5.1 Abuse by Children and Young People who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour
In March 2014 Section 4, Referral and Assessment, was revised to include reference to the MASH. Section 5, Strategy Discussion was extensively revised and should be re-read in full.
1.1 Children, particularly living away from home, are also vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers or siblings. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm from an adverse source.
1.2 A significant proportion of sex offences are committed by teenagers and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abusive, and between appropriate and exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as “normal” between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.
1.3 Children and young people who abuse others including their siblings should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, while being identified and responded to in a way that meets their needs as well as protecting others.
2.1 Three key principles should underpin all work with children who abuse others:
- There should be a coordinated approach between the agencies within Norfolk;
- The needs of the children and young people should be considered separately from the needs of their victims;
- An assessment should be carried out, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour, special educational needs and disabilities.
3.1 Sexually harmful behaviour is the term used to describe children or young people who sexually abuse other children, young people or adults. The sexual abuse perpetrated by children can be just as harmful as that perpetrated by an adult, so it is important to remember the impact on the victim of the abuse as well as to focus on the treatment of the child or young person exhibiting the sexually harmful behaviour.
3.2 Abusive/inappropriate behaviour is often characterised by a lack of true consent, the presence of a power imbalance and exploitation.
3.3 The boundary between what is abusive and what is part of normal childhood or youthful experimentation can be blurred. The ability of professionals to determine whether a child’s sexual behaviour is developmental, inappropriate or abusive will depend upon the related concepts of true consent, power imbalance and exploitation. This may include children who exhibit a range of sexually problematic behaviour such as indecent exposure, obscene telephone calls, fetishism, bestiality and sexual abuse against adults or children and downloading indecent images of children from the internet.
3.4 Developmental sexual activity encompasses those actions, which are to be expected from children as they move from infancy through to adulthood, developing an understanding of their physical, emotional and behavioural relationships with each other. Such sexual activity is essentially information gathering and experimentation characterised by mutuality and consent.
3.5 Sexual behaviour can be inappropriate socially, inappropriate to development or both. It is important to consider what negative effects the behaviour has on any of the parties involved and what concerns it raises about a child. It should be recognised that the behaviour may be motivated by information seeking but may cause significant upset, confusion physical damage etc. It may also be that the behaviour is acting out which may derive from other sexual situations which the child has been exposed to.
3.6 Abusive sexual activity is characterised by behaviour involving coercion, threats, aggression together with secrecy or where one participant relies on an unequal power base.
In relation to physical and emotional abuse by children and young people, see Bullying Procedure.
4.1 Anyone who has a concern that a child might have been abused by another child should refer their concerns to MASH (0344 800 820) in accordance with the with the NSCB1 and Referrals Procedure. Allegations of peer abuse 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.
4.2 Where relevant Assessments will be undertaken in relation to the alleged abuser in conjunction with the Youth Offending Team (YOT). (NB the YOT will undertake assessments for young people who have been referred for an out of court disposal or have pleaded guilty to an offence).
4.3 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 abusive 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.
4.4 It should be recognised that disclosure of sexually inappropriate behaviour or abusive behaviour 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.
4.5 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 alleged abusing child’s needs. Each child should be referred to the Children’s Social Care Services Team responsible for their home address.
4.6 Children with sexually abusive behaviour who are returning to the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation also require consideration through this procedure.
5.1 Children’s Social Care Services and the Police will convene a Strategy Discussion in relation to the alleged abusing child 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 the child victim/alleged abuser from further harm.
5.2 Where Strategy Discussions are required for both the child who is the alleged abuser and the child who is the victim, consideration should be given to the need to hold separate Strategy Discussions. Usually, the first strategy discussion will consider all of the children involved (alleged victim and abuser and any other family member e.g. siblings) Further strategy discussions may be in relation to individual children.
5.3 All strategy meetings will take into account confidentiality and information will only be provided on a need to know basis, in order to ensure information is only provided to those who need to be aware in order to take actions to protect the children from harm/further harm.
5.4 Where a Strategy Discussion relates to an alleged abusing child who is over the age of 10, a representative from the Youth Offending Team must be invited to participate in the strategy discussion by the MASH Decision Maker (if child is not active to a Social Care operational team), or the Decision Maker of the relevant active team.
5.5 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.
5.6 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.
5.7 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.
5.8 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.
5.9 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).
6.1 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.
6.2 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.
6.3 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 7.2) 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.
7.1 If the information gathered in the course of the Section 47 Enquiry suggests that the child who is suspected or alleged to have sexually abused is also a victim, or potential victim, of abuse including neglect, a Child Protection Conference must be convened. A representative from the YOT team 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 inappropriate behaviour, the potential risks the child poses to others as well as the concerns which resulted in the need for a Child Protection Plan.
7.2 Where the Child Protection Conference concludes that the child who is suspected or alleged to have sexually abused 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.
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 YOT (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).
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.
The meeting should identify the Lead Professional and review process with clear timescales.
7.3 Where there are no grounds for a Child Protection Conference, but concerns remain regarding the child’s sexually problematic behaviour, 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 7.2.
7.4 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;
- 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.
8.1 Where a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a victim child 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.
8.2 In all cases, the child/ren 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 alleged abusing child to ensure that the child victim remains safeguarded.
9.1 When the alleged abusing child 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.
9.2 In cases where criminal proceedings are taken against an alleged abusing child, the YOT should be added to the list of possible attendees at any meetings. Both the compilation of the YOT “ASSET” Profile including an AIM assessment and the preparation of an Assessment will be facilitated through this.
9.3 When a case is going through the Youth Court or the Crown Court, the YOT will provide information for the Assessment processes. This may include plea, bail conditions and variations between adjournments.
9.4 On conviction the YOT will work with the young person on their sexually abusive behaviour and support their parents/carers. The YOT 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.