Understanding Risk

The needs and issues facing some parents and carers are known to be associated with greater risks to both them and their children. This may relate to particular health or social behaviours of the parent or the danger to their physical health or well-being. This may be made worse by the social stigma attached to the problem of the parent or carer or by professionals being as overwhelmed as by the complexity of dealing with the problems that they face.

The risks particularly associated with mental health, drug and alcohol problems and learning disability are dealt with within their specific sections under Specific Guidance. The risks for the children and parents are known to increase considerably when these factors combine with each other or with domestic abuse or other violent crime. (New Learning from serious case reviews: a two year report for 2009 DFE – RR226)

Assessing these risks is important and requires the practitioner not only to rely upon any standard risk assessment used in their particular field but to think broadly about risks to others and how these may be lessened through joint working. Practitioners must be able to recognise the family’s strengths and distinguish between immediate concerns for the child’s safety and wellbeing and risks which can be mitigated with appropriate support (Cleaver et al., 2011; NSPCC, 2015.

Family members and other children living with a person with complex problems may be assessed as being a protective factor for a child. Whilst their opinion of risk is important, practitioners must assess the risk independently, as the family member may be too entrenched in the circumstances to be able to give an objective view. “Risk management cannot eradicate risk; it can only try to reduce the probability of harm” (The Munro Review of Child Protection Part One: A Systems Analysis, Professor Eileen Munro, and Department for Education 2010).