4.5 Children Visiting Custodial Settings


This chapter sets out the procedures for managing risks and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people, who may be visiting or having contact with adults or other young people who are in a custodial setting.

This chapter was completely rewritten in January 2016, and should be re-read.

1. Introduction

This procedure takes account of:

In addition, practice guidance Children Visiting Prisons: Sharing Good Practice (Kids VIP) provides practical guidance to assist prisons in facilitating family visits, including:

  • The benefits of good visits and maintaining family ties to both prisons and families;
  • Examples of how some prisons have provided well for children; and
  • Guidance on how to replicate good practice in prisons and provide quality visits for children.

The overriding factor in allowing any child to visit is whether contact with the prisoner is in that child's best interests. (A child is defined as any young person under the age of 18).

2. Definition of Contact

Contact with a child includes correspondence, prisoner's telephones or social visits.

Telephone contact will include any access to office telephones where permission has been granted. It will also include any contact with children who have been invited to visit the prison as part of a group.

Contact with children will only include contact with the prisoner's immediate family or children and the children of a partner provided they were living together as partners in an enduring family relationship prior to imprisonment. Included within this definition are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, stepchildren, adopted children and foster children.

A prisoner may be permitted to have contact with other children approved, provided s/he can produce a substantial case for contact and the Governor/Director agrees that such contact would be in the interests of the child and only after a full risk assessment had been carried out. Such contact must be supported by the Parent/Carer, Social Services/Children's Services, Police and the Offender Manager Probation. Should the victim of the offence fall within this group, contact must not be permitted unless a risk assessment has been carried out and it is considered to be in the interests of the child.

The Prison Service has an obligation to monitor prisoners contact with members of the public to ensure children are not being groomed for contact where an offence could be committed. It is not uncommon for an offender to condition a vulnerable single parent by telephone, correspondence or during a social visit, with a view to creating an opportunity where an offence against the child of the parent may be committed.

3. Contact Requests

If a prisoner wishes to apply to have child contact, the enquiring Prison Officer must provide an application form for the prisoner to complete. A separate request must be made for contact with each individual child.

It is possible that a request for contact could be made by a parent or from the child directly. If such a request is received the prisoner will be informed and asked if (s)he wishes to submit a request for contact.

A register providing a record of applications must be held on file. This record will become part of the prisoner's main record and will follow the prisoner on transfer. Each prison establishment should maintain a central record indicating which prisoners are subject to restrictions due to the risk they represent to children, details of which prisoners are allowed child visits or other contact and details of prisoners who have been refused child visits or other contact.

4. Parental Support for Contact

The prison establishment should ask the parent of the child whether they support contact or not and at what level. Children's Social Care Services for the area where the child is living should ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child during a home visit. For the visit to take place, Children's Social Care Services must also ascertain that the person who has Parental Responsibility and is currently caring for the child supports any contact.

In cases where the parent does not support contact, the prison establishment should inform Children's Social Care Services of the parent's decision.

5. Looked After Children

When a prison establishment contacts Children's Social Care Services as part of the multi agency assessment and the child is Looked After, the local authority's view about the appropriateness of contact must be obtained in writing. The test is always whether contact is in the child's best interest.

Whether or not the local authority share Parental Responsibility, the views of the parent must also be included.

6. The Multi Agency Assessment

Establishments are required to identify prisoners who have:

  • Been convicted or are charged with a sexual offence against a child;
  • A previous conviction for a sexual offence against a child;
  • A conviction or charge of murder or assault against a child;
  • A charge or conviction involving domestic violence or abuse where a child was involved;
  • A charge or conviction where emotional abuse or neglect of a child was involved;
  • Displayed any behaviour whilst in custody indicating the prisoner presents a risk to a child;
  • Information has been received from other agencies about the risk that the prisoner presents.

All prisoners who have been identified as presenting a possible risk of harm to children must be approached and asked if they intend to request child contact. If a prisoner indicates that he/she does not intend to make an application for child contact, both at the time of asking or at a later date, that response will be recorded, and the prisoner must sign a form to that effect. If the prisoner refuses to sign, the enquiring officer must make a note to that effect.

Establishments must complete a multi agency risk assessment to determine what, if any, contact the prisoner is allowed with a child. Where information is received or the behaviour of the prisoner is seen to indicate a potential risk of harm to a child, then a fully comprehensive risk assessment must be undertaken to determine whether the prisoner should be allowed contact with a child and the extent of such contact. 

Risk identification and management must be undertaken in a manner that is proportionate to the individual concerned. Decisions to prevent or restrict contact need to take into account the risk presented by the offender, the needs and best interests of the child, balanced against the prisoner's right to a family life. In all cases decisions will be based on what is best for the child. The rights of a child to be safeguarded and protected from harm must take priority over an offender's right to family life as set out in the 1998 Human Rights Act if the offender's right would mean that contact could place a child at risk.

The over-riding principle is that the child's welfare is paramount - and that any contact must be in the child's best interest.

The following agencies must be contacted to gather information before an assessment of risk can be made:

  1. The police in the child's home authority must be contacted with details of the prisoner and the child including a photograph;
  2. The prison establishment's probation officer should be provided with the details of the prisoner's application and where a prisoner will be subject to licence supervision on release or has been recalled for breach of licence for the current offence the home probation area must be contacted and asked for information and comments. In addition if the prisoner is a young offender and is supervised, Children's Social Care Services in the child's home authority must be contacted;
  3. Where appropriate the NSPCC may be contacted for additional information as some prison establishments have developed a partnership with the NSPCC who will search their database for information relating to the risk of harm to a child;
  4. A letter to the Head of Children's Social Care Services including all known details of the prisoner and the child with a photograph must be followed up with a prompt phone contact to the Safeguarding Manager in the Children's Social Care Services.

The Safeguarding Manager will acknowledge the request in writing to the prison establishment within 2 working days and the Safeguarding Unit will process it by:

  • Checking any information across all electronic and manual records held by Children's Social Care Services; and
  • Establishing which Children's Social Care Services Team is responsible for the child(ren) involved;
  • Within one working day of receipt of the prison request, the Safeguarding Manager will notify the relevant Children's Social Care Services Team who will action an assessment and respond with a report to the Safeguarding Unit within 3 weeks. This report should include a statement that the identity of the child in the photograph has been confirmed. The views of the child should be an important element of the assessment, which should be obtained at a home visit. As good practice, an Appropriate Adult should be identified who will accompany the child when visiting the prisoner;
  • The Safeguarding Manager will forward the Assessment Report with recommendations to the prison establishment within 2 working days of receiving it from the Children's Social Care Services team.

7. The Decision

The operational manager with delegated authority in the prison establishment, normally the Head of Resettlement or through care, who has responsibility for Public Protection, will make the assessment using the available multi agency information. The decision must take into account the following factors:

  • The child's needs, wishes and feelings;
  • The capacity of the parent to protect the child from likely harm;
  • The prisoner's risk to the public;
  • The OASys assessment;
  • Static risk assessment (Thornton's Risk Matrix 2000);
  • Pre-sentence reports;
  • Previous convictions;
  • Custodial behaviour and any other documentation highlighting risk.

8. Level of Contact Decided

The operational manager should decide the level of contact that will be permitted. It should be proportionate to the risk identified and the best interests of the child should always be the overriding principle in making these decisions.

Contact restrictions should be incremental and one of the following levels will be applied:

  • Level one: Full restrictions apply. No contact with any child is permitted. All correspondence and telephone calls may be monitored subject to a risk assessment being carried out and regularly reviewed;
  • Level two: Contact permitted with named child only via written correspondence. All correspondence and telephone calls may be monitored subject to a risk assessment being carried out and regularly reviewed;
  • Level three: Contact permitted with named child only via written correspondence and telephone. All correspondence and telephone calls may be monitored subject to a risk assessment being carried out and regularly reviewed;
  • Level four: No restrictions necessary, contact permitted with named child only via correspondence, telephone calls and visits. The prisoner may be allowed access to family visits with the permission of the Governing Governor following a further, individual risk assessment. Routine monitoring of correspondence, telephone calls, general observations in the visits area. This level of contact applies only to those children that the prisoner has permission to have contact with. All other children will be subject to Level One restrictions.

9. Monitoring

The level and frequency of monitoring will be proportionate to the risk identified.

Monitoring of correspondence should focus on whether the prisoner is attempting to contact children inappropriately and what references about children are made in general correspondence, e.g. grooming or manipulation of a child or a parent.

Monitoring of telephone conversations will focus on the same issues as correspondence, i.e. it is acceptable for calls to be monitored where there is a risk that a prisoner may be grooming the child or engaging in abusive behaviour towards a child (which could include preparing to commit a sexual offence). Prisoners identified as presenting a risk to children must be on the call-enabling regime and action should be taken if monitoring shows that a prisoner has been speaking to a child they should not have been. Staff must be alert when monitoring conversations with telephone numbers that have been enabled at an address where a child with whom the prisoner has not been granted contact resides. Any evidence of inappropriate contact or attempts must be accurately recorded and a report placed in the prisoner's record with a copy placed in the sentence management documentation for risk management purposes.

Monitoring of prisoners who present a risk to children in the visits area is required to establish if appropriate contact is taking place between an offender and a child where child visits have been permitted. Other prisoners who present a risk to children and have not been permitted contact with a child must be supervised in such a way that contact is not possible.

Recorded and electronic information needs to be monitored e.g. audio cassettes, CD ROMs and Video CDs, because it affords an easy disguise for inappropriate information.

10. Correct Identification of Children

It is necessary to take steps to prevent a child being substituted with another possibly more vulnerable child where visits take place. Prison staff monitoring calls, correspondence and visiting areas need to be vigilant and prevent any inappropriate contact where identified.

Four passport style photographs will be required of each child and these should be updated annually or earlier if there is a significant change in a child's appearance.

11. Reviewing Contact Decisions

Where a decision has been made to restrict contact, the decision will be reviewed when there is reason to believe that circumstances have changed. Reviews can be made at any time on the initiative of prison staff or at the request of the prisoner. It is good practice to review decisions at least every six months.

Any decision to change the level of contact permitted must be based on what is best for the child. The child's welfare is paramount at all times. The decision must take into account the views of the Police, Probation and local Children's Social Care Services, via the LA Safeguarding Unit.

12. Appeals Process

All prison establishments have procedures for prisoners who wish to appeal a decision to restrict contact or not to permit any contact at all with a child.

If the prisoner wishes to challenge the information held on file, the information provided by other agencies should only be disclosed to the prisoner with the agreement of the other agency.