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5.18 Safeguarding Sexually Active Young People

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This document was written in 2009 and has been available from the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board since then.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was slightly updated in January 2012 in regard to police contact details.


Contents

1. Introduction
  1.1 Aims
  1.2 Government Guidance, Legislation and Bichard Report
2. Assessment
  2.1 Assessing Children’s Needs
  2.2 Indicators of Risk of Harm
  2.3 Power Imbalances
  2.4 Assessing Risk using Police Information
  2.5 Accessing Police Information
3. Disabled Children and Young People
4. Information Sharing
  4.1 The Welfare of the Child/Young Person is Paramount
  4.2 Confidentiality
  4.3 Reviewing Needs
5. Thresholds for Referring to Children’s Social Services and the Police
  5.1 When there are no Concerns
  5.2 Dealing with Individual Cases of Concern of possible Abuse or Neglect
  5.3 Abuse through Sexual Exploitation
  5.4 Children under 13 Years
  5.5 Children/Young People 13 up to their 18th Birthday
6. Criminal Investigation
7. Safeguarding Young People 16 and 17 Years
  Appendix 1: Police Information Request/Referral Process
  Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Matrix


1. Introduction

1.1 Aims

This Procedure is designed to assist professionals to identify where children and young people’s sexual relationships may be abusive and the children and young people may need the provision of protection or additional services. It is based on the core principle that the welfare of the child is paramount and emphasises the need to accurately assess the risk of suffering significant harm when a child or young person is engaged in a sexually active relationship. For young people 13 years and over, this risk assessment will inform practitioners when to involve Children’s Social care and when a situation requires criminal investigation by Lincolnshire Police.

1.2 Government Guidance, Legislation and Bichard Report

This Practice guidance has taken the following documents into account:

  • The guidance provided to sexual health services that a confidential service should be available to young people under the age of 16;
  • The legal position that sexual activity under the age of 16 is illegal; and
  • The recommendation in the Bichard Report that all suspected criminal activities should be reported to the Police.


2. Assessment

2.1 Assessing Young People’s Needs

When a professional becomes aware that a young person is, or is likely to be, sexually active, an assessment should be made of the young person’s physical and emotional health, education and safeguarding needs - in the context of the sexual relationship. The assessment should be based on the three dimensions of the Assessment Framework Triangle (see Social Care Assessments Procedure), and where appropriate, it should be in accordance with Part 4 (Managing Individual Cases where there are Concerns about a Child’s Safety and Welfare – Procedures) of the LSCB Code of Practice using the indicators of risk highlighted below.

2.2 Indicators of Risk of Harm

In order to determine whether a relationship presents a risk of harm to a young person, the following factors should be considered:

  • Whether the child/young person is competent to understand, and consent to, the sexual activity they are involved in;
  • Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 children under the age of 13 are considered of insufficient age to give consent to sexual activity. For this reason there is a presumption that all cases of children under the age of 13 who are believed to be or have been engaged in penetrative sexual activity will be referred to Children’s Social care and or the Police as a potential case of rape (rape is penetration of any orifice by a male penis) (See also Section 5.4, Children under 13 Years below); Any decision not to share information with the police and or social care must only be make after discussion with the agency child protection advisor with reasons for not sharing recorded.
  • What the child or young person in the relationship’s living circumstances are, whether they are attending school, whether they or their siblings are receiving services from Children’s Social Care
  • The nature of the relationship between those involved, particularly if there are age or power imbalances as outlined below (See Section 2.3, Power Imbalances);
  • Whether overt aggression, coercion or bribery was or is involved including misuse of alcohol or other substances as a disinhibitor;
  • Whether the child/young person’s own behaviour, for example through misuse of alcohol or other substances, places him/her in a position where he/she is unable to make an informed choice about the activity; and
  • Any attempts to secure secrecy by the sexual partner beyond what would be considered usual in a teenage relationship.
  • Whether methods used to secure a child or young person’s compliance and trust and/or secrecy by the sexual partner are consistent with grooming for sexual exploitation. Grooming is likely to involve efforts by a sexual predator (usually older than the child or young person) to befriend a child/young person by indulging or coercing her/him with gifts, treats, money, drugs, developing a trusting relationship with the child/young person’s family, developing a relationship with the child or young person through the internet etc in order to abuse the child/young person.
  • Whether the sexual partner is known by one of the agencies as having or having had, other concerning relationships with children/young people (which presupposes that checks will be made with the Police)*

*In situations where asking the Police for information is deemed inappropriate due to the confidential nature of an agency’s relationship with the client, the agency making the decision not to check with the Police must take responsibility for conducting a risk assessment without relevant Police information. This decision must be made within the agency’s supervision arrangements and at first line manager level or above. (See also Section 4, Information Sharing and the actions that must be taken when a decision is made not to hold a Strategy Discussion as outlined below).

  • Whether the child/young person denies, minimises or accepts the concerns held by professionals

2.3 Power Imbalances

Sexual abuse and exploitation of a child or young person involves an imbalance of power. The assessment should seek to identify possible power imbalances within a relationship. These can result from differences in size, age, material wealth and/or psychological, social and physical development. In addition gender, sexuality, race and levels of sexual knowledge can be used to exert power.

Whilst a large age differential could be a key indicator e.g. a 15-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man, practitioners should be aware that a 14 or 15 year old boy, supported by a group of his peers, is able to exert very real pressure over a girl of the same age or older. There will also be instances when the sexual predator is a woman or girl and the victim is a boy.

Where a power imbalance results in coercion, manipulation and/or bribery and seduction, these pressures can be applied to a young person by one or two individuals, or through peer pressure (i.e. group bullying). Professionals assessing the nature of a child or young person’s relationship need to be aware of the possibility that either or both of these situations can exist for the child or a young person - and conduct an holistic assessment of the young person’s needs.

There will be an imbalance of power and the child or young person will not be deemed able to give consent if the sexual partner is in a position of trust or is a family member as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003; and/or any pre-existing legislation.

2.4 Assessing Risk using Police Information

Automatic formal referral to the Police may stop young people confiding in social care and health practitioners, including those young people most at risk of abuse. Nevertheless, the police may hold information about individuals who pose a danger to young people, which is not necessarily known to other agencies. Lincolnshire Police have agreed therefore that, for the purposes of this Guidance, they will provide information about children and their sexual partners for the purposes of an agency’s risk assessment (see Section 2.2, Indicators of Risk of Harm above) without treating the information as a formally referred allegation of crime. The police will record the request for intelligence purposes in order that potential abusers can be identified.

2.5 Accessing Police Information

See also Appendix 1: Police Information Request/Referral Process.

The practitioner should call the police representative at the Customer Service Centre for information on 01522 782111.


3. Disabled Children and Young People

Disabled children and young people are more likely to be abused than non-disabled children; and they are especially at risk when they are living away from home. They may be particularly vulnerable to coercion due to physical dependency or because a learning disability or a communication difficulty means that it is not easy for them to communicate their wishes to another person. This increases the risk that a sexual relationship may not be consensual.

In assessing whether a relationship presents a risk of harm to a disabled child or young person, professionals need to consider the indicators listed in Section 2.2, Indicators of Risk of Harm above in the light of these potential additional vulnerabilities.

A child or young person with moderate learning difficulties could be vulnerable to harm from a sexual relationship developed through inclusive activities. This may be in mainstream schools, education colleges, leisure centres and other places where children and young people meet where supervision is at a minimum. Staff need to be alert to the different capabilities of the children and young people they supervise, and assess risk of harm accordingly.

Where professionals in children’s services have concerns that a relationship may present a risk of harm to an older disabled young person, they should begin work with the Council’s adult protection staff at an early point in order for there to be a smooth transition from protection under the Children Act 1989 to protection for the young person, from their 18th birthday onwards, under the local Protection of Vulnerable Adult Procedures.


4. Information Sharing

4.1 The Welfare of the Child/Young Person is Paramount

The first duty of every practitioner is to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child or young person and other children and young people. It must always be made clear to children and young people at the earliest opportunity and throughout any working relationship that the duty of confidentiality is not absolute, and that there will be some circumstances where the needs of the child or young person, or other children and young people, can only be safeguarded by sharing information with others.

This discussion with the child or young person should include asking them their thoughts, feelings and wishes. The discussion can be useful as a means of emphasising the gravity of some situations. This point is reinforced in the Government guidance What To Do If You Are Worried That A Child Is Being Abused.

4.2 Confidentiality

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 does not affect the duty of care and confidentiality of health and social care professionals to children and young people 13 to 16 years old. According to current Government guidance for health and social care professionals, although the age of consent remains at 16, it is not intended that the law should be used to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.

Decisions to share information with parents require staff to use their professional judgement and should be informed by LSCB Procedures as well as individual agency guidance. Decisions by health, and other professionals not to share information should be informed by the Fraser Guidelines - that the child or young person (‘s):

  • Understands the professional advice
  • Cannot be persuaded to inform his/her parents
  • Is likely to have intercourse without contraception
  • Physical and/or mental health is likely to suffer without advice and support
  • Best interests require advice and support without parental consent

4.3 Reviewing Needs

On each occasion that a practitioner has contact with a young person (by telephone or a meeting) or receives information about them, consideration should be given as to whether the young person’s circumstances have changed in a way which may require referral (or re-referral) to Children’s Social Care and the Police.


5. Thresholds for Referring to Children’s Social Services and the Police

5.1 When there are no Concerns

The decision whether or not to make a referral to Children’s Social Care and or the Police must be made within the supervision arrangements within an agency for making such a decision.

Where an agency involved knows that a young person 13 or over, is sexually active but the practitioner’s assessment does not raise concerns that the young person’s sexual relationship is abusive, then that agency should continue to make arrangements for the young person to receive confidential advice and support from appropriate sexual health and other services.

5.2 Dealing with Individual Cases of Concern of possible Abuse or Neglect

(In line with Section C of LSCB Code of Practice)

In cases where a practitioner has concerns that a relationship presents a risk of harm to a child or young person, practitioners should, where possible, discuss the case with their designated child protection colleague. In any case which raises a concern as part of the risk assessment outlined in Sections 2.2, Indicators of Risk of Harm and 2.3, Power Imbalances above, it is possible that the young person is being sexually abused or is at risk of sexual abuse and a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care and the Police, (verbal referral, followed by a written referral within 48 hours) in accordance with Sections C of LSCB Code of Practice.

5.3 Abuse through Sexual Exploitation

If there are concerns that the child or young person may be at risk of abuse through sexual exploitation (prostitution or pornography, including creating/exchanging images, grooming etc through the internet), a referral to Children’s Social Care and to Lincolnshire Police Public Protection Unit must be made in accordance with the LSCB Code of Practice.

5.4 Children under 13 Years

There is a presumption that all cases of children under the age of 13 years believed to be engaged in penetrative sexual relationships or activity will be referred to Children’s Social Care and the Police. (see Section 2.2, Indicators of Risk of Harm). Any deviation from this requires the practitioner to discuss the case with their Child Protection Advisor who will assist in undertaking a risk assessment. Any decision not to share information will require rigorous recording to demonstrate the reasons for not sharing information.

Children’s Social Care will discuss the case with the police representative working in the Customer Service Centre working for the PPU. The PPU will lead on the following cases where there is a report of a sexually active young person:

  • All cases where there is family abuse
  • All cases where there is concerns about grooming as identified as part of the risk assessment
  • All cases involving a young person under the age of 13 years
  • All cases where the young persons involved are both / all under 18 years

For all other cases, a referral to the local police station should be made. However if the practitioner considers that there is a child protection element to the case, they should discuss the case with the Police representative at CSC who will advice.

Children’s Social Care and PPU will hold strategy discussions and agree on a course of action. In cases involving an under 13 year old an initial or social work assessment will be undertaken. This recognises the particular vulnerability of children of this age engaging in sexual behaviours; and the position that, whilst sexual activity for young people under the age of 16 remains illegal, 13 - 16 year olds may be deemed competent to give consent, whereas children under the age of 13 are deemed too young to give their consent to sexual activity.

5.5 Children/Young People 13 up to their 18th Birthday

In all cases relating to possible abuse or neglect, Children’s Social Care will respond in one of three ways and will advise the referrer of which plan is in place:

  • An social work assessment will be undertaken to identify the child or young person’s level of need and service provision
  • The social work assessment may identify the child or young person to be at risk of suffering significant harm and in need of protection. This will necessitate a child protection enquiry and a social work assessment of need under section 47 of the Children Act 1989
  • Where no concerns are identified, there will be no further action. In these cases Social Care will advise the referrer verbally and in writing as to why the agency is to take this position. The referrer should consider if a referral to the TAC is appropriate.

In cases where Children’s Social Care identify a risk of suffering significant harm or are aware that an offence may have been committed against a child, they will hold a strategy discussion with the police (which may include the referrer), who will check their records about the children/young people and/or adults involved and share information with Children’s Social Care. The Children’s Social Care and PPU will, together with other involved agencies determine the need or otherwise for child protection enquiries to be made in line with the LSCB Procedures.

In any cases where Children’s Social Care staff receive a referral or become aware of a sexually active young person 13 or over, and under the age of 16 and decide not to hold a strategy discussion or share the information with the police, this decision must be made by a first line manager or above; and only after Police indices have been checked. A decision not to not make a formal referral to the Police will usually only be made by Children’s Social Care after a social work assessment, when there is clear evidence that the young person is not being abused or exploited through the sexual relationship. The decision and the reasons for it, must be recorded contemporaneously in the case record for the young person.

In some cases planned immediate protection will take place following a strategy discussion. In most cases where a practitioner has concerns that a relationship presents a risk of harm to a young person, there will be a process of interagency information sharing and discussion in order to formulate an appropriate plan. Immediate or ongoing support should be offered to the young person whilst an appropriate single or multi-agency plan is put in place.

Where a young person has lived outside the particular local authority area, the social worker and police officer must obtain relevant social, education and health and police information respectively. Where a young person has lived for some of his/her life outside the UK, the social worker and police officer must use agencies such as embassies and Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB), or Interpol to gather relevant information from that country in order to develop as wide a picture of the young person’s history and circumstances as possible.


6. Criminal Investigation

It is an offence for any young person to engage in a sexual relationship under the age of 16. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, it will not be in the best interests of the young person for criminal proceedings to be instigated against them.

The decision as to whether or not to proceed with criminal action against a young person who has been referred to Lincolnshire Police will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service acting upon the advice of the Police. The best interests of the young person concerned will be one factor in informing this decision.

All agencies hold responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to assist with the prosecution of criminal actions in their local area. In some cases, the Police may hold information about a young person or an adult involved with a young person and this may be critical in achieving the protection of a young person. When the Police service is advised of a likely criminal offence, it will record the information it receives but will investigate according to whether or not the individual circumstances of the case warrant it. The Police will liaise with Children’s Social Care about an investigation, unless the urgency to act to protect an individual or secure arrests precludes them from so doing.


7. Safeguarding Young People 16 and 17 Years

Consensual Sexual activity is not an offence over the age of 16, nevertheless 16 and 17 year old young people are still vulnerable to harm through an abusive sexual relationship. Practitioners providing services for 16 and 17 year old young people need to assess and address their safety and well being as in sections 2 and 4 above, and in line with LSCB Procedures.

Young people 16 and 17 years old are not deemed able to give consent if the sexual activity is with an adult in a position of trust or a family member as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003; and/or any pre-existing legislation.


Appendix 1: Police Information Request/Referral Process

Principles

  • The need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people is paramount;
  • Children and young people have a right to protection, and a right to access the criminal justice system;
  • Positive outcomes for children and young people are maximised when agencies work together and co-ordinate their activity.

Requests for Police Information

In cases where an agency requests information from the police for the purposes of a risk assessment, the police will:

  1. Receive the information
  2. Search relevant indices and pass the results to legitimate enquirers
  3. Fact of the request and details provided will be recorded for intelligence purposes only. Such requests will not be treated as allegations of crime referrals.
  4. Depending on the result, the enquirer may then make a subsequent referral.

Referrals to Police

In cases where an agency contacts the Police with an allegation of crime or potential crime (a child under 13 who has engaged in penetrative sexual activity or a child/young person 13 or over who is assessed to be at risk following an assessment as outlined in Sections 2 and 3 of this Procedure), the Police will:

  1. Receive the information and create allegation of crime report
  2. Pass to relevant investigating unit
  3. Assess the need for emergency action to protect a child or young person
  4. Research information held internally.
  5. Make a s.47 referral to the local Children’s Social Care according to LSCB Procedures (the original referrer should already have contacted Children’s Social Care).
  6. Share relevant information and have initial strategy discussion with Children’s Social Care, and the referring professional and other relevant agencies as required
  7. Attend strategy meeting (or hold a more detailed strategy discussion) and plan the investigation, making sure the interests of the child/ren remain paramount.
  8. Confirm the need for a criminal investigation and s.47 enquiry and agree any fast-track actions
  9. Conduct investigative activities as agreed and, if relevant, ensure the co-ordination of s.47 enquiries.
  10. Conclude the investigation and decide, in consultation with the Crown prosecution Service, an appropriate criminal justice disposal, taking into account the wishes of the victim, the public interest, and the views of relevant professionals who are working with the child or young person.


Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Matrix

Click here to view Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Matrix.

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