Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (Sarah’s Law)
The management of sex offenders in the community post-conviction/release is an important dimension to child protection and I believe that one measure that would enhance such management is the introduction of a Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, otherwise known as Sarah’s Law.
The Gardai and the Probation Service have some responsibility for monitoring known sex offenders who are living in the community but there is a limit to how much they can do to keep children safe and every effort must be made to deal with any risk that offenders pose. Approximately half of the sex offenders released this year, in Ireland, or due for release in the coming few years are or will be subject to Post Release Supervision Orders.
Electronic tagging of some offenders is another tool that the Gardai and the Probation Service should have at their disposal to enhance their management of known sex offenders. Restrictions on an offender’s right to consume alcohol is another, some offenders only act out on their desires having consumed alcohol. Random unannounced visits to an offender’s home would also be a useful way to monitor a known offender’s activities. Currently none of these options is available to Gardai or the Probation Service.
However in addition to giving statutory bodies more powers to help keep children safe I think the case can be made for giving parents, guardians and others access to another facility to assist in helping to keep children safe, and that is the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, otherwise known as Sarah’s Law.
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme was piloted to great effect in the Britain. The pilot scheme was started in 2008 and involved four police forces in Warwickshire, Cambridgeshire, Cleveland and Hampshire. The British Home Office said the pilot test was very successful because it had protected 60 children. Nearly 600 inquiries made to the four police forces involved led to 315 applications for information and 21 disclosures about registered child sex offenders. A further 43 cases led to other actions, including referrals to children's social care and 11 general disclosures were made regarding protection issues linked to violent offending.
As a result of this the Scheme is now being rolled out in all police forces in England and Wales.
So how does it work in?
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme means anyone can ask for a police check on someone they are worried about by simply calling or visiting their local police. To actually make an application, they will need to visit the local police station in person where they are asked to show produce some ID, tell the police what their relationship to the child is and explain why they want to have a particular person checked.
The scheme is for anyone who wants to find out if someone in contact with a child has a record of child sexual offences. They could be a family member, friend, neighbour or anyone that’s worried about a child.
The majority of child sexual offenders are known to their victims. They are often a friend of the victim’s family, a friend of the victim, or a member of the victim’s family.
If the check shows a record for child sexual offences, or other offences that might put the child at risk, the police may share this information. However, this information will only be shared with the people best placed to protect the child. This will usually be the child’s parent, carer or guardian. The information might not be shared with the person who made the enquiry.
I think the introduction of a Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme in Ireland would be a serve as another very useful measure to help protect children.