Sexually active under-age children and young people

All agencies and practitioners have a responsibility, where young people are sexually active, to identify where these relationships may be abusive and where the young people may need protection or additional services.

Overview

All agencies and practitioners have a responsibility, where young people are sexually active, to identify where these relationships may be abusive and where the young people may need protection or additional services.

Cases of underage sexual activity are likely to raise difficult issues. All staff who become aware of a case of underage sexual activity should consult with their agency Named Person for child protection or line manager.

Link to Guidance for Professionals working with Sexually Active Young People

Guidance for Professionals working with Sexually Active Young People Jan 2012

A Child Under 13

Any practitioner who becomes aware of a child under the age of 13 involved in sexual activity should:

  • Consult with their agency designated child protection officer/line manager/named professional to consider fully issues surrounding consent and confidentiality;
  • Make a referral to children’s social care;
  • Record fully information given and action taken.

A referral should be made to children’s social care who are to apply child protection procedures and arrange a Strategy Meeting/Discussion.

A Child Over 13 and Under 16

Consideration should be given in every case of sexual activity involving a child aged 13–15 as to whether there should be a discussion with other agencies and whether a referral should be made to children’s social care. The professional should make this assessment using the considerations below. Within this age range the younger the child the stronger the presumption must be that sexual activity will be a matter of concern. Cases of concern should be discussed with the nominated child protection lead and subsequently with other agencies if required. Where confidentiality needs to be preserved a discussion can still take place as long as it does not identify the child (directly or indirectly). Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that significant harm to a child has occurred, or is likely to occur, there should be a presumption that the case is reported to children’s social care and a strategy discussion should be held to discuss appropriate next steps. Again, all cases should be carefully documented including where a decision is taken not to share information.

The following factors should be taken into account when assessing the extent to which the child may be suffering or at risk of harm:

  • The age of the child, sexual activity at a young age is a very strong indicator that there are risks to the welfare of the child (whether boy or girl) and possibly others
  • The level of maturity and understanding of the child
  • What is known about the child’s living circumstances or background
  • Age imbalance, in particular where there is a significant age difference
  • Overt aggression or power imbalance
  • Coercion or bribery
  • Familial child sex offences
  • Behaviour of the child, e.g. Withdrawn, anxious
  • The misuse of substances, including alcohol, as a disinhibitor
  • Whether the child’s own behaviour, e.g. Because of the misuse of substances, places him/her at risk of harm so that s/he is unable to make an informed choice about any activity
  • Whether any attempts to secure secrecy have been made by the sexual partner, beyond what would be considered usual in a teenage relationship
  • Whether the child denies, minimises or accepts concerns
  • Whether the methods used are consistent with grooming and
  • Whether the sexual partner/s is/are known by one of the agencies.

On the basis of careful assessment of the above factors a decision should be made about whether there is reasonable cause to suspect that significant harm has occurred or might occur. If there is reasonable cause a referral should be made to children’s social care who are expected to apply child protection procedures and hold a Strategy Meeting/Discussion to discuss appropriate next steps.

The Police should normally share required information about the sexual partner without beginning an investigation.

The Strategy Meeting/Discussion must consider issues of consent and confidentiality in respect of informing parents/carers without the young person’s consent, seeking legal advice as appropriate.

A Child/Young Person 16 or 17 Years Old

Sexual activity involving a 16- or 17-year-old, though unlikely to involve an offence, may still involve harm or the risk of harm. Professionals should bear in mind the considerations and processes outlined above in this guidance in assessing that risk, and should share information as appropriate.

It should also be remembered that it is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16- or 17-year-old if that person holds a position of trust or authority in relation to them.