NICE has published new guidance to enable practitioners to help children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour.
Harmful sexual behaviour describes when children or young people engage in sexual discussions or acts that are inappropriate for their age or development.
Many will naturally grow out of these behaviours, so whilst it is important they are not unnecessarily stigmatised, their actions should also not be ignored.
In the cases of a small number of children and young people who commit sexual offences there is evidence that shows early opportunities to recognise and address their behaviours were missed.
Jon Brown, head of development and impact at NSPCC and member of the guideline development group, said: “Harmful sexual behaviour has gone under the radar for too long.
“There are three key messages in this guidance: that children and young people should be treated as just that, not as mini sex offenders; that the approach should be shaped to the individual, it’s not a one size fits all process; and finally that steps to change behaviour will only be effective if the family and support network understand there is an issue and are supportive.”
The guideline calls for a joined up approach by universal services, child health services, children’s social services and the voluntary sector when responding to concerns about a child or young person’s sexual behaviour.
- Named safeguarding leads (in universal services such as schools) should use locally agreed resources to assess concerns about the sexual behaviour of a child or young person.
- Practitioners should use risk assessment tools that are suitable for the child or young person's developmental age and gender.
- Practitioners should consider engaging with families and carers before beginning an intervention.
- Design care plans and structure interventions to meet the needs of the individual child or young person.
The guideline also identifies the need for further research into the impact electronic media has on sexual behaviour.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: “Inquisitive behaviour is a normal part of growing up and it is natural for children to ask about different body parts or be curious about the differences between girls and boys.
“However there is also a minority of children and young people who engage in sexual behaviour that is not appropriate for their age or development.
“This guidance is about preparing teachers, nurses, social workers and others to recognise harmful sexual behaviour when it occurs and ensure they can work across team boundaries so that problem behaviour is not ignored or missed and children and young people receive the help they need.”
Maeve Murphy, clinical nurse and member of the guideline development group, said: “There is a disparity in the provision of services throughout the country to tackle these issues, both in terms of quality and quantity. This guideline is about encouraging collaboration and support between services so that these gaps can be addressed. It’s also about encouraging practitioners to recognise when there is a problem and seek advice.”