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 January 2022, this chapter was refreshed throughout in line with local guidance
- 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 face to face and/or online physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. This is generally referred to as 'child-on-child abuse' or 'child on child' abuse. 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 or children has abused or is at risk of abusing another child, group of children 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;
- Within or outside school or college premises;
- In community settings;
- On-line or face to face or a combination of both.
Reference may also need to be made to the Investigating Complex or Organised Abuse procedure.
Children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), certain health conditions and children living away from home are particularly vulnerable, and practitioners should be vigilant to the risks of bullying, including cyberbullying, and other types of abuse or exploitation 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 (or children) who is responsible for abuse and/or bullying remains in the same setting or education provision as a child (or children) who has been the victim, a robust plan is put in place to ensure the welfare of all the children involved (including other children at setting or education provision) are adequately safeguarded. The planning and delivery of the plan should include all professionals that are delivering services to the child/children. (See Children Living Away from Home (including Children and Families Living in Temporary Accommodation) 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 and/or be at risk of significant harm themselves. 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.
Child-on-child abuse is a term used to describe many different forms of abuse experienced by children and young people. The common feature is that the individual or group of individuals responsible for the abuse are aged under 18. The definition should not create barriers to action needed to prevent and where needed respond to the lived experience of children who experience abusive behaviour from other children.
"Child-on-child abuse is any form of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and coercive control exercised between children, and within children's relationships (both intimate and non-intimate), friendships, and wider peer associations.
Child-on-child abuse can take various forms, including (but not limited to): serious bullying (including cyberbullying), relationship abuse, domestic violence and abuse, child sexual exploitation, youth and serious youth violence, harmful sexual behaviour and/or prejudice-based violence including, but not limited to, gender-based violence.
Online child-on-child abuse is any form of child-on-child abuse with a digital element, for example, sharing of nudes and semi-nude images (known as sexting), online abuse, coercion and exploitation, child-on-child grooming, threatening language delivered via online means, the distribution of sexualised content, and harassment."
It may also include verbal abuse, insult, harassment, and threat that causes upset, distress or fear or encourages the recipient to engage in behaviour through which they would harm themselves and abuse of these types transmitted electronically including through private messaging and social media
National guidance for schools  provides a similar definition, and includes these additional specific features of child-on-child abuse:
- "Physical abuse which can include hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair pulling, or otherwise causing physical harm;
- Consensual and non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nude images and/or videos (also known as sexting or youth produced sexual imagery);
- Causing someone to engage in sexual activity without consent, such as forcing someone to strip, touch themselves sexually, or to engage in sexual activity with a third party;
- Upskirting - which typically involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without their permission, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress, or alarm;
- Initiation/hazing type violence and rituals".
Current guidance from the Department of Education identifies that there should be a recognition that it is more likely girls will be victims and boys perpetrators. Child-on-child exists on a continuum and the different forms may overlap. Practitioners must remember that children can abuse other children and that any child could become a victim of child-on-child abuse. They should remain vigilant for the indicators and signs of child-on-child abuse and if they have any concerns they should speak to their safeguarding/ child protection officer or the relevant safeguarding/child protection services.
Schools/colleges and other establishments should act to minimise the risk of child-on-child abuse by ensuring the setting has a zero-tolerance approach to child-on-child abuse and that all child-on-child abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously. Settings should provide a safe environment, promote standards of behaviour, have effective systems in place whereby children can raise concerns and clear processes by which child-on-child abuse is recorded, investigated and dealt with, including how victims, alleged perpetrators and any other children affected will be supported. Education providers should also provide safeguarding via Relationships Education (for all primary pupils) and Relationships and Sex Education (for all secondary pupils) and Health Education (for all pupils in state-funded schools) and other curriculum opportunities.
Child Criminal Exploitation
Criminal Exploitation is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated and coerced into committing crimes. Increasingly young people are put in positions to recruit other young people to commit crime and become involved in abusive behaviours. This type of exploitation is sometimes often linked to 'county lines'. County lines is a Police term for Children who are exploited by criminal gangs to transport and/or distribute criminal resources, e.g. drugs or weapons across different county boarders.
A child or young person might join the activity for various reasons, such as, peer pressure, status, making money, need for protection or to gain a sense of belonging. Children may be more at risk of being recruited if they:
- Are excluded from school;
- Have Special Educational Needs;
- Are experiencing problems at home – such as neglect/abuse or poverty;
- Experience problems with their mental health;
- Live in an existing gang territory;
- Have siblings or associates that are involved in Delinquent Peer Group or Gang activity, including 'County Lines'.
Practitioners that have concerns that a child may be exhibiting one, some or all of the above indicators, or have any other basis for concern that a child is being criminally exploited, should in the first instance complete a CRE Screening Tool that will inform whether a child needs to be involved in a CRE Strategy process in Children's Social Care.
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:
- Any report of child-on-child abuse should be taken seriously, and victims reassured that they will be supported and kept safe;
- All children who are involved in 'child-on-child' harm, have a right to participate and be 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;
- Early and effective intervention with children and young people plays an important part in protecting children, by helping to prevent child-on-child abuse. Responding quickly where it is believed a child may be at risk can prevent the continuation or escalation of abusive behaviour;
- Every report should be considered on a case-by-case basis, using professional judgement to respond proportionately and in a timely manner;
- 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 (which may include 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 and appropriate plan of action to safeguard all the children involved either as a victim or alleged perpetrator, should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet 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.
3. Responding to Concerns, including Referral to Children's Social Care
Child-on-child 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 and kept safe.
Education providers should also refer to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment between Children in Schools and Colleges (DfE) and Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: advice for education settings working with children and 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 which may be face-to-face 'offline' and/ or online, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and consensual and non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nude images and or videos (also known as 'sexting'/youth produced sexual images). Is there evidence of coercion, physical aggression, bullying, harassment, bribery or attempts to ensure secrecy? What was the duration and frequency? Is the incident a one-off or a sustained pattern of abuse? (remember there may be other forms of abuse in addition to the one reported) 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);
- What is the nature of the relationship between the children involved? Do they live in the same setting, attend the same education establishment and classes, are they in a current or previous intimate personal relationship?
- 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? (physical, sexual, emotional, 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? Are there any links to child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation or gang related activity?
For further information on identifying which sexual behaviours are potentially harmful and those which are part of healthy, age appropriate sexual development, the Stop It Now Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool is a useful approach for practitioners. Lucy Faithful also promote a Preventing harmful sexual behaviour toolkit for parents, carers and practitioners. Also refer to the NSPCC section on harmful sexual behaviour and see and 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. See the Derby City and Derbyshire Thresholds Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents).
Where needed practitioners should seek advice from specialist agencies as appropriate. Practitioners can also talk to a Social Worker about whether thresholds for Social Care or Early Help have been met:
In Derbyshire - Starting Point Consultation and Advice Service for Professionals 01629 535353. The service operates Monday to Friday from 8am – 6pm.
In Derby City - Children's Services Professional Consultation Line
07812 300329. The service operates Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.
In all cases a record should be made of the concerns, discussions, decisions and reasons for decisions. These should be kept under review and if things do not improve or deteriorate the situation should be reconsidered.Where there are low level needs not requiring early help or referral to Children's Services, agencies may take actions internally to provide support to the victim and alleged perpetrator.
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 who display with harmful sexual behaviour (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 abusive towards another child, young person or adult) 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.
In Derby City, where there are concerns that the harmful behaviours may constitute a crime, and the alleged perpetrator of the behaviour has not been arrested in connection with the behaviours, practitioners should consider making a referral via the Vulnerable Children's Meeting (VCM) to a Youth Crime Prevention Officer (YCPO). The YCPO will work with the team around the family to complete work with the child that is designed to prevent their criminalisation through continuation of the behaviour or other harmful behaviours.
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; treatment of any alleged perpetrator(s); as well as, and separate from, support for the abused child(ren) and any other children (and if appropriate, any adults).
N.B. These meetings will be 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 which may include CAMHS and specific voluntary agencies working with the child.
All agencies attending the Strategy Meeting should bring any relevant information that they hold (in writing, if 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 case file and a decision should be made about whether Section 47 Child Protection Conference or Child in Need should be enacted 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.
The Single Assessment Process will be initiated by Childrens Social Care and completed within statutory timescales, 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;
- Consideration of other external factors, which impact on the child and family – which includes school/college, local communities and online activity;
- 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 support services are identified and 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 perpetrating the abusive behaviour 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;
- Bringing together a comprehensive risk assessment and action plan, which should inform and be consistent with the setting and/or education establishments risk assessment and support plan and any risk assessment or action plan already being undertaken with the child(ren) on a statutory basis (such as under YOS supervision).
Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is required, this should be held within 15 days of the initial strategy meeting. (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 proportionof 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 versus abusive and appropriate versus 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 cases where a child under the age of 13 has engaged in any form of sexual activity, including being exposed to the sexual activity of others.
The assessment and distinguishing of normal childhood sexual development and developmentally expected behaviour at one end, to highly abnormal and abusive behaviours at the other, exist on a wide continuum, and are likely to require specialist professional advice.
See links to support services in Derby and Derbyshire
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 and/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 harmful sexual 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 that their behaviour is harmful and/or how it is harmful. Where necessary specialist assessments should be considered for this group of children. See also DDSCP Practice Guidance Child Sexual Abuse within the Family.
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 and is consistent with the single assessment. See aimproject.org.uk. The AIM model is underpinned by research-based assessment principles and intervention that is built upon a co-ordinated multi-agency response and has improved outcomes for children who present a risk of harmful sexual behaviour. In all cases where children have been assessed as posing a risk to others consideration MUST be given to the need for an assessment using the AIM model.
See Derby City Aim Assessment process (Derby City Children's Social Care Procedures).
In Derbyshire, the Youth Offending Service mirrors this model. Young people referred by the Police or Court to Derbyshire Youth Offending Service will be assessed using the AIM Model. Assessment findings will inform the intervention which will utilise the Good Lives 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
In some instances, young people commit acts of abuse against an adult – for e.g. domestic abuse by a child on a parent/ carer or against a vulnerable adult. Practitioners should refer to the Threshold document and make a referral to Children's Social Care, irrespective of the age of the victim. Referrals to the Police and Adults Social care should also be made in these circumstances.
The behaviour of the child should be reported to Children's Social Care services (and the Youth Offending Service if the child is receiving a service from the YOS) as there are a number of intervention and support resources that can be deployed to work with children who cause harm to others, especially when this is in a domestic abuse context.
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.
In some cases, the adult will be a 'Relevant' or 'Eligible' child and will continue to receive services from the Leaving Care service so communication with that service must take place when the young adult about whom the concerns exist transitions into adulthood.
In some cases, the adult will still be in recipient of a service from the YOS; either because insufficient time remains on the Court Order which brought them under YOS supervision to warrant a transition into adult offender management services or because the child is being supported by a Seconded National Probation Service Officer in the YOS to support their transition to the supervision of the National Probation Service. In these cases, communication with the YOS must take place when the young adult about whom the concerns exist transitions into adulthood.
Children's Social Care should make a referral to relevant Adult Services when a child is leaving care. Practitioners should check local referral arrangements and ensure that the referral is made in a timely way, in most cases this will be between the age of 16 and 17.5. 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