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Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards' Procedures Manual

Children who Present a Risk of Harm to Others


This chapter outlines the main principles of working with children and young people who harm or present a risk of harm to another child or an adult, and possible outcomes, including referral to Children's Social Care, and their response, in such cases.


Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure


Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges (DfE)

Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE)


In January 2018 this guidance was reviewed throughout to ensure it continues to reflect best practice in working with children who present a risk of harm to others.


  1. Introduction
  2. Principles
  3. Recognition and Referral
  4. Children's Social Care Response
  5. Sexual Abuse
  6. Adult Victim
  7. Transition of Young People, who are seen to pose Sexual Risk to others, to Adult Services

1. Introduction

Children are vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult, and should be subject to the same safeguarding children procedures.

This procedure applies when there is an allegation or suspicion that a child has abused or is at risk of abusing another child or adult, including both those:

  • Within their household (for example sibling abuse); and
  • Outside of the child's immediate household.

Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable and practitioners should be vigilant to the risks of bullying and other types of abuse perpetrated by children (sexual abuse is usually perpetrated by a person, possibly another child, who is known to the victim).

Action must be taken in all cases to ensure that the needs and safety of all children are addressed. It is of the utmost importance that where a child who is responsible for abuse and/or bullying remains in the same setting as a child who has been the victim, a robust plan is put in place to ensure the welfare of both children is adequately safeguarded. (See Children Living Away From Home Procedure).

Children who abuse others, including those who sexually abuse/offend, are likely to have considerable needs themselves. They may also pose a risk of Significant Harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children, including those under the age of 10, who abuse others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, and may have committed other offences.

Such children themselves are likely to be children In Need, and some will also be suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, and may be in need of protection.

Children who abuse others should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others. Practitioners may need to seek advice about sharing information with practitioners in other agencies, so that they ensure suitable awareness exists about the risk a child may pose to other children in that setting (such as school or hospital).

2. Principles

Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:

  1. There should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of the Youth Offending Service, Children's Social Care, Police, education (including educational psychology), health (including child and adolescent mental health) agencies and the voluntary sector;
  2. The needs of children who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims; and
  3. An assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.
Neither child welfare nor criminal justice agencies should embark upon a course of action that has implications for the other without appropriate consultation.

3. Recognition and Referral

Practitioners identifying concerns about a child whose behaviour is inappropriate and may be abusive should consider the following factors, if known:

  • The nature, extent and context of the behaviour, including online abuse;
  • The child's development, capacity to understand and make decisions (and anything that might have had an impact on this i.e. coercion) and family and social circumstances;
  • Relative chronological and developmental age of the two children (the greater the difference the more likely the behaviour should be defined as abusive);
  • A differential in power or authority (for example related to race or physical or intellectual vulnerability of the victim);
  • Actual behaviour (both physical and verbal factors must be considered);
  • Whether the behaviour could be described as age appropriate or involves inappropriate sexual knowledge or motivation;
  • Physical aggression, bullying or bribery;
  • The victim's experience and perception of the behaviour;
  • Attempts to ensure secrecy;
  • Duration and frequency of behaviour;
  • The risks to self and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network.

See also Section 5, Sexual Abuse.

Consideration should be made to the level of needs, complexity and seriousness of the child's behaviour and the most appropriate response to these. See the Derby City and Derbyshire Thresholds Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents).

Where there are emerging needs an Early Help Assessment should be commenced to identify needs and strengths and co-ordinate appropriate support and interventions. See Providing Early help Procedure.

If needs are believed to be complex/ serious or where there are child protection concerns, a referral must be made to Children's Social Care (see Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure. Children with sexually harmful behaviour should be referred to Children's Social Care; this would include any online abuse; see Section 5, Sexual Abuse and E-Safety and Internet Abuse Procedure.

4. Children's Social Care Response

On receipt of a referral, Children's Social Care should identify whether a Strategy Discussion/Meeting must take place between Children's Social Care, the Police, Health and other agencies to share the information and determine whether the threshold for a Section 47 Enquiry has been reached (see Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure and Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure). NB In these cases it is expected that a strategy meeting is held rather than a discussion.

A separate Social Worker should be allocated, wherever possible, for the victim and the abuser, especially when they live in the same household, to ensure that both are supported through the process of the enquiry and that both their needs are fully assessed.

In all cases involving abuse by children a single multi-agency strategy meeting should be held within 5 days to define the plan for the assessment, any criminal investigations and treatment of any alleged perpetrator as well as and separate to support for the abused child.

NB: In Derby the meetings will be convened and chaired by the Child Protection Manager; in Derbyshire they will be convened and chaired by the Service Manager (Children's Social Care).

Within the Single Assessment, the assessment of the child's needs should consider:

  • An assessment of the change in the behaviour over time (whether it has become more severe or more frequent);
  • An assessment of the child's needs and risks, including the impact of any abuse they may have experienced themselves;
  • An assessment of the family, including the capacity to protect and understand the nature of the risk, and contact with any individuals who may pose a risk of harm to others;
  • Need for services, specifically focusing on the child's harmful behaviour as well as other significant needs such as suitable therapeutic, educational and accommodation arrangements;
  • Whether the opportunity to further abuse is ended;
  • Whether the child has acknowledged the abusive behaviour and accepted responsibility;
  • Whether there is agreement by the child who presents a risk of harm to others and his/her family to work with relevant agencies to address the problem; and
  • Specific assessment of the needs of younger children under 10.

All agencies attending the strategy meeting should bring information in writing, if this is possible, outlining their concerns and their assessment of the risk presented by the child. The decisions, plans and actions agreed at the meeting should be recorded on the child's file and a decision made about S47 Child Protection Conference or Child in Need for each child. Strategy meeting minutes should be recorded separately for each child. A child who is alleged to have perpetrated abuse could ONLY be the subject of an Initial Child Protection Conference if he or she is considered to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is required, this should be held within 15 days (for more information see Child Protection Conferences Procedure. Where either child is a Child in Need, their plans should be reviewed within 3 months from the date of the meeting, and thereafter within 6 months. With siblings, consideration should be given to combining future meetings, whist ensuring the needs and risks for each child are addressed separately.

NB: In Derby the first Child in Need review will be chaired by the Child in Need Reviewing Officer and in Derbyshire review meetings will be convened and chaired by the Service Manager (Children's Social Care).

Where the decision is reached that the alleged behaviour does not constitute abuse and there is no need for further enquiry or criminal investigation, the details of the referral and the reasons for the decision must be recorded on the child's file. In these circumstances consideration should be given to the need for any further assessment or support services, from any agency, for either child.

5. Sexual Abuse

A significant proportion (about 33%) of all sexual offences (including both contact and online offences) are committed by older children and, on occasion, such offences are also committed by younger children. It is important to identify the difference between consenting and abusive, appropriate or exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss abusive sexual behaviour as 'normal' between children and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.

The assessment and distinguishing of normal childhood sexual development and developmentally expected behaviour from highly abnormal and abusive behaviours exist on a wide continuum, and are likely to require specialist professional advice. In Derby practitioners can request a consultation with the Child sexual Abuse Unit, Derby City Council Children and Young Peoples' Department.

Any suspicion or allegations that a child has been sexually abused or is likely to sexually abuse another child (or an adult) should be referred immediately to Children's Social Care or the Police. (See Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure).

Effective assessment and intervention for this group of children should not only target their sexually harmful behaviour but should also address the child's own experience of abuse as well as broader concerns within the family and wider issues. Young learning disabled people are particularly vulnerable and can have difficulties understanding their behaviour is harmful.

The AIM (Assessment, Intervention and Moving on) model may be used to provide a systematic approach to gathering and analysing information and developing treatment plans about harmful sexual behaviour. See (and is consistent with the single assessment). The AIM model is underpinned by research based intervention that is built upon a co-ordinated multi agency response and has improved outcomes for children who present a risk of sexually harmful behaviour.

The AIM model can assist practitioners from Children's Social Care, Youth Offending Service, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team and other agencies to:

  • Assess the child's needs including their motivation and capacity to engage in services and plans;
  • Identify the capacity of the parents/carers to support the child including specific needs in relation to the behaviour;
  • Identify potential risk factors and the likelihood of re-offending.

6. Adult Victim

If allegations concern abuse of an adult by a child, the Police would normally undertake the criminal investigation. Children's Social Care should be advised of any allegation of abusive behaviour by a child, irrespective of the age of the victim.

7. Transition of Young People, who are seen to pose Sexual Risk to others, to Adult Services

Transitional planning may be required for young people who are by virtue of age no longer eligible for Children and Young People's Services, but who are still judged as posing potential risk to others and are likely to receive services as Adults at Risk. In some cases, there may be aspects of mental health problems or learning disability but not in all.

Children's Social Care should make a referral to Adult Services in circumstances where it is appropriate to do so, at least 6 months before they reach 18 years, and a representative should be invited to the relevant review meeting or conference. Services should be put in place as required, consistent with their needs as potential vulnerable adults and with regard to Managing Individuals who Pose a Risk of Harm to Children Procedure.