Risk Taking and Assessments


This chapter was updated in May 2018.


  1. Risk Taking
  2. Director/Registered Manager's Responsibility for Risk Assessments
  3. Reviewing Risk Assessments
  4. What Risk Assessments Should Cover
  5. What is Significant Risk?
  6. What is an "Unnecessary" Risk?
  7. "Unusual" Risks
  8. The Assessment of Risk
  9. Providing and Arranging Activities

    Appendix 1: Risk Taking Guidance

    Appendix 2:  Risk Management of Placement Stability – Traffic Light System

1. Risk Taking

Much of our work with children and young people concerns the need to reduce or eliminate risk.

We care for children by understanding the risks they may encounter, and helping them to develop a healthy attitude to risks.

Every child’s Placement Plan will include a risk assessment, which considers the risks to which that particular child is vulnerable and how best to keep the child safe and help them to manage risk.

However, the key principle is that we will find a balance between protecting children and allowing them to learn and develop by taking manageable and managed risks.

Children who come to us have often had difficulties developing a healthy attitude towards risk. Having been exposed to dangerous situations and not protected from them, they may be more attracted to the familiar feelings associated with taking risks than others.

On the other hand they may have been frightened or traumatised so that they remain fearful and unable to take the risks needed to develop. Most of the children will not have developed the sense of security needed to judge risks accurately and moderate their behaviour accordingly.

Taking risks related to sex, alcohol, drugs, driving and physical risk-taking are all common in the children we care for. Alongside this, an inability to risk doing the unfamiliar (for example: writing, being able to say ‘no’, speaking out) may all limit children’s development and they need to be encouraged to ‘risk it’ in a way which is sensitive to what this may have meant earlier in their lives (for instance children may have been punished just for existing).

For more detailed guidance, see Appendix 1: Risk Taking Guidance.

2. Director's/Registered Manager's Responsibility for Risk Assessments

It is the responsibility of all managers to ensure that appropriate written risk assessments are undertaken. A risk assessment does not need to be undertaken by a manager. It is their responsibility to ensure that a person who has the knowledge and understanding of the issues and who is familiar with the risk assessment procedure completes a risk assessment.

A "risk assessment" is a careful examination of what, in an establishment's activities, premises and day to day work could cause harm to children or lead them into, or fail to provide reasonable protection for them from, unacceptably risky behaviour. Its purpose is to identify the precautions needed and whether more should be done to prevent harm or risk of harm. Its objective is to minimise risk or avert risks and to protect children. It is a matter of applying systematic common sense to the protection of children from risks that could have been minimised or averted.

Making a risk assessment for each child is good practice as it supports the child and staff in promoting pro-active planning to aid the task of establishing a safe and settled placement.

Overview of the types of occasions when a risk assessment needs to be completed:

  • When deciding upon a placement;
  • Prior to admission in relation to the needs of the child and the existing group;
  • When planning activities;
  • When planning and purchasing new facilities that will be used by children;
  • When new work practices are introduced;
  • When a child develops a special need or where there is a significant change to their existing needs;
  • When a child / young person presents a new behavioural risk.

The children and young people placed within a Childhood First home, will occasionally present serious concerns that may have an impact on the stability oftheir placement. In this event Childhood First have developed a placement risk assessment process  which provides a clear framework to rate presenting difficulties and guidelines for staff on how to proceed in assessing how to respond to these risks.

3. Reviewing Risk Assessments

There should be a system for regularly reviewing the risk assessments. No risk assessment should be written without a review date.It may be necessary to review risk assessments on a daily basis, however each risk assessment must be reviewed by the Team Leader and Keyworker / Linkworker at least monthly. The Director / Registered Manager must be alerted to any emerging risk to ensure that any  additional support, such as working with partners to minimise risk can be actioned.

4. What Risk Assessments Should Cover

A risk assessment should assess risks to the children's health and/or safety, including the risks from activities as well as those posed by the children/ young person’s emotional / behavioural vulnerabilities.

These risks include:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse;
  • Neglect;
  • Damage to normal development;
  • Accidental injury;
  • Features of premises or activities which invite illicit and risky activities;
  • Bullying (it is as important to include risks of abuse and bullying, from both adults and other children both within and outside the home, as it is to cover risk of injury);
  • Becoming lost or being taken by someone;
  • Becoming involved in prostitution or pornography;
  • Becoming involved in substance abuse;
  • Becoming significantly distressed or upset;
  • Failure to safeguard and promote the individual's welfare.

5. What is a Significant Risk?

A "significant" risk is one that a reasonable person would regard as significant rather than negligible, taking into account the ages, mix and characteristics of the children involved. The Director/Registered Manager must be notified of any significant risks.

6. What is an "Unnecessary" Risk?

An "unnecessary" risk is one that arises in part or whole from reasonably preventable circumstances rather than being "a normally accepted part of living and growing up". What would be unnecessary would be where the risk arises from, or is increased by, negligence, failure to take reasonable (or legally required) safety measures and failure to take into account the age, characteristics, needs and any problems of the individual children involved. The Director/Registered Manager must be notified of any unnecessary risks.

7. "Unusual" Risks

An "unusual" risk is one that a reasonable person would be likely to regard as "out of the ordinary", or part of an activity that may seem to have risks involved or attached.

8. The Assessment of Risk

Assessing risks needs a steady and step-by-step approach. When a risk assessment is completed it needs to be made known to those people whom it affects - the children and the staff. This needs to be communicated at all levels and the home needs to develop a system for communicating when risks have been identified such as communicating through “handover/feedback/staff meetings” and children/young people's community meetings, individual keywork/linkworker discussions.

9. Providing and Arranging Activities

Also see (these chapters contain procedures on Risk Assessments):

Transporting Children Procedures

As children /  young people develop, they will naturally and rightly take greater responsibility for their own activities and free time. Many children will participate in risky activities which are not provided, approved or arranged by the home.

However, there remains a statutory duty to safeguard and promote welfare, reasonably taking into account the age, understanding and relevant competence of the children concerned.

Any activities in which children participate are so far as reasonably practicable free from avoidable risks.

These responsibilities do not diminish as the child's age increases.

There are 3 main considerations when assessing risk from specific activities being provided for children.

What ... ... do I do?
Be satisfied that any activities are suitable for the children concerned - including any activities not organised by the home but which they take part in.

You are required to:

  • Take into account factors such as the age, number, competence, behaviour, skills and mix of children;
  • To recognise that what may be suitable for one group of children of a similar age may not be suitable for another;
  • To keep reviewing the suitability of the activities in practice;
  • To make changes if they appear to be becoming unsuitable for any reason - something that has never caused a problem before or with other groups may well start doing so.
Take positive steps to minimise risks from the activities you provide or approve for children to take part in.

You need to:

  • Identify possible risks and to take  action to counter them, as well as not taking (or letting children take) unnecessary or unreasonable risks (always taking their age, abilities and characteristics into account). Something that is suitable for older young people, or for children who have reached a level of skill or responsibility, may present significant risks to younger or other children;
  • Take into account in minimising risks the fact that children may be pressured to go into places and to try activities that are attractive, even if they have been told not to;
  • Take proper safety precautions for any activity that needs them. The responsibility ultimately rests on the registered persons, but also needs to be exercised by the person in charge of or approving the activity (whether a staff member or not) and every member of staff or helper involved.
Satisfy yourself that every member of staff, helper or instructor (including any outside instructor coming in for the activity) is competent to supervise or instruct the activities you are entrusting to their supervision or instruction.

You need to:

  • Check the staff, helpers and instructors (including any young people who are assisting with other or younger children) are suitably responsible people, are properly trained and skilled in the activity itself, and are able to lead or supervise that activity safely (which may require more knowledge and skill than simply being good at the activity themselves);
  • Check that those leading the activity concerned hold the relevant qualification to supervise or instruct children in that activity;
  • Risk activities will usually be governed by a recognised national body or association, and you should check with that body what qualifications are needed to supervise or instruct children taking part in the activity, and ask the relevant staff or instructors to show you proof of that qualification. Make a record of the qualifications;
  • Where the national body for the activity concerned specifies the number of qualified instructors or supervisors required, this number should be met;
  • You should only provide activities that require special equipment, clothing or safety precautions, if you are able to supply these. Qualified instructors should know what special equipment is needed, and you should take their advice and never require them to provide or give instruction in an activity without the required clothing, equipment or precautions. Note that extra precautions may be needed for children that adults may not require, and that the precautions and equipment may need to be different if the children taking part are unskilled novices rather than children skilled in the activity. Again, the national body for the activity concerned can usually advise.

Appendix 1: Risk Taking Guidance

The staff role in children’s and young people’s risk taking

It is the role of all staff to be aware of the purpose that risk taking needs to play in each child’s development. This will expose the differences in attitude to risk within the staff team. These attitudes need to be discussed openly in order for the staff team to properly think about what each child needs. This is likely to be an area where differences occur between staff. This is a healthy process and just as children in families often witness adults discussing how much risk they should be exposed to, it is also important for children in care to understand that the staff care enough about them to have strong feelings on these matters.

Children need to be provided with plenty of opportunities to take ‘controlled’ risks, which have been subject to a Risk Assessment. The more this happens the less they are likely to feel the need to look elsewhere to take them. While letting children take too big a risk is a mistake, stopping them from taking any at all is also one. The children cared for by Childhood First have often not had the developmental opportunities ordinarily experienced by trying things they are just learning to manage. The staff role is to provide these opportunities whilst understanding that by the nature of the endeavour children will ‘fall over’ or ‘fail’ many times before learning to manage the dangers without needing an adult to pick them up. So opportunities to go out unsupervised, travel by bus, manage money, manage an aerosol etc, will need to be the subject of repeated experience.

As children begin to reach adolescence there appears to be a strong relationship between risk-taking and responsibility. The more responsibility children have, the fewer risks they seem to take and vice versa. This developmental stage may come later in children who have not had the earlier developmental foundations built; staff need to discuss carefully together whether particular children need to take more or less responsibility.

Staff should:

  • Understand each child’s relationship to risk according to their history, experience, and developmental stage;
  • Use this understanding to inform and formulate Placement Plans and Individual Risk Assessments;
  • Form strong relationships with children and supervise them well so that risk taking behaviour is more likely to happen in front of them rather than through unsafe or delinquent behaviour;
  • Discuss safety and risk taking in children's meetings;
  • Supervise children properly and set clear boundaries;
  • Use the staff forums provided to talk together about risk-taking;
  • Instigate activities to provide children with controlled risk taking opportunities;
  • Help children who are ready to take responsibility so that they are not left to create dangerous situations;
  • Gently help and support children who are risk averse to take on small challenges.

A healthy attitude toward risk taking can only be achieved within a framework of safety so staff must also read all policies and understand their obligations in terms of safety.

Staff members must:

  • Ensure they know the areas where their role is to eliminate and reduce risk (car, road and bike safety, fires, health and infection control, child protection, visitor management etc);
  • Ensure rules about safety and policies are adhered to in all circumstances – especially those where children may be at particularly acute risk – for example: missing from care, restraint, child protection, substance misuse, Child Sexual Exploitation and Radicalisation, etc;
  • Ensure risk assessments are made, used and updated.

Take collective responsibility for identifying and managing risky situations – don’t just leave this to managers.

Appendix 2: Risk Management of Placement Stability – Traffic Light System

Click here to view 'Risk Management of Placement Stability – Traffic Light System'.