1.4.27 Harmful Sexual Behaviour

1. Introduction

It is estimated that two-thirds of sexual offences against children are committed by their peers (Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, 2018). It is important therefore that practitioners do not dismiss harmful sexual behaviour as a part of "normal' sexual development.

Children who display harmful sexual behaviour should be identified at the earliest opportunity and their behaviour addressed in order to both meet their needs and to protect other children.

Children who display harmful sexual behaviour are often emotionally and socially immature and should not therefore be treated in the same way as adults. Children and young people are still developing their sexual feelings and understanding, and some young people engaging in this type of behaviour will have complex and additional needs (e.g. learning difficulties or ASD). Early intervention can assist development of healthy sexual behaviours and help young people channel their thoughts and feelings in ways that are not harmful to others.

Considerable diversity exists among children who have harmful sexual behaviours. This diversity applies to their own backgrounds and experiences, the motivations for and the meanings of their behaviours and needs.

It is not inevitable or highly likely that young people with sexual harmful behaviours will go on to perpetrate sexual abuse in adulthood. A number of factors indicate a higher risk and for this reason it is preferable that appropriate assessments are carried out on children to target resources at those most likely to present the highest risk. Strength and skills based interventions alongside cognitive behavioural interventions are considered effective alongside increasing resilience factors and reducing negative factors in a child/young person's life.

It is important to remember that children who display harmful sexual behaviours may themselves have considerable unmet needs. For some the manifestation of harmful sexual behaviours may be as a direct result of suffering abuse and/or trauma themselves. Many children who display HSB may be considered children in need or require protection

The Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted) identified that most children would not report incidents (for a variety of reasons) and many educational establishments were 'unaware' of the significant level of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE) reflects that all staff working with children are advised to maintain an attitude of 'it could happen here' and that it can occur between two children of any age and sex, from primary through to secondary stage and into colleges. A friend may make a report or a member of school or college staff may overhear a conversation that suggests a child has been harmed or a child's own behaviour might indicate that something is wrong and these should be acted upon.

2. Definition

A wide range of terms are used to describe children who present with problems linked to their sexual behaviour. Terms include 'juvenile sex offender', 'young abuser' and 'adolescent perpetrator'. The misuse of imprecise and vague terminology can lead to misclassifying children, or labelling them inappropriately. A shared and meaningful range of terms is important to enable clear communication between practitioners, and to allow accurate assessment of children and their behaviours.

Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) can be defined as:

"Sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years old that are developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards self or others, or be abusive towards another child, young person or adult." (Hackett, 2014).

Practitioners must be aware of the legitimate concerns about the inappropriateness of placing labels upon children, given their developmental status, for example, referring to a child or young person as a 'young sex offender' or 'young abuser' is not appropriate. The use of the term 'a child who displays harmful sexual behaviour' is more appropriate and accurate, as it emphasises the child's developmental status first and foremost whilst acknowledging the behaviours that require attention.

The Working Together to Safeguard Children definition of sexual abuse is also helpful as it identifies specific behaviours both off line and online that can be displayed not only by adults but also children:

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example rape or oral sex) or non- penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non- contact activities such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behaviour in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Just as children develop physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally they also develop sexually; a sound understanding of what constitutes 'normal' sexual development is vital in order to understand what is inappropriate or harmful and to ensure that children are not made to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by displaying normal, age appropriate, sexual behaviours. Assessment tools (check with your agency or local area HSB lead if there is a preferred assessment tool)are helpful in developing and checking professional understanding in this regard. Equally, appropriate assessment of where behaviours falls on the continuum of HSB is vital in ensuring children are supervised and offered interventions which are commensurate to the behaviour displayed.

It is widely accepted that HSB sits on a continuum – with behaviours ranging from healthy and developmentally appropriate, to problematic and harmful/abusive. It is therefore helpful to distinguish between problematic and harmful / abusive in the following way:



Developmentally and socially accepted behaviours which are mutual and reciprocal.


Single instances of behaviour which may be socially acceptable within a child's peer group, generally consensual behaviour.


Problematic sexual behaviours do not include overt victimisation of others but are developmentally disruptive and can cause distress, rejection or increase victimisation of the child displaying the behaviour. They may be socially unexpected, developmentally unusual, and impulsive.


Harmful/abusive behaviours involve an element of coercion or manipulation and a power imbalance that means the victim cannot give informed consent and the behaviour has potential to cause physical or emotional harm. The power imbalance may be due to age, intellectual ability, race or physical strength. Harmful sexual behaviour may or may not result in a criminal conviction or prosecution. Such behaviours are more commonly associated with young people over the age of criminal responsibility (10 years).

As both problematic and harmful / abusive sexual behaviours are developmentally inappropriate and may cause developmental damage, it is suggested that they both sit under the umbrella term of harmful sexual behaviours.

It is vital that practitioners are able to understand and assess that HSB sits on a continuum from those behaviours that are developmentally and socially accepted to those that are violent/abusive. Most healthy / developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour can be characterised by:

  • Mutuality (children of a similar developmental and chronological age);
  • Absence of coercion in any form (bullying, emotional blackmail, fear of the consequences);
  • Absence of emotional distress;
  • Absence of power differentials ( size, strength, status, gender).

See Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework, NSPCC.

Both problematic and harmful sexual behaviours may involve aspects of physical and / or emotional abuse. Such factors require consideration within the wider context of bullying and for older young people, domestic abuse.

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) also refers to child-on-child sexual harm and highlights two distinct types of behaviour: namely sexual violence and sexual harassment.

KCSIE defines sexual harassment to be: Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that can occur online and offline and both inside and outside of school/college. When we reference sexual harassment, we do so in the context of child on child sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is likely to: violate a child's dignity, and/or make them feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and/or create a hostile, offensive or sexualised environment.

Behaviours can include:

  • Sexual comments: such as; telling sexual stories, making lewd comments, making sexual remarks about clothes and appearance and calling someone sexualised names;
  • Physical behaviour: such as: such as grabbing bottoms, breasts and genitalia and flicking bras and lifting up skirts; deliberately brushing against someone, interfering with someone's clothes (schools and colleges should be considering when any of this crosses a line into sexual violence)and displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature;
  • Online sexual harassment: This may be standalone, or part of a wider pattern of sexual harassment and/or sexual violence. And could include those listed. Online sexual harassment also may include:
    • Non-consensual sharing of sexual images and videos;
    • Sexualised online bullying;
    • Unwanted sexual comments and messages, including, on social media;
    • Sexual exploitation, coercion, threats;
    • Upskirting.

Sexual violence refers to a number of behaviours which are defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003

  • Rape: A person (A) commits an offence of rape if: he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis, B does not consent to the penetration and A does not reasonably believe that B another person (B), the touching is sexual, B does not consent to the touching and A does not reasonably believe that B consents;
  • Assault by Penetration: A person (A) commits an offence if: s/he intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person (B) with a part of her/his body or anything else, the penetration is sexual, B does not consent to the penetration and A does not reasonably believe that B consents;
  • Sexual Assault: A person (A) commits an offence of sexual assault if: s/he intentionally touches another person (B) the touching is sexual, B does not consent to the touching and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

Causing someone to engage in sexual activity without consent: A person (A) commits an offence if: s/he intentionally causes another person (B) to engage in an activity, the activity is sexual, B does not consent to engaging in the activity, and A does not reasonably believe that B consents (This could include forcing someone to strip, touch themselves sexually, or to engage in sexual activity with a third party).

Harmful Sexual Behaviour and Sexual Exploitation

Research suggests there is an overlap between HSB and child sexual exploitation. Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is defined by the Department for Education as 'a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity Statistics briefing appears consensual, Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology' (DfE, 2017).

Harmful sexual behaviour could be deemed to be CSE if there is an imbalance of power between the children involved, and if there is an element of exchange involved in the harmful sexual activities between them (Hackett, Branigan and Holmes, 2019).

Research shows some cross-over between child sexual exploitation and harmful sexual behaviour. Hackett and Smith (2018) explored 14 cases known to a CSE team over a 24-month period where an alleged instigator was under the age of 18 at the point of their harmful or exploitative sexual behaviours. Typically, the children were involved in multiple and in some cases escalating harmful sexual behaviours. HSB towards teenage peers was preceded in only three cases by sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children. Twelve of the young people had long-standing nonsexual offending histories including theft, burglary, criminal damage and general antisocial behaviours. For all the young people HSB appeared to be more directed towards peers as part of a broader catalogue of deviance and non-sexual offending.

The researchers concluded that, "it has been difficult to separate the young people's behaviours meaningfully and neatly into categories of CSE and HSB. While all fit the widely used definition of HSB, the extent to which they are accompanied by overt elements of exchange (as would fit the definition of CSE) is much less clear in many cases ... This perhaps reflects the present inadequacy of using distinct sets of language and concepts (CSE and HSB) and service frameworks to respond to the problem of transgressive sexual behaviour in adolescence." (Source: Hackett and Smith, 2018).

See Statistics Briefing: Harmful Sexual Behaviour and Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework, NSPCC.

Technology Assisted Harmful Sexual Behaviour (TA-HSB)

The link between on-line behaviour and harmful sexual behaviour may also be a cause for concern. Technology-assisted harmful sexual behaviour (TA-HSB) can range from developmentally inappropriate use of pornography (and exposing other children to this), through to grooming and sexual harassment online. On-line behaviour may be a trigger for offline harmful sexual behaviour and the long-term effect of exposure to pornography can affect the ability to build healthy sexual relationships (see NSPCC Research and Resources for further information).

These procedures will apply when a child or young person has downloaded, distributed or produced sexual images which involve a criminal or abusive element beyond the creation, sending or possession of these images themselves, without adult involvement (where there has been adult involvement, separate procedures apply).

Youth produced sexual imagery is a term used when a person shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others. Sexting refers to the sending of sexually explicit messages. They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, and laptops - any device that allows you to share media and messages.

Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A child is breaking the law if they:

  • Take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend;
  • Share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it's shared between children of the same age;
  • Possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.

However, if a child is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action is not in the public interest.

See also: Typology of Sexting.

An Ofsted thematic review (Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted)) detailed concerns around sexual child-on-child abuse. This abuse includes those identified within KCSIE (see above).

See A continuum of children and young people's sexual behaviours (Hackett, S (2010)).

  • Sexual violence, such as rape, assault by penetration and sexual assault;
  • Sexual harassment, such as sexual comments, remarks, jokes and online sexual harassment, which may be stand-alone or part of a broader pattern of abuse;
  • Upskirting, which typically involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or to cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm;
  • Sexting (also known as 'youth-produced sexual imagery').


Children and young people who deny an allegation of sexually harmful behaviour do so for a multitude of reasons, some of which are:

  • They are innocent;
  • It is a normal response to a challenge, specifically if it relates to something that is wrong and socially unacceptable, so it is used as a coping mechanism as they fear the reaction of others;
  • They are being advised by a solicitor to not discuss the allegation or minimise their involvement due to lack of evidence within police interviews or court proceedings.

Clinicians had previously noted the existence of denial as a risk factor and often professionals deemed the young person's risk to be higher because denial is present.

However, research has found that denial and minimisation have 'no' relationship with sexual recidivism (Worling 2002 quoted by Hackett 2004). Children and young people who deny their involvement in sexual offences even following conviction use denial as a coping mechanism. Denial or other types of coping mechanisms such as justification, minimising, or blaming others etc. is used as a means to protect themselves. These are normal responses especially in children when they have done something wrong. Given the serious nature of the behaviour it is completely understandable that these coping mechanisms will be present. Practitioners should aim to assess the function of the denial for the child as well as consider what barriers to disclosure the child might be facing.

3. Key Principles

The following key principles should underpin all work with children who display problematic or harmful sexual behaviour:

  • There should be a coordinated response between the agencies within the West Yorkshire Consortium area;
  • Incidents of harmful sexual behaviour should be dealt with under Safeguarding and Child Protection procedures which recognise the both the safeguarding children and potentially criminal element to the behaviour;
  • Practitioners should consider the needs of the children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour separately from the needs of their victims;
  • An assessment should be carried out in each case of problematic / harmful sexual behaviour, appreciating that children who display problematic / harmful sexual behaviour may have unmet developmental needs themselves and may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to Physical Abuse or Sexual Abuse, have problems in their educational development and may have committed other offences. Such children / young people are likely therefore to be Children in Need; some will / may have suffered Significant Harm and be in need of protection themselves. Children who display problematic / harmful sexual behaviour should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour while being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others;
  • Early and effective, intervention with children and young people who display problematic or harmful sexual behaviour can play an important part in protecting children, by preventing the continuation or escalation of abusive behaviour.

4. Risk Factors for Young People who Display Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Research evidences (Hackett 2001) that young people who commit sexual offences are not a homogenous group and this form of behaviour indicates a level of complexity from an emotional, cognitive and behavioural perspective. There is no one single factor or experience which leads to the development of sexually harmful behaviour in a young person. Indeed, it is common for a combination of factors which contributes to the development of the behaviour for example:

  • Personal abuse history (all categories of abuse including exposure to domestic violence);
  • Exposure to sexual themes/confused family sexual script;
  • Previous victimisation;
  • Attachment difficulties/deficits;
  • Family dynamics including being given too much responsibility;
  • Deficits in social skills and low self- esteem;
  • Lack of sexual knowledge;
  • Socialisation difficulties.

Evidence suggests that children who display sexually harmful behaviour towards others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subjected to abuse, have problems with their educational and/or social development and may have committed other offences.

HSB and Pre-adolescent children

While the behaviour of some pre-adolescent children may be 'problematic’, it is intentionally abusive in only a small number of cases. In these cases, children are likely to have experienced considerable maltreatment from early in their childhoods. Many pre-adolescent children displaying HSB have been sexually abused or exposed to developmentally inappropriate sexual experiences, such as seeing pornography. They may be 'acting out’ such experiences as a way of communicating what has happened to them. However, such behaviour can also be an indirect response to other factors in a child’s life, including other forms of trauma and neglect.

HSB and Adolescents

The vast majority of adolescents who display HSB are male, even taking into account the likelihood that abuse by girls is under-reported. The early teens are the peak time for the occurrence of HSB. In some cases it is an isolated incident, or is at the problematic rather than the intentionally abusive end of the continuum.

Most sexually abusive acts are perpetrated by young people who have other major difficulties in their lives such as prior experience of physical or sexual abuse or neglect, witnessing domestic violence, a lack of positive male role models, or having parents with mental health or substance abuse issues. Like other teenagers who get into trouble, they are likely to have low self-esteem, poor social skills and difficulties with anger, depression and peer relationships.

HSB may be directed towards younger children, adult women or peers. Compared with those whose HSB targets younger children, adolescents who sexually offend against their peers tend to show higher levels of general delinquency and antisocial behaviours. Some child-on-child abuse takes place in the context of gangs, where the perpetration of sexual violence can be coerced or become normalised.

Most victims of sexual abuse do not go on to abuse others. Although people who commit sexual offences against children are more likely than other offenders or non-offenders to have been victims of child sexual abuse, it is a history of child maltreatment – rather than sexual abuse specifically – that is most strongly associated with later sexual offending.

HSB and Children with a Learning Disability

Children and young people with learning disabilities are more vulnerable both to sexual abuse and to displaying problematic sexual behaviour: in one large UK study, 38% of those referred to specialist services because of HSB were assessed as having a learning disability. Such individuals may:

  • Have less understanding that some sexual behaviours are not acceptable;
  • Receive less sex and relationship education than other young people;
  • Have fewer opportunities to establish acceptable sexual relationships;
  • Struggle with social skills generally;
  • Relate more easily to children younger than themselves.

HSB and Girls

Most research regarding HSB is based on male samples, so less is known about HSB in girls and young women. However, research suggests that girls with harmful sexual behaviours have experienced higher levels of sexual victimisation (including intra-familial sexual abuse, other forms of abuse and frequent exposure to family violence) than boys. In common with their male counterparts, young women who display HSB are often reported to have difficulties in school and to have relatively high levels of learning difficulties. HSB tends to be identified at a younger age in girls than in boys, and tends to involve younger victims; it is less likely to involve penetration or coercion. Girls are less likely to be charged with an offence, in part because they and their victims tend to be younger.

HSB and Gangs

Over the past few years, research into serious youth violence has increasingly identified HSB within street gangs in the UK (e.g. Beckett et al, 2013; Firmin, 2011). In this context, sexually violent and abusive behaviours manifest in a range of ways including:

  • Intra-gang exploitation where sex is exchanged for status, belonging, drugs and protection;
  • Intra-gang violence where rape and sexual assault are used to control and humiliate, ensuring gang members adhere to the codes of the group, and that disloyalty is punished. Examples have also been found where predominantly boys and young men are required to sexually assault a young woman as part of an initiation process – as a means of demonstrating group loyalty;
  • Inter-gang violence where rape and sexual assault are used to punish rivals, sometimes through attacks on the female siblings and girlfriends of gang members (for a full list of models see Beckett et al, 2013).

Professionals should be aware of these links and where appropriate ensure that any responses to gang activity make relevant referrals to services for young people displaying HSB. Without this collaborative approach "local services risk developing criminal justice responses to young people who harm in gangs, as opposed to therapeutic responses for those who need them." (NSPCC 2016)

5. Referral

Incidents of harmful sexual behaviour may come to light either through discovery or disclosure. The details provided should be accurately recorded by the person receiving the initial account. It is essential that victims are reassured that all allegations will be taken seriously, and that they will be safeguarded.

The details of the disclosure should be passed to the relevant Children's Social Care Services. If the young person displaying the harmful sexual behaviour is over the age of 10 and the behaviour is at the abusive or harmful end of Hackett's continuum then the police should also be informed.

Allegations of peer harmful sexual behaviour 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, decide whether to commence a Single Assessment and whether it is necessary to hold a Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiry.

Separate enquiries and investigations will be pursued in respect of both the victim and the child/young person alleged to have displayed problematic or harmful sexual behaviour Consideration should always be given to the need for separate social workers to be allocated to the victim and to the child / young person who has displayed harmful sexual behaviour, 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.

It should be recognised that disclosure of problematic or harmful sexual behaviour can be extremely distressing for parents and carers. The child / young person and their family should always be advised of their right to seek legal advice and be supported through the process. It is important to highlight that children’s disclosures can change over time and may occur over a long period of time.

The police, when made aware of a case involving the allegation of a child/young person displaying problematic or harmful sexual behaviour, will always consult with Children's Social Care Services to ensure that there is an assessment of the victim's needs and that in all cases, there is an assessment of the child / young person alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour. Each child should be referred to the Children's Social Care Services area covering their home address.

Note Schools should follow the statutory guidance: Keeping Children Safe in Education.

6. Strategy Discussion

Children's Social Care Services and the Police will convene a Strategy Discussion or Meeting in relation to the to the child/young person alleged to have displayed problematic/harmful sexual behaviour and / or the child victim where there is reasonable cause to suspect that either child has suffered or likely to suffer Significant Harm, for example because of concerns about the parents' ability to protect the child / young person victim from further harmful sexual behaviour.

Children with problematic or harmful sexual behaviour who are returning to the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation also require consideration through these procedures. It is advised that a Strategy Discussion should be held to consider the:

  • Issues of child and public protection, including a clear understanding and description of any alleged incident;
  • An assessment of the child/young person's needs, and the need for further specialist assessment;
  • The roles and responsibilities of child welfare and criminal justice agencies;
  • Any on-going risk assessment / safety planning for all of the young people involved.

It is important that all relevant partners, including education providers and the Youth Offending Team (where appropriate according to the age of the children) are invited to the Strategy Meeting to ensure that full information is shared and robust plans can be made.

Additionally, a plan should be devised in order to support the child/young person to re-establish community links and attendance at their school/ education provider or employment. A Risk Management Meeting should also be held to address immediate accommodation and education issues and agree how risks will be managed.

In some instances young people who have displayed HSB will be subject to multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). The criteria for MAPPA is outlined below:

  • Category 1: Registered sexual offenders;
  • Category 2: Violent and other sex offenders (violent = 12 month or more sentence of imprisonment for violent offence, other sex offenders and those not required to register, convicted before relevant law introduced or who have come off the register);
  • Other persons of concern: who need a multi-agency approach to manage but do not fall within either Category 1 or 2.

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements will identify 3 levels at which risk is assessed and managed:

  • Level 1: risk management by a single agency and considered as low risk of causing serious harm (in the previous protocol level '1' related to Police/Probation intervention);
  • Level 2: local management by more than one agency using local resources;
  • Cases that are jointly managed by Police and Probation are now considered as level 2;
  • Level 3: Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels (the 'critical few' imminently very high risk offenders).

For more information, please see the MAPPA Guidance.

See also Risks Posed by People with Convictions Against Children.

Where Strategy Discussions are required for both the child who is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour and the child who has been harmed, these should be held separately.

Care must be taken to ensure that the appropriate practitioners attend the right meeting in order to provide confidentiality for the children involved. For example, school representatives should only attend the meeting involving the pupil at their school. The police officer and social workers who are conducting the enquiries should participate in both sets of Strategy Discussions.

Where a Strategy Discussion relates to a child who has allegedly displayed harmful sexual behaviour who is over the age of 10, a representative from the Youth Offending Team must attend.

Where relevant, a representative from any specialist HSB support services in place within the local area should be invited to attend the Strategy Discussion.

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 child who has been harmed is gathered;
  • Any criminal aspects of the alleged harmful sexual behaviour are investigated;
  • Any information relevant to any abusive experiences and protection needs of the child who is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour, 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.

Where there is suspicion that the child who is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour is also a victim of abuse, the Strategy Discussion must decide the order in which interviews with the child will take place.

Investigating Allegations

When a child is aged 10 or over and is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour, the first interview must be undertaken by the Police under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

If a child is to be interviewed as a victim of or witness to alleged HSB 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.

In all cases, the 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/young person is in need of safeguarding or a child/young person in need. The child/young person's Lead Practitioner / social worker should keep up to date with developments by communicating with the social worker for the child / young person allege to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour to ensure that the child victim remains safeguarded.

In complex situations where there are a number of victims and possible perpetrators, the Strategy Discussion should appoint a Strategic Management Group to co-ordinate the overall investigation. (See Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure).

7. Section 47 Enquiries and Assessment – child/young person displaying problematic/harmful sexual behaviour

If, from information gathered during the Single Assessment, it appears that the child alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour or the child harmed is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Section 47 Enquiry process will be followed.

In these circumstances, relevant considerations include:

  • The nature and extent of the HSB and the impact on the victim(s);
  • The context of the HSB;
  • The age of the children involved;
  • The nature of the relationship between the children involved;
  • The child's development, and family and social circumstances;
  • Whether the 'instigator' acknowledges the alleged behaviour;
  • If the child denies the behaviour consider the function of the denial for the child and what barriers there may be to disclosure;
  • Whether there are grounds to suspect that the 'instigator' child has been abused (all abuse categories are relevant) or that adults have been involved in the development of the harmful sexual behaviour;
  • An assessment of both children's needs for services. The assessment should cover the following: the risks the child alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour poses to themselves and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network. During the assessment, children/young people should be helped to continue their school attendance/education; and
  • Which interventions best meet the needs of the child/young person and family.

If during the course of the Single Assessment there are concerns about any risks to other children posed by the child alleged to exhibit harmful sexual behaviour, a multi-agency risk meeting should be convened straight away. The meeting should:

  • Develop a written risk management plan in relation to any child identified as at potential risk; including educational and accommodation arrangements for both the child who is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviours and the potential victim(s);
  • Agree appropriate arrangements for the continuation of the assessment and the need for any specialist assessment; and
  • Agree how the services to be provided will be coordinated.
The meeting should identify the Lead Practitioner and review process with clear timescales.

8. Outcomes of Section 47 Enquiries

If the information gathered in the course of the Section 47 Enquiry suggests that the child who is suspected or alleged to have harmed sexually is also a victim, or potential victim, of abuse including neglect, a Child Protection Conference must be convened. A representative from the YJS team (if the child is over 10 years) and a representative from any specialist HSB services (if available) and/or the lead worker for HSB (if available) should be invited to the Initial Child Protection Conference.

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 problematic or harmful sexual behaviour, the potential risks the child / young person poses to others as well as the concerns which resulted in the need for a Child Protection Plan.

Where the Child Protection Conference concludes that the child who is suspected or alleged to have sexually harmed does not require a Child Protection Plan, consideration should be given to the need for services to address any problematic / harmful behaviour and the multi-agency responsibility to manage any risks. In these circumstances, depending on the seriousness of the alleged behaviour and the child's needs and circumstances, it may be appropriate to provide services as a Child in Need, or under Early Help / Early Intervention.

A planning meeting should be held 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 school, health agencies as appropriate, a representative from any specialist HSB services in the area, the social worker co-ordinating work with the victim, the parent/carers and the child (subject to age and level of understanding).

The multi-agency planning meeting will develop the overall plan for the child / young person including:

  • A written risk management plan in relation to any child / young person 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.

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

Where the Strategy Discussion concludes there are no grounds for a Child Protection Conference, but concerns remain regarding the child's sexually problematic / harmful behaviour, they will be considered as a Child in Need. In such cases, a multi-agency meeting should be convened to consider the risk management as outlined above.

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 / young person to themselves and others;
  • Level of the child’s vulnerability;
  • If the intended outcomes of the intervention have been achieved;
  • The capacity of the parents or care givers to respond appropriately to the child / young person's needs;
  • The need for provision of ongoing support to the child / young person and their family.

9. Outcomes of Assessment/Section 47 Enquiries - The Child Victim

Where a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a victim child concludes that the child young person is 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.

10. Criminal Proceedings

When the child/young person alleged of displaying harmful sexual behaviour is over 10, the police will consult other agencies including the YJS and Crown Prosecution Service to decide the most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system.

In cases where criminal proceedings are taken against a young person who is alleged to have displayed harmful sexual behaviour, the YJS should be added to the list of possible attendees at any meetings. Both the compilation of the YJS Asset Plus Assessment and the preparation of a Single Assessment will be facilitated through this.

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

On conviction the YJS will work with the young person on their harmful sexual behaviour 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.