Responding to children and young people living in out of home care who engage in harmful sexual behaviour- practice guide

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This practice guide aims to support carers and professionals working in and around the out of home care system to know how to best understand their role when responding to children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour with other children and young people.

Key Messages

  • Harmful sexual behaviour by children and young people needs to be viewed on a continuum.
  • In assessing a child’s or young person’s sexual behaviour, it is important to consider a developmental perspective, and understand their social, emotional, physical and cognitive maturity.
    The language we use to describe harmful sexual behaviour must reflect what has occurred but also not make children and young people feel even more ashamed about it. Careful choice of language and labelling the behaviour rather than the person will reduce the likelihood of stigmatising and increase their likelihood of engagement in therapeutic treatment.
    Children and young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour often have experiences of trauma including family violence, neglect and sexual abuse. In working with them, it is important to consider treatment that addresses both the harmful sexual behaviour as well as the underlying trauma and experiences of adversity.
  • There is a low risk of children and young people continuing to engage in harmful sexual behaviour particularly if they receive appropriate treatment, supervision and support.
    When assessing the risk the child or young person poses to others, it is important to consider the context, nature and frequency of the harmful sexual behaviour as well as the responses to the behaviour.
  • It is also critical to understand the protective factors available to the child or young person which can help reduce risk. This will ensure that safety plans put in place to support children and young people and those around them are comprehensive.
  • Decisions regarding the matching of children and young people in care need to be carefully considered to ensure the protection and wellbeing for those who have engaged in the harmful sexual behaviour and those that may be at risk of being harmed as a result of living with them in care.
  • Treatment for children and young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour requires an approach that actively encourages and resources the participation of the child and young person and carer/ family in both its planning and delivery. As far as possible, the therapeutic intervention provided to the child or young person needs to be part of
    an overall therapeutic plan that addresses past unmet needs as well as ongoing precipitating factors which lead to it.
  • Safety plans are important to put in place. The best safety plans are developed with the Care Team, the child or young person and their family.
  • Children and young people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour need specialist help and intervention.
  • It is important to remember the very experiences that make children and young people more vulnerable to engage in harmful sexual behaviour also make them more vulnerable to further exploitation and victimisation.

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