remains a formidably difficult task and is best understood as an estimation of probabilities; an informed, defensible judgement, the quality of which depends upon the skills, knowledge and experience of the assessor, their familiarity with the empirical literature, the rigour with which the assessment is undertaken, and the quality, quantity and accuracy of the information available. It is within this context that we produce evidencebased risk evaluation undertaken by specialist risk assessment experts who retain up to date knowledge of recent research and practice with regard to sexual offending and its impact on victims.

As part of our assessment we are also able to assess, if required, the capacity of the non-abusing partner to protect children from any risk deemed to be present. Thus, we will present, where necessary, a full report which will include detailed, robust analysis and recommendations for future risk management.


*All our reports are quality assured by lead consultant Diane Wills, co-author of ‘A Practical Guide to working with Sex Offenders’ (Wills, D and Wills, A, Jessica Kingsley, 2020).

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