Contemporary risk assessment in safeguarding children
Edited by Martin C. Calder

To see sections of this book in a PDF, please click here.

For anyone involved in the protection and safeguarding of children and young people - at any level - risk and risk assessment are key concerns and preoccupations. Decisions are made every day: some without full evaluation; some after evaluation delineates professional dilemmas over how best to balance unnecessary or excessive risks with being too timid about seizing opportunities that may produce better outcomes.

Yet, across and within the various professional groups involved in safeguarding children, there is an inadequate knowledge base to inform practice, no standardized definition of risk or risk assessment, and no guidance from official sources. There is not even a shared agreement on whether risk means only the possibility of harmful outcomes, a balancing of possible good and possible harm, or whether it even includes the idea of positive events. This context reflects both the importance of different agencies - with different imperatives - being involved, and the practical difficulty of eliminating uncertainty.

But this book's varied and illuminating perspectives can help refine the exercise of professional judgement in estimating and managing uncertainties prospectively, rather than being judged retrospectively with the benefit of hindsight. They can help us to learn how to improve our conduct of risk assessments so that they are evidence-based, comprehensive and equitable; how to produce risk management strategies where levels of intrusion are commensurate with levels of risk; and consider the possibility of developing a common language to assist this important task.

Reflecting the importance of inter-agency approaches in policy, practice and training, the chapters are drawn from a number of different professional groups and disciplines, and should be of value to each of them. For staff in the social care and criminal fields, psychologists, counsellors, as well as trainers, researchers, policy-makers and students on many courses this book attempts to:
  • Clearly explain the concept of risk and risk assessment
  • Explore the key areas where risks need to be assessed
  • Summarize relevant research and practice wisdom
  • Examine dilemmas in the daily decision-making of staff and managers
  • Consider how managers and staff, acting without local or national guidance, are inevitably inconsistent in their approaches and decision making
  • Examine actuarial risk tools alongside clinical judgment, and the tension and confusion caused by different professionals talking at cross purposes
  • Explore assessment in an accessible manner with a practice-based emphasis
  • Review the origins and contemporary features of professional and organisational dangerousness, and suggest antidotes
  • Examine the links between strengths (needs)-led and risk assessment practice
  • Consider ways of engaging service users in risk assessment and management
  • Consider emerging dilemmas associated with rights, protection and responsibilities
  • Offer some contemporary risk assessment frameworks.

  • The emergence and ongoing development of safeguarding, which unifies preventative and protective structures and systems, and people at all levels of safeguarding responsibility will find benefit in considering the messages within this book when constructing their policies, procedures and practice guidance in relation to risk assessment across all the agencies serving children.

    Large format paperback. 320 pages. 978-1-905541-20-1. Published 2008. £49.95.


    For all practitioners, managers, trainers, researchers and policy-makers in social care, welfare, education, justice, health and mental health who are involved the wide spectrum of safeguarding children work, which includes child protection, family support, domestic abuse and youth offending/justice. Also an essential reference text for students on many courses, especially in social work at degree and PQ levels.



    Contextual considerations

    From child protection to child safety: locating risk assessment in the changing landscape
    Roger Smith, University of Leicester

    Challenging output based performance management in child protection
    John Devaney, Queens University Belfast

    Reclaiming the language of child protection: mind the gap: family support versus child protection: exposing the myth
    Liz Davies, London Metropolitan University

    Risk, uncertainty and thresholds
    Chris Beckett, Anglia Ruskin University

    Professional judgement and the risk assessment process
    Anne Hollows Sheffield Hallam University

    Professional dangerousness: causes and contemporary features
    Martin C. Calder, Calder Training and Consultancy

    Dimensions of risk: professionals tipping the balance?
    Phillip Heasman, Derbyshire County Council

    Organisational dangerousness: causes, consequences and correctives
    Martin C. Calder, Calder Training and Consultancy
    Promoting professional resilience
    Jo Clarke, HM Prison Service

    Operational considerations

    Strengths-based risk assessments: locating possibility and transforming the paradigm
    Clay T. Graybeal and Shelley Cohen Konrad, University of New England

    Actuarial and clinical risk assessment: contrasts, comparisons and collective usages
    Hazel Kemshall, De Montfort University

    Risk and child protection
    Martin C. Calder, Calder Training and Consultancy

    The three houses tool: building safety and positive change
    Nicki Weld, CYFS New Zealand

    Risk assessment in adult sex offenders
    Roger Kennington, Sexual Behaviour Unit, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

    Young people who sexually abuse: risk refinement and conceptual developments
    Martin C. Calder, Calder Training and Consultancy

    Risk in treatment: from relapse prevention to wellness
    Robert E. Longo, Universal Health Services, North Carolina

    Cultural considerations within risk assessment
    Jo Thakker, University of Waikato, James Vess, Victoria University of Wellington, and Tony Ward, Victoria University of Wellington

    Involuntary clients and risk assessment: contextual mapping to inform practice responses
    Martin C. Calder, Calder Training and Consultancy


    Martin C. Calder
    established Calder Training and Consultancy in 2005 after 20 years in frontline child protection practice. His aim has been to generate and collate the available and necessary assessment tools for frontline staff, especially in times of massive change. He also critiques central government guidance and attempts to provide remedial materials to help fill the gap left between aspiration and reality. He is contactable through his website at


    "An absorbing and exciting read, during which safeguarding professionals will find themselves saying "that's exactly what's been worrying me" and "I've often wondered about that" … comprehensive, detailed and well written, it addresses the core issue for professionals with responsibility for safeguarding children: assessing as accurately as possible the probability of a child being harmed. A broad perspective of thinking about risk and the challenge of interpreting information gathered from and about children's lives… a good reference guide… extremely useful…provides excellent material for multi-agency safeguarding children trainers." Children and Young People Now.

    "Provides a lot of information and challenges to all those involved in safeguarding children. The topics are well presented and can be read in chapters or as a whole…a useful training resource. I would also recommend it to more experienced practitioners. I found myself reading parts of the book and stopping to reflect on how it related to my own practice and the systems in which I work…a range of options that can be considered in specific situations. It is well considered and I've already used some of the material in day-to-day practice… stimulates discussion and would be useful addition to reading lists for students in all sectors working with risk and child welfare." Rostrum.

    "The authors call for an evidence-based, comprehensive and equitable approach to risk assessment and teach the reader to produce risk management strategies where levels of intrusion are commensurate with levels of risk; and consider the possibility of developing a common language to assist this important task. Topics covered include: clearly explaining the concept of risk and risk assessment; exploring the key areas where risks need to be assessed; summarising relevant research and practice wisdom; and examining dilemmas in the daily decision-making of staff and managers. ChildRIGHT.

    "Contains some gems that will be a real boon to practice, such as Chris Beckett's contribution on 'Pyramids of Risk' which appear to provide a way to help merge the actuarial and clinical aspects of assessment. As well as the book's accessibility I also found very attractive the debate that is played out through the articles. Martin Calder says the reader will see a house being built as they read the book. Indeed, but it is a house of debate, especially on the issue of whether we, as a community are gathering too much information, or not enough. The theme is not resolved but it's all there for the reader to judge, like tablets of wisdom set as a feast before you." Professional Social Work.