5.1 Abuse by Children and Young People who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour

1. Introduction

1.1  Sexual abuse perpetrated by children and young people is not a rare phenomenon. At least one third of all sexual offences against children and young people in the UK are committed by other children and young people, and the extent of sexual abuse may be much higher. In a UK random population sample (2011), Radford and colleague found that two thirds of individuals who had experienced contact abuse as children had been abused by someone under the age of 18.

1.2 The criminal justice joint inspection thematic report 2016 made recommendations to LSCBs to;

  • Ensure that in the Early Help Strategy, children and young people who display or who are likely to develop Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) are identified and recognised and that they are provided with help and intervention at the earliest opportunity.
  • Increase professionals’ understanding in recognising HSB, referral pathways to take and likely vulnerability of children involved.

1.3  For the purposes of guidance, Harmful Sexual Behaviours are therefore defined as;
“Sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years which are developmentally inappropriate, maybe harmful towards the self or others, or be abusive to another child, young person or adult (Derived from Hackett, 2014).

1.4 Hackett (2010) has proposed a continuum model to demonstrate the range of sexual behaviours presented by children and young people, from those that are normal, to those that are highly deviant.

Hacket 2010 Continuum of Beahaviours

2. Early Identification and Engagement

2.1  Responses to children and young peoples’ HSB should reflect the risk and need that they present and should be at the least intrusive level required to effectively address the behaviours presented. Levels of concern should be considered as opposed to risk, and strength based approaches should be used to deliver interventions.

2.2 The Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Lights tool (information available at www.brook.org.uk) helps professionals in identifying levels of concern and providing a prompt for responding appropriately. This is a traffic light system for professionals to consider how to categorise sexual behaviours in children and young people in order to;

  • Make decisions about safeguarding
  • Assess and respond appropriately to sexual behaviour in children and young people
  • Understand healthy sexual development and distinguish it from Harmful Sexual Behaviour.

2.3 Professionals working with Children and Young People are able to access training, support and advice through consultation with the Harmful Sexual Behaviour Team (hsbproject@norfolk.gov.uk).

3. Referral and Assessment

3.1  Professionals should consult with their own safeguarding practitioners in the first instance when making decisions about responses to Harmful Sexual Behaviour, and request a consultation with the HSB Team if there are concerns about the most appropriate way to proceed with a case.

3.2  If you are a professional, i.e. working with a child or young person in a formal or voluntary setting and not a family member or member of the public, and you are concerned that a child might have been abused by another child, you can contact the Children’s Advice and Duty Service on their direct line: 0344 800 8021. If you are a member of the public, you can do this through Norfolk County Council’s Customer Services on 0344 800 8020. Allegations of HSB will be taken as seriously as allegations of abuse perpetrated by an adult. Children’s Social Care Services will discuss the concerns with the referrer and, based on an Assessment, decide whether it is necessary to hold a Strategy Discussion and to undertake a Section 47 Enquiry.

3.3  Consideration should be given to the need for a different social worker to be allocated to the victim and to the child with the alleged HSB, even if they live in the same household, to ensure that both are supported through the process of the enquiry and that, in relation to both children, their needs are fully assessed.

3.4  It should be recognised that disclosure of HSB by a child can be extremely distressing for parents and carers. The child and their family should always be advised of their right to seek legal advice and be supported through the process.

3.5  Where the child displaying HSB is at the age of criminal responsibility, the Police will always consult with Children’s Social Care Services regarding cases that come to their notice in order to ensure that there is an assessment of the victim’s needs and that in all cases, there is an assessment of the needs of the child displaying HSB. Each child should be referred to the Children’s Social Care Services Team responsible for their home area.

4. Strategy Discussion

4.1  Children’s Social Care Services and the Police will convene a Strategy Discussion in relation to the child displaying alleged HSB and the child victim where there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child concerned is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, for example because of concerns about the parents’ ability to protect both or either child from further harm.

4.2  Where Strategy Discussions are required for both children, consideration should be given to the need to hold separate Strategy Discussions. Usually, the first strategy discussion will consider all of the children involved (including other siblings). Further strategy discussions may be in relation to individual children.

4.3  Consideration should be given to members of the HSB Team being involved in Strategy Discussions for young people displaying HSB. IT may also be necessary to invite;

  • Paediatrician
  • Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)
  • Education representative
  • Where the child displaying HSB is over the age of 10, a member of the Youth Justice Service should be invited to participate in the Strategy Discussion.

4.4  The Strategy Discussions must plan in detail the respective roles of those involved in the enquiries and ensure that the following objectives are met:

  • Information relevant to the protection and needs of the alleged victim is gathered;
  • Any criminal aspects of the alleged abuse are investigated;
  • Any information relevant to any abusive experiences and protection needs of the child who is the alleged abuser, is gathered;
  • Any information about the risks to self and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network, is gathered.

4.5  Where there is suspicion that the child who is the alleged abuser is also a victim of abuse, the Strategy Discussion must decide the order in which interviews with the child will take place.

4.6  When a child is aged 10 or over and is alleged to have committed an offence, the first interview must be undertaken by the Police under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

4.7  If a child is to be interviewed as a victim of or witness to alleged abuse under the provisions of the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance and the child admits offences, these incidents should normally be the subject of a separate interview.

4.8  In complex situations where there are a number of victims and possible perpetrators, the Strategy Discussion should consider whether this should be a Strategic Management Group and should consider who will co-ordinate the overall investigation. If there is a concern that this could be a complex situation a senior manager within Children’s Services (Operational manager or above) should chair this meeting. (See Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure).

5. Section 47 Enquiries and Assessment

5.1  If it appears that either the perpetrator child or the victim child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Section 47 Enquiry process will be followed. Otherwise, the assessment may be concluded under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.

5.2  In these circumstances, relevant considerations include:

  • The nature and extent of the abusive behaviours and the impact on the victim;
  • The context of the abusive behaviours;
  • The age of the children involved;
  • The child’s development, and family and social circumstances;
  • Whether the perpetrator child acknowledges the alleged behaviour;
  • Whether there are grounds to suspect that the perpetrator child has been abused or that adults have been involved in the development of the sexually harmful behaviour;
  • Both children’s needs for services; and
  • The risks the perpetrator child poses to him/herself and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network. This risk is likely to be present unless: the opportunity to further abuse is ended, the child has acknowledged the abusive behaviour and accepted responsibility and there is agreement by the child and his/her family to work with relevant agencies to address the problem.

5.3  If during the course of the assessment there are concerns about any risks to other children posed by the perpetrator child, a multi agency meeting should be convened straight away (with attendees as in Paragraph 4.3) to develop:

  • A written risk management plan in relation to any child identified as at potential risk; including educational and accommodation arrangements both for the perpetrator child and the potential victim/s;
  • Appropriate arrangement for the continuation of the assessment and the need for any specialist assessment; and
  • How the services to be provided will be coordinated.

The meeting should identify the Lead Professional and review process with clear timescales.

6. Outcomes of Section 47 Enquiries – The Child Displaying HSB

6.1  If the information gathered in the course of the Section 47 Enquiry suggests that the child who has displayed HSB is also a victim, or potential victim, of abuse including neglect, a Child Protection Conference must be convened. A representative from the YJS team should be invited to the Initial Child Protection Conference.

6.2 If the child becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the coordination of services will continue through the Core Group, which should address the child’s HSB, the potential risks the child poses to others as well as the concerns which resulted in the need for a Child Protection Plan.

6.3  Where the Child Protection Conference concludes that the child displaying HSB does not require a Child Protection Plan, consideration should be given to the need for services to address any sexually abusive behaviour and the inter-agency responsibility to manage any risks. In these circumstances, a multi-agency meeting must be convened by Children’s Social Care Services

6.4 This should take place as early as possible after the Conference and should involve the Children’s Social Care Services team manager as chair, the social worker, the referring agency, the YJS (depending on age of the child), the school (including sibling’s schools), health agencies as appropriate, the social worker co-ordinating work with the victim, the parent/carers and the child (subject to age and level of understanding).

6.5 The multi-agency meeting will develop the overall plan for the child including:

  • A written risk management plan in relation to any child identified as at potential risk; including educational and accommodation arrangements;
  • Any future assessment, if required; and
  • How the services to be provided will be coordinated.
  • How work will be completed with the young person and their family to reduce the risk.

The meeting should identify the Lead Professional and review process with clear timescales.

6.6  Where there are no grounds for a Child Protection Conference, but concerns remain regarding the child’s HSB, s/he will be considered as a Child in Need. In such cases, a multi-agency meeting should be convened to consider the risk management as in Paragraph 6.5.

6.7  The decision to end the involvement of any specialist services should be made on a multi-agency basis. Factors to consider in reaching this decision include:

  • The level of risk posed by the child to him or herself and others;
  • If the intended outcomes of the intervention have been achieved (risk reduction work);
  • The capacity of the parents or care givers to respond appropriately to the child’s needs;
  • The need for provision of ongoing support to the child/family.

7. Outcomes of Assessment/Section 47 Enquiries – The Victim Child

7.1  Where a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a child experiencing HSB concludes that the child may still be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened to assess the risks and consider the need to safeguard the child through a Child Protection Plan.

7.2  In all cases, the child/children may require services to support them through interviews in line with Achieving Best Evidence Guidance and through any court actions that may follow. The assessments undertaken may determine that there is a need for support services, such as counselling services whether the child is in need of safeguarding or a child in need. The child’s social worker should keep up to date with developments by communicating with the social worker for the child displaying HSB to ensure that the child victim remains safeguarded.

8. Criminal Proceedings

8.1  When the child displaying HSB is over 10, the Police will consult other agencies including the Crown Prosecution Service to decide the most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system.

8.2  Where there are safeguarding concerns displayed by young people being investigated for HSB, Children’s Services should be alerted by the Police. Should the case receive No Further Action (NFA) Children’s Services should be alerted with details as to why the case was not progressed. An NFA does not indicate that Children’s Services should close the case without assessment as this outcome may be due to lack of evidence (for example) rather than an absence of HSB.

8.3  In cases where criminal proceedings are taken against a young person who has displayed HSB, the YJS should be added to the list of possible attendees at any meetings. Both the compilation of the YJS Asset Plus (including an AIM assessment) and the preparation of an Assessment will be facilitated through this.

8.4 When a case is going through the Youth Court or the Crown Court, the YJS will provide information for the Assessment processes. This may include plea, bail conditions and variations between adjournments.

8.5 On conviction the YJS will work with the young person on their HSB and support their parents/carers. The YJS should be part of any child protection or child in need meetings to plan for the young person’s future including reunification with the family if appropriate following assessment.