SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
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.
In July 2019, this guidance was reviewed throughout to reflect recent Department for Education publications on sexual violence and sexual harassment in schools and colleges and ‘sexting’. Section 1, Introduction was updated to include information on Peer on Peer Abuse and Section 3, Responding to Concerns, including Referral to Children’s Social Care, has been revised to include additional guidance to help practitioners when considering the most appropriate course of action when they have concerns about a child who is believed to have harmed another child.
- Responding to Concerns, including Referral to Children’s Social Care
- Children's Social Care Response
- Sexual Abuse
- Adult Victim
- Transition of Young People, who are seen to pose Sexual Risk to others, to Adult Services
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.
The 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 or violence towards parents/carers); and
- Outside of the child's immediate household.
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 or who are violent towards their parents/carers, 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 can abuse other children. This is generally referred to as ‘peer on peer abuse’ and can take many forms. It is influenced by the nature of the environments in which children spend their time (i.e. home, school/college, peer group and community) and is built upon notions of power and consent. Peer on peer abuse involves an individual or group who abuse a ‘vulnerability’ or power imbalance to harm another or be in an environment where this is possible. This can include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control, exercised between children and within children’s relationships (both intimate and non-intimate).
Peer on peer abuse can take various forms and includes: serious bullying / cyber-bullying, relationship abuse, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, ‘sexting’ / youth produced sexual imagery, youth and serious youth violence, gang related activity, harmful sexual behaviour, and / or sexual violence / harassment. Peer on peer abuse is often gender based; it is more likely that girls will be victims and boys perpetrators. However, both can experience peer on peer abuse but are likely to experience it differently. In addition black and minority ethnic children are under identified as victims but over identified as perpetrators.
Child Criminal Exploitation
This type of exploitation is becoming increasingly evident and is sometimes linked to ‘county lines’. Children who are exploited by criminal gangs can be forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft. The victim and perpetrator may ‘think’ that they have given consent to the action being asked of them.
Schools/colleges and other establishments should act to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse by ensuring the setting provides a safe environment, promotes standards of behaviour and has effective systems in place whereby children can raise concerns. Education providers should also provide safeguarding via Relationship, Sexual and Health education (RE/RSE) and other curriculum opportunities.
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).
The following key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:
- There should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of the key agencies involved, for example Youth Offending Service, Early Help teams, Children's Social Care, Police, education (including educational psychology), health (including child and adolescent mental health) agencies and the voluntary sector;
- The needs of children who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims; and
- An assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, that they could be the victim of abuse themselves or exposed to on-going trauma, as well as having specific needs arising from their behaviour;
- Early and effective intervention with children and young people who harm others, including sexual harm, plays an important part in protecting children, by preventing the continuation or escalation of abusive behaviour;
- Young people who harm others, including sexual harm have a right to be consulted and involved in all matters and decisions that affect their lives. Their parents have a right to information, respect and participation in matters that affect their family.
3. Responding to Concerns, including Referral to Children’s Social Care
Peer on peer abuse may be a one off serious incident or an accumulation of incidents. Some behaviour(s) may be easily identified as abusive however, in some circumstances, it may be less clear. In all cases practitioners should take the concerns seriously and reassure the child concerned they will be supported.
Education providers should also refer to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges (DfE) and Sexting in Schools and Colleges: Responding to Incidents and Safeguarding Young People.
Where practitioners identify concerns about a child whose behaviour is inappropriate and may be abusive, they should consider the following, if known:
- The nature, extent and context of the behaviour, including verbal, physical, ‘sexting’/youth produced sexual images and/or online abuse. Is there evidence of coercion, physical aggression, bullying, bribery or attempts to ensure secrecy? What was the duration and frequency? Is the incident a one off or a sustained pattern of abuse? Were other children and /or adults involved? Has a crime been committed?
- What is the child's age, developmental stage, capacity to understand and make decisions (and anything that might have had an impact on this i.e. coercion) and family and social circumstances;
- What are the relative chronological and developmental age of the children involved? (the greater the difference the more likely the behaviour should be defined as abusive);
- Does the victim or perpetrator have a disability or learning difficulty/disability? Are there any differentials in power or authority for example related to race or physical or other vulnerability of the victim?
- What is the actual behaviour? (both physical, verbal online and offline factors, must be considered);
- Could the behaviour be described as age appropriate or not? Does it involve inappropriate sexual knowledge or motivation?
- What is the victim's experience and perception of the behaviour and what are their wishes?
- Are there any risks to the child victim or alleged perpetrator and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school/college, peer group, wider social network or to adults?
See Brook Traffic Light Tool for further information on identifying which sexual behaviours are potentially harmful and those which are part of healthy, age appropriate sexual development. See also Section 5, Sexual Abuse.
Practitioners should consult their safeguarding / child protection lead and 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).
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 online abuse; see Section 5, Sexual Abuse and the Online 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). N.B. 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. If this is not possible the reason for this should be recorded in the child’s case record.
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.
N.B. In Derby the meetings will be convened and chaired by the Child Protection Manager; in Derbyshire they will be convened and chaired by the Team Manager (Children's Social Care).
It is essential that all key agencies attend this meeting – this must include, the allocated social workers, YOS worker, education representatives for nursery / school/college age children, providers of support services including CAMHS representatives.
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;
- It is essential that identification of support services are commissioned immediately and in line with assessed need identified at the time;
- Needs of the children and family may change as the assessment progresses and intervention should not wait until the assessment has been completed;
- 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 Section 47 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 should ONLY be the subject of an Initial Child Protection Conference if they are 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 network meeting, and thereafter subsequently within 4 months. With siblings, consideration should be given to combining future meetings, whist ensuring the needs and risks for each child are addressed separately.
N.B. In Derby the first Child in Need review will be chaired by the Child in Need Reviewing Officer if identified as a complex case (see Derby Children’s Social Care Child in Need Plans, Work and Review Procedure) and in Derbyshire review meetings will be convened and chaired by the Team 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.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 a child under the age of 13 years cannot consent to any form of sexual activity. Therefore, a child protection referral is required in all such cases.
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 Keep
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).
It is essential that 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. Where necessary specialist assessments should be considered for this group of children
The AIM (Assessment, Intervention and Moving on) model is used to provide a systematic approach to gathering and analysing information and developing treatment plans about harmful sexual behaviour. See aimproject.org.uk (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. All children who have been assessed as posing a risk to others MUST be assessed using the AIM model.
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.