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Abuse by Children and Young People

Work with children and young people who abuse others – including those who sexually abuse/offend – should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children.

1. Introduction

1.1 Abuse by children and young people includes any abusive behaviour, including sexually abusive behaviour, committed by a child or young person towards any other person, whether child or adult.

1.2 Work with young people who abuse should recognise that, whilst they may present a risk of Significant Harm to others, they are likely to have considerable needs themselves. Such children are likely to be Children in Need and some will be at risk of, or suffering, Significant Harm. Children and young people who abuse others should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being responded to in a way that meets their needs as well as protecting others.

1.3 All agencies must be aware of their responsibilities towards both children / young people and multi-agency management of cases must reflect this. It is possible that the child with the identified harmful behaviour may pose a significant risk of harm to their siblings, other children and/or adults. This is a complex area of work where expert advice must be sought. Reference should also be made to procedures for vulnerable adults if an adult has been abused by a child or young person.

1.4 Three key principles should underpin all work with children and young people who abuse others:

  • There should be a coordinated approach between agencies, including sharing information;
  • The needs of the children and young people who abuse should be considered separately from the needs of their victims;
  • Section 47 Enquiries should be considered in all cases, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.

1.5 If there is evidence suggesting that two or more abusers have acted together and / or that more than one child has been abused the Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse  procedure should be followed.

2 Types of Abuse

The types of abuse, Sexual, Physical or Emotional are similar for children as they are for adults and can be summarised as;

2.1 Sexual Abuse

2.1.1 Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

2.1.2 The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. 

2.1.3 They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

2.1.4 Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

(Definition provided by Working Together)

2.2 Physical Abuse

2.2.1 A form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

(Definition provided by Working Together)

2.3 Emotional Abuse

2.3.1 The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development.

2.3.2 It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate.

2.3.3 It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction

2.3.4 It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

2.3.5 Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

(Definition provided by Working Together)

3. Action Steps

3.1 Any professional concerned that a young person may have abused another child or young person should refer the concern to the Police and/or Children’s Social Care as with any concern where a child is at risk of Significant Harm, in accordance with the Referrals & Assessment Procedure, or where an adult has been abused to the Police / Social Care in line with Vulnerable Adults Procedures. Children’s and Adults Social Care and the Police will follow their internal procedures in respect of information received for new or existing cases and will determine what action is required for both the perpetrator and the victim.

3.2 Children’s Social Care and the Police when deciding on the response to a referral will apply their professional judgement where children or young people are reported to have abused. For example, sexualised behaviour in young people may fall within the parameters of normal sexual development, may be inappropriate sexual behaviour or may be sexually abusive behaviour. Physically aggressive behaviour between two young people, whilst abusive, may be considered comparatively normal behaviour or alternatively could indicate child protection concerns.

3.3 It is therefore important that the following factors are considered:

  • The nature and extent of the abusive behaviour; 
  • The context of the abusive behaviour; 
  • Expert professional opinion/assessment of the behaviour where appropriate; 
  • The child's development, family and social circumstances; 
  • The risks to self and others including other children; 
  • The need for services, specifically focusing on the child’s harmful behaviour as well other significant needs.

3.4 Decisions for Children’s Social Care, Youth Offending Service, Police and any other agencies involved will include:

3.5 The most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system; Whether the young abuser should be the subject of a Child Protection Conference; Whether the victim should be the subject of a Child Protection Conference (or Vulnerable Adult depending on his / her age) The Risk Assessment / Risk Management Plan that should be put in place to address the needs of the young abuser. 

3.6 Where the young person is alleged to have behaved in a sexually abusive manner, Children’s Social Care should invite a representative with specialist knowledge to any Child Protection Conference or other multi-agency meeting that is arranged: e.g. Forensic CAMHS.

3.7 The first interview for any child, who is alleged to have committed an offence, must be undertaken by the Police under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

4. Strategy Discussion

4.1 The Police and Children’s Social Care will need to consider whether a Strategy Discussion is required to co-ordinate any investigation(s) for either the victim or perpetrator. In any case there should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of the Police, Youth Offending Service, Children’s Social Care, Education and Health. 

5. Child Protection Conference / Multi Agency Meeting

5.1 The young abuser should only be the subject of a Child Protection Conference if he or she is considered personally to be at risk of continuing Significant Harm.  Child Protection procedures should be followed if deemed appropriate dependent upon the outcome of the Strategy discussion.

5.2 The Tees Safeguarding Children Partnership's advocate a partnership approach to assessments that encourage and promote co-working, the sharing of information, knowledge and specific expertise that can be translated into appropriate and positive interventions for these young people and their families

6. Specialist Assessments for Sexually Harmful Behaviour

6.1 Children & Young People who perpetrate sexual abuse or display sexually harmful behaviour require a specialist assessment to be undertaken. 

6.2 Specialist Assessments should be applied to a child or young person, aged 10 years and over in order to identify risk and suitably manage their behaviour.

6.3 Information regarding the Specialist Assessment used by the local authorities in the Tees area can be accessed by contacting the relevant Local Authority Children’s Social Care.

  • Hartlepool 
  • Middlesbrough Stockton-on-Tees 
  • Redcar & Cleveland 
  • Stockton-on-Tees 

6.4 The AIM assessment (Assessment, Intervention, Moving on) is used by some professionals however this is done under licensed agreement.

7. Useful Guidance Pathway Tools, Contacts and Websites: