Jo has been excluded from school for sexual assault. He needs to continue his education in some way, but any school willing to take him will need to do a lot of work
Jo is 15 years old, he has a conviction for sexual assault on two nine-year-old boys. His upper school excluded him when the police investigation started at the time he was 14. Initially, the exclusion was said to be for the duration of the investigation but it soon became evident that school would prefer him not to return. One of his teachers kept contact with Jo and has taken work to his home to try to help him continue with his studies. The police public protection officer, who visits Jo and is responsible for his ongoing registration on the sex offender list, has continued to battle to try to help Jo get back into school. Jo is a bright lad and he was predicted to do well in his GCSEs. Jo has been attending a sex offender treatment project for young people and his workers report that his understanding of his situation has changed significantly since he started work on his offending behaviour. Jo is now reported to recognise the damage that he has done to his young victims, their families, his family and himself. Jo is reported to be depressed and desperately wants to be back in school. His dream for the future was to train to be a doctor.
Does Jo still present a threat to children?
It cannot be denied that even after participating in a treatment programme Jo does present some risk. However, research into the value of treatment programmes has shown that treatment lowers the risk significantly. The age at which sex offenders are offered treatment is also significant; basically if offenders can be offered treatment before patterns of offending behaviour become established the treatment is more likely to be effective. In Jo’s case he was initially reluctant to participate fully in the treatment programme. He found it hard to join in group discussions and would hang on the edge of any activity, watching others but not committing himself. As the group work progressed Jo slowly began to open up in the group. He was scared to acknowledge his offending behaviour and had great difficulty identifying with other members of the group. Jo was also offered one-to-one sessions and this seemed to help him begin to accept that he had an issue to deal with that wasn’t going to go away unless he confronted it. By the end of the first set of sessions Jo was participating fully and while this was an extremely painful process for him he continued to work well and grow in his understanding of himself. As far as the workers can ascertain the sexual assault was the first actual attempt to abuse children but Jo admits having had fantasies about sexual behaviour with younger children for a long time before this event. Jo presents as deeply ashamed of what he has done and while he has disclosed that he was sexually abused by an uncle when he was very young, he has not attempted to claim that this is an excuse for his own behaviour. In fact workers report that Jo did not appear to understand that his own behaviour was possibly linked to what was perpetrated against him. Jo has continued to attend group treatment and can access one-to-one sessions if either he or his workers think this is needed.
Should Jo be back in school?
Clearly Jo needs to continue his education in some way and if asked he would say he wants to go back into an ordinary upper school. To leave Jo in his present situation is unacceptable. Jo at home without supervision could prove to be a greater risk than Jo in school. At home by himself Jo could take to brooding and developing a strong sense of anger towards the children who spoke up against him. Jo has developed an understanding of the risk within himself and now knows how to seek help if he starts wanting to return to sexual fantasies about abusing a child.
Can Jo be managed safely in a school?
Any school willing to take Jo will need to carry out a thorough risk assessment and develop a protection plan. This would include:
- a shared assessment of the possible threat that Jo presents to other pupils. This work should be informed by the workers who know Jo from the treatment programme
- regular multi-agency meetings to both review Jo’s progress and to support school in his management. Such meetings may include members of Jo’s family and Jo himself if it is felt he is able to both cope and participate
- regular meetings with Jo to ensure that he is coping with the school environment and to offer him the opportunity to voice his feelings. This is obviously particularly important if Jo is not to be allowed to attend the multi-agency support meetings
- an assessment of any danger areas within the school and its grounds
- an assessment of whether child protection policies are understood by all staff
- an assessment of current child protection activity within the school curriculum
- establishing who needs to know what about Jo, remembering that he has a right to some level of confidentiality and protection. Child protection information must only be shared on a need-to-know basis
- the establishment of clear reporting procedures should people come to believe that Jo is beginning to slip back into possible abusive behaviour
- the development of a plan of action to respond to concerns raised by other pupils, parents and others in the community should it become known that Jo is registered as a sex offender.
I know this all sounds like a tall order for a school, it probably sounds easier just to turn Jo down, but to do so would simply pass the potential problems on to someone else.
Should Jo go back to the same school?
In an ideal world yes, it would help him to value the changes he has made and the huge steps he has taken. In reality it may prove very difficult for Jo to go back to the same school, possibly to face discrimination from other pupils and possibly angry staff. His old school is reluctant to take Jo back. Jo needs help to think through whether he would feel able to cope in the same school or whether it would be better to start afresh. Jo does need to know very clearly that wherever he goes at least some staff will know what he has done.
I do not believe that we should be considering Jo as a lost cause at 15. He will have to review his plans to train as a doctor and look at other career options and needs help to do this. However, he is intelligent and has shown himself as committed to making major changes in his life. If he continues to progress in this way there is a chance that he can grow up and lead a useful life. The present treatment programme has not as yet fully addressed his victimisation but will aim to do so once Jo has shown he has fully accepted his responsibility for his abusive behaviour. This will be another trying time for him but he has shown commitment to treatment and workers are feeling sure he will benefit from it.
What would your school do?