Judges, social workers and others seeking to establish the likelihood of sex abusers reoffending are frequently being forced to base their decisions on unreliable risk-assessment reports, according to abuse campaigners.

As a result, they claim children may be at increased risk of abuse. This is because the lack of a standardised framework for such reports mean they vary in content, quality and accuracy.

A 2008 report by the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers, which highlighted serious gaps in services for people exhibiting harmful sexual behaviour, expressed concern that some services were relying on "non-standardised and non-evidence-based practice".

"This poses serious implications for frontline child-protection staff, who are required to make decisions about the access of alleged perpetrators to children which are based on the information being provided by ass­essment and treatment services," it stated.

"There are also serious implications in relation to the validity of the information being provided to judges when reports are submitted to the courts."

It noted that in 2008 alone, the HSE spent €220,000 "buying in" risk-assessment reports on adult perpetrators from private pro­viders. This figure did not include assessments of adolescents displaying sexually harmful behaviour.

A spokeswoman for the HSE could not say what progress, if any, had been made on the issue. She also could not say how much it currently spends on reports from private providers.

But Fiona Neary, executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, told the Sunday Tribune the issue continues to cause serious concern to her members.

She noted the majority of offenders would never come before a court, but may be known to social workers and others operating within the child-protection area.

"Some risk assessment reports are not worth the paper they are written on," she said. "We have not been able to get any information on whether any work is being done on this issue, which is something that can be sorted out easily. We need to see the standardisation of risk assessments introduced as a matter of urgency.

"Our concern is that judges may not be making the best possible decision, because they are getting the wrong information."