Toggle Contrast

Assessing risk and safety planning

When considering the support and intervention that is most appropriate to help change the harmful behaviour being displayed by a child and reduce the likelihood of the harmful behaviour happening, professionals need to be able to understand the child and why the child is displaying this behaviour, what is maintaining and keeping the behaviour going and what are the protective factors in a child’s life that will support positive behaviour change.

In the context of child-on-child abuse, a ‘risk assessment’ should be understood as tool to support professionals in understanding the level of risk that is posed by a child’s behaviour, the spaces and places where that risk may be present and who the risk may be present for (including the child themselves). The ‘Five Ps of Case Formulation’ (MacNeil et al, 2012) are helpful to inform the completion of a risk assessment. They are a framework for considering what has happened to a child and how they have arrived at the point of displaying behaviour that is harmful to other children.

Presenting Problem – What is the harmful behaviour? Professionals should have a clear, factual overview of the behaviours that are of concern. This should include the frequency in the alleged harmful behaviour and any changes in it over time. It should also include detail regarding the dynamic between the children involved and any power differentials.

Predisposing Factors – Are there any additional needs that should be considered for this child? Professionals should consider what support a child may or may not be able to engage with and whether support may need to be approached differently to make it accessible for the child. Any interventions should be appropriate given the age and developmental stage of the child. Professionals should also consider any previous concerns about the child’s behaviour, needs or harm that they may have been exposed to in the past.

Precipitating Factors – What happened just before the harmful behaviour? Professionals should seek to notice any triggers that happened just before or within the context of the behaviour that is causing concern.

Perpetuating Factors – Professionals should consider what may be ‘keeping the behaviour going’, which means understanding the function/ meaning the behaviour might have for the child. For example, is a child threatening violence so that they receive something from the other child such as money? Is the child under a level of coercion? This would mean that the behaviour is being maintained by external pressures such as peer pressure or cyber bulling.

Protective Factors – When responding to and supporting a child that is alleged or known to have displayed harmful behaviour towards another child, it is important to consider the protective factors in the child’s life and how these can be strengthened further. Protective factors are the factors in a child’s life that might help protect against displaying harmful behaviour. These factors will be individual for each child. Some examples are included below.

  • Does the child have a prosocial adult in their life who is emotionally available that they can talk to and confide in?
  • Is the child engaging with prosocial activities – something they are good at or which gives them a sense of self-esteem in a prosocial way?
  • Is the child eating well?
  • Does the child have good sleep hygiene?
  • Is the child demonstrating good engagement with their education and school community?

Southampton City Council have produced a risk assessment template to support professionals in assessing the risk that is presented by a child’s behaviour.

In cases of harmful sexual behaviour, it should be noted that the Brook Traffic Light tool supports professionals in assessing the degree of risk presented by a behaviour. Further information can be found within the Harmful Sexual Behaviour section of this toolkit.

Professional understanding of the risk presented by a child’s behaviour will inform the steps that need to be taken to ensure that all involved children are effectively safeguarded. It is through understanding the risk presented by a child’s behaviour that professionals are able to identify the interventions and measures that will be most effective in mitigating the risk and will be most supportive to the child who has displayed the harmful behaviour and those who are at risk of being harmed. Various terms can be used to refer to this process of understanding, managing and mitigating risk. For the purposes of this toolkit, this is referred to as safety planning (in alignment with the terminology with used by the NSPCC).  The safety planning process is explored in greater detail below.


Safety plans are dynamic documents that promote supporting a child to be safe and develop healthy coping strategies. There are typically three core elements within the plan:

  • Restrictive conditions – outlining what a child will be allowed or not allowed to do
  • Monitoring and surveillance
  • Interventions to support the child’s internal control development

It is understood that the plan may initially have high external controls in place, in order to effectively safeguard all children and ensure their safety. However, safety planning does not seek to punish the child who has displayed harmful behaviour. It is important to acknowledge that external controls are not long-term solutions and professionals should plan for how these could be reduced over time. The aim of any plan is to respond to identified needs in children and equip children to reduce the likelihood of displaying harmful behaviour, rather than to develop increasingly sophisticated risk management measures and strategies.

Guiding Principles for Safety Planning

A Safety Plan Should Be:

Fair and Just: A risk assessment should not be discriminatory or overly intrusive. It needs to be proportionate to the identified concern. This is supported by the use of fact-based language and accurate recording.

Realistic and Achievable: Any actions included within the plan need to be realistic and reviewed regularly.

Clear: Does the child and their family understand the plan? Are all involved professionals (whether single-agency or multi-agency) aware of the plan and clear about their role? Will the plan translate effectively at home? Safety plans should be helpful rather than academic. When thinking about the format of a safety plan, it may be helpful to have a fuller version and then a version for the child to follow which takes into consideration their age, developmental stage and any additional needs. For example, a safety plan may need to be story based or use  visual/pictorial representations to support the child’s understanding.

Protective: Is the plan protective for the child who has been harmed, other children where it is a realistic possibility that they are at risk of harm, and the child who has displayed the harmful behaviour? Professionals should remain curious around all children involved, to ensure that they are effectively safeguarded.

Defensible and Transparent: The child and their family should be fully involved in the process, so that it is undertaken with them and not to them.

Replicated: Is there a plan in place for when the child is at home or within the wider community?

Shared: It is important for professionals to remember that sharing information with other relevant agencies and local safeguarding partners is essential to enabling prevention, early identification and an effective safeguarding response to child-on-child abuse.

As a professional, it is important to remember to be aware of your own biases and judgements and how these might influence the safety planning.


What Should Professionals Include When Safety Planning In Response To Child-on-Child Abuse?

When safety planning in response to child-on-child abuse, all professionals should ensure that they follow the safeguarding processes within their own organisation.

In order to provide an effective safeguarding response, safety planning should include consideration of:

  • The child who has been harmed, especially their protection and support.
  • The child who is alleged to have displayed harmful behaviour.
  • All of the other connected children (and, if appropriate, adults, students and staff). These connected individuals are likely to be within the school or college as the child who has displayed harmful behaviour, but it is important to remember that there may be connected children within the family, neighbourhood or local community.
  • Any actions that are appropriate to protect them.

The child’s voice: A safety plan should include where and how the child can feel safe and who are the  people they feel safe to talk to. It is important for professionals to remember that their perception may be different to a child’s experience of safe people and places.

Likelihood and impact of harm: When developing a safety plan, any risk should be considered in two dimensions – what is the likelihood of harm and what is the impact of possible harm? It is helpful to include professional consideration and thinking regarding any triggers for the harmful behaviour.

Who is at risk of harm and when: This needs to be realistic in terms of who is included and specific around any particular times and locations where the risk of harm is present. It is important for professionals to remain curious about all children involved, in case any new risks or vulnerabilities become known.

Who needs to be aware: Any safety plan should be shared with the parents/ carers and partners agencies where there is involvement. Children and families need to be involved in a way that allows them to understand the content of the plan and be able to follow it.

Timescales: A safety plan should be dynamic, as the situation will evolve. There should be agreement about when a risk assessment will be reviewed, what positive progress would look like and what the next steps for support will be if progress is not made. It is good practice for risk assessments to be reviewed regularly, typically every few weeks.


Review Planning

As captured above, it is important that any risk assessment is reviewed regularly to measure the efficacy of the safety plan. To inform this review process, professionals should:

  • Record and notice any patterns in the child’s behaviour or particular triggers.
  • Ensure that the child is receiving recognition when the plan is being followed and that they are provided with chances to succeed.
  • Check-in regularly with all children involved, to ensure that their voice is heard.
  • Include the relevant professional network, parent and child in the review process.
  • Remain mindful that behaviour does not occur in a vacuum and that there will be range of external factors which will have an influence on any changes in the child’s behaviour.
  • Remain curious!

NSPCC Safety Plan for Harmful Sexual Behaviour – This safety plan template is designed for harmful sexual behaviour but can be used in response to other (non-sexual) abusive behaviours.

Lucy Faithfull Foundation ‘My School Safety Plan’ – A safety plan template.

Birmingham City Council: Students Who Pose A Risk: School Safety Plan – A safety plan template.

West Sussex Services For Schools ‘My Wellbeing and Safety Plans’ – This is an example of a safety plan that a child can be supported to complete with regard to keeping themselves well. It can be adapted to help a child think about their own behaviours.