Context

Research indicates that many children and young people charged with criminal offences relating to harmful sexual behaviour had previously been referred to children's services. But their sexual behaviour was either not recognised or dismissed (Examining multi-agency responses to children and young people who sexually offend Criminal Justice Joint Inspection).

Data indicate that children and young people with learning disabilities are over-represented among those in the criminal justice system (Examining multi-agency responses to children and young people who sexually offend; The needs and effective treatment of young people who sexually abuse: current evidence Department of Health). However, few studies have been done with children and young people with learning disabilities.

Little is known about prepubescent children or young people whose sexual behaviour has not reached a level that would be regarded as criminal. There is also a lack of understanding of where these children and young people fit into the social care system, making it difficult to provide an effective response (The needs and effective treatment of young people who sexually abuse: current evidence).

Evidence suggests that sexualised behaviours in children and young people can be an expression of other problems or underlying vulnerabilities. It also suggests that early help assessments, without involving specialist harmful sexual behaviour services, can help. But there is little evidence of effectiveness on interventions addressing harmful sexual behaviour.

This guideline covers children and young people under 18 who display harmful sexual behaviour. It includes those on remand and those serving community or custodial sentences. It also includes people up to the age of 25 who have special educational needs or a disability, as set out the Children and Families Act 2014. This guideline does not deal with the consequences of sexual abuse. NICE has published a guideline on child abuse and neglect.

More information

You can also see this guideline in the NICE pathway on harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people.

To find out what NICE has said on topics related to this guideline, see our web pages on: carers, children and young people, people with learning disabilities, mental health and behavioural conditions, mental health and wellbeing, safeguarding and service transition.

See also the evidence reviews and information about how the guideline was developed, including details of the committee.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)