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1.5.13 Safeguarding Children who Display Harmful Sexual Behaviours - Islington’s Procedure


In April 2019, this chapter was substantially updated and should be re-read throughout.


Caption: Contents
1. Introduction
2. Harmful Sexual Behaviours (HSB)
3. Identifying Risk Level
  3.1 HSB Risk Assessment Matrix
4. HSB Work Flow
5. Managing the Risk
  5.1 Child is assessed as Category 0 Risk
  5.2 Child is assessed as Category 1 Risk
  5.3 Child is assessed as Category 2 or 3 Risk
  5.4 Immediate Protection
6. Outcome of the HSB Strategy Meeting
7. Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Panel (MACE)
8. Recording Intervention
9. Advice and Support to Practitioners

1. Introduction

This guidance seeks to identify when sexual behaviour by children and young people should be considered harmful, inappropriate or when it can be considered in the context of normal behaviours. Whenever a child has been sexually harmed by another child, all agencies must be aware of their responsibilities and know how to respond to both the victim and the child that has carried out the sexually harmful behaviour. The multi-agency management of both cases must reflect this.

2. Harmful Sexual Behaviours (HSB)

Evidence suggests that children who display harmful sexual behaviours are likely to have suffered considerable trauma and disruption in their lives; including being exposed to violence within the family, witnessing or being subjected to physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and have had disruption in their educational development. At a minimum, such children are considered to be children in need themselves; although some will have suffered significant harm and may be in need of protection themselves. Children who harm others should be held responsible for their harmful behaviour while being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others.

Despite evidence to suggest that early experiences of trauma are a key factor in the development of harmful sexual behaviours it is important to me mindful of the diversity of backgrounds, experiences, needs, motivations and meanings behind their own behaviours that each individual child has. Research indicates that children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviours are often developing their own understanding of sexuality and relationships. It is not inevitable that children and young people presenting with harmful sexual behaviours will go on to perpetrate sexual abuse as adults. Practice evidence clearly indicates that holistic assessments and early intervention, that builds resilience for the child or young person displaying harmful sexual behaviours, produces the best outcomes.

Whenever a referral is made to Islington Children Social Care concerning a child or young person who displays HSB, or if such concerns are raised about a currently allocated or looked after child, the following procedure should be followed, in conjunction with the most up-to-date editions of the London Child Protection Procedures.

3. Identifying Risk Level

When concerns are raised through a new referral or regarding an open case, The Children’s Services Contact Team (CSCT) or the child’s allocated social work team should assess the level of risk in accordance with the risk assessment matrix, (Section 3.1, HSB Risk Assessment Matrix); which sets the London Child Protection risk tiers against the Hackett (2010) categories of risk and the Brook Traffic Light Tool.

A consultation with the Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker or the Exploitation and Missing Safeguarding Manager should be sought to assist with HSB risk assessment.

Islington uses the following four categories to determine the level of risk to the child:

Category 0 - Inappropriate:

  • Single instances of inappropriate sexual behaviour;
  • Socially acceptable behaviour within peer group;
  • Context for behaviour may be inappropriate;
  • Generally consensual and reciprocal.

Category 1 - Problematic:

  • Problematic and concerning behaviours;
  • Developmentally unusual and socially unexpected;
  • No overt elements of victimisation;
  • Consent issues may be unclear;
  • May lack reciprocity or equal power;
  • May include levels of compulsivity.

Category 2 - Abusive:

  • Victimising intent or outcome;
  • Includes misuse of power;
  • Coercion and force to ensure victim compliance;
  • Intrusive;
  • Informed consent lacking or not able to be freely given by victim;
  • May include elements of expressive violence.

Category 3 - Violent:

  • Physically violent sexual abuse;
  • Highly intrusive;
  • Instrumental violence which is physiologically and/or sexually arousing to the perpetrator;
  • Sadism.

The above categories of risk are taken from Hackett’s (2010) ‘A continuum of children and young people’s sexual behaviours’ and are mapped against both the ‘Thresholds of Need’ from the London Child Protection Procedures and the Brook’s Traffic Light Tool Kit - in the risk assessment matrix (see Section 3.1, HSB Risk Assessment Matrix).

3.1 HSB Risk Assessment Matrix

Click here to view the HSB Risk Assessment Matrix.

4. HSB Work Flow

Click here to view the HSB Process Work Flow.

5. Managing the Risk

The practice workflow for HSB cases is set out in Section 4, HSB Work Flow of this guidance.

5.1 Child is assessed as Category 0 Risk

New referrals where category 0 risk has been assessed will be stepped down to the Targeted Youth Support Service (TYS). Allocated cases where the HSB risk has been reviewed as a category 0 should have a step-down meeting where an agency other than Children’s Social Care are to be lead agency in monitoring the HSB risk.

5.2 Child is assessed as Category 1 Risk

Where there are indications a child is displaying problematic harmful sexual behaviours, and a reasonable suspicion to suggest significant harm, a Social Work Manager hold a HSB strategy discussion with police, or a HSB strategy meeting with the multi-professional network chaired by the Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker. Category 1 risk cases that do not do meet the threshold for a strategy discussion/meeting, (and/or do not meet threshold of Section 47 following the strategy discussion/meeting), can be managed through HSB risk discussions multi-professional meetings. This could be held as part of:

  • A team around a child (TAC) meeting for children looked after;
  • A review meeting;
  • A core group meeting or child protection conference for children subject to child protection plans;
  • A child in need (CIN) meeting.

It is important that any diversion plan is incorporated into the child’s plan (CIN plan, Care Plan or CP plan). A family group conference should also be considered to help the family formulate a diversion plan.

5.3 Child is assessed as Category 2 or 3 Risk

Where it is believed that a child may be displaying abusive and/or violent forms of HSB and causing another child significant harm through HSB, a HSB Strategy Meeting should be held within 3 working days to determine whether there is a need to commence a child protection enquiry under Section 47 CA 1989. However where the concerns are particularly complex the HSB strategy meeting must be held within a maximum of 5 working days, but sooner if there is a need to provide immediate protection to a child. All HSB cases where concerns have escalated should be discussed with the Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker (or CP Coordinators if necessary) who will also chair the meeting.

Attendance at the HSB strategy meeting should include:

The purpose of a HSB Strategy Meeting is to:

  • Establish if the child/young person is at risk of significant harm and if so initiate Section 47 procedures;
  • Establish risks to child/young person and the risk posed to others - and any other linked children such as siblings;
  • Identify other perpetrators and victims and likelihood of prosecutions;
  • Develop a safeguarding and support plan;
  • Decide on whether a Section 47 investigation should be initiated and if so, if it should it be a single or joint investigation and plan that investigation;
  • Whether a referral should be made to the MACE (Multi-agency Child Exploitation Panel);
  • Decide whether threshold is met for an AIM2 assessment.

5.4 Immediate Protection

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the possibility of serious immediate harm, action must be taken to secure the immediate safety of the child (see London Child Protection Procedures, Child Protection s47 Enquiries Procedure, Immediate protection). This would normally necessitate an immediate strategy meeting/discussion between children's social care, police, and other agencies. Following such emergency action, a HSB strategy meeting, chaired by the Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker or a CP Coordinator must be convened within 5 working days as set out above.

6. Outcome of the HSB Strategy Meeting

The possible outcome pathways following a HSB strategy meeting are:

  1. Child is not at risk of significant harm and therefore does not meet threshold for Section 47 child protection enquiry. If no further risk is identified, no further action will be necessary or diversion planning will be needed as described above. The child’s needs will be managed by Children’s Social Care, Targeted Services or another lead agency which has been agreed;
  2. Child is at risk of significant harm and threshold is met to initiate a Section 47 child protection enquiry to determine the risk to the child through further investigation. This may lead to initiating a Child Protection Conference. If a Section 47 investigation is initiated then the strategy meeting must decide if it is to be a joint investigation with the police or single investigation with solely social care, and to plan the steps of the investigation;
  3. Immediate Legal Action (see Section 5.4, Immediate Protection);
  4. In exceptional cases, where there is not enough information to determine if the child is at risk of significant harm a follow up strategy meeting should be arranged. The follow up strategy meeting will need to determine if the child is at risk and if so meets the threshold of significant harm and therefore a Section 47 investigation will be initiated. If the initial strategy meeting concludes that a follow up strategy meeting/discussion is required, then a clear timescale should be set and be subject to regular review by the social work manager bearing in mind the safety of the child at all times.

An outcome of a Section 47 investigation may be that the case is taken to Initial Child Protection Conference. This will allow a multi-agency panel of professionals to review the information and make a threshold decision about whether that significant harm has occurred and it is likely to continue, in which case the child’s will be made subject to a child protection plan to safeguard them. If this threshold is not met then a Child in Need plan would be the likely outcome.

7. Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Panel (MACE)

Islington’s MACE follows guidance set out in the Metropolitan Police Operating Protocol and the London Child Protection Procedures.

The MACE is held on a monthly basis, jointly chaired by the Children’s Services and the Police, and attended by key services. The purpose of the MACE is to provide a strategic overview of the CSE profile and interventions. Islington MACE will also provide a strategic over of the HSB profile and interventions.

In regards to HSB, the role of the MACE includes:

  • The gathering, monitoring and analysis of relevant information on the locations, themes, patterns and situation of HSB within the borough;
  • The organisation of targeted disruption of perpetrations and HSB as informed by data and intelligence;
  • The organisation of targeted interventions for children and young people displaying HSB as informed by data and intelligence;
  • An overview of cross-borough issues and cases where young people are being exploited;
  • Discussion of complex HSB cases including case intervention and accountability.

All HSB cases should be considered in Pre MACE and the themes identified taken to the MACE along with specific cases linked with additional complexities such as cross-borough links, intervention orders (i.e. abduction notices etc…), involvement with the CPS. The Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker will instruct what cases are referred to the MACE via strategy meetings, consultations or mapping meetings.

8. Recording Intervention

All children and young people who have been identified as HSB risk categories 1-3 should have clear and visible recording of:

  • Safety plans with the child and parent/carer;
  • A consultation with the Specialist CSE and HSB social worker which includes a risk assessment and outcome rationale;
  • Multi-professional meetings (where HSB risk is discussed);
  • Diversion plans;
  • Direct work Intervention plans – including work done by any external services (1-1 YPA, mentor etc.….).

9. Advice and Support to Practitioners

Should you need any advice about a child displaying or at risk of HSB please contact the following:

  • Specialist CSE and HSB Social Worker: Celia Knopp
  • Exploitation and Missing Safeguarding Manager: Mairead Morgan
  • Child Protection Coordinators: Michelle Greville, Levina Lawrence, Sarah Pepper, Timur Djavit
    Tel: 020 7527 8102.