Abuse by Children and Young People

Work with children and young people who abuse others - including those who sexually abuse/offend - should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children who abuse others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, and may have committed other offences. Such a child or young person is likely to be a Child in Need, and some will in addition be suffering or at risk of Significant Harm, and may themselves be in need of protection.

Children and young people who abuse others should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others. Work with adult abusers has shown that many of them began committing abusing acts during childhood or adolescence, and that significant numbers themselves have been subjected to abuse. Early intervention with children and young people who abuse others may, therefore, play an important part in protecting the public by preventing the continuation or escalation of abusive behaviour.

Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:

  • There should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of the youth offending team (YOT, child welfare/ child protection, education (including educational psychology) and health (including child and adolescent mental health) agencies.
  • The needs of children and young people who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims, and
  • An assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.

The Youth Offending Service will have an important role to play in cases where an offence may have been committed by the young person. At the same time, neither child welfare nor criminal justice agencies should carry out a course of action that has implications for the other without appropriate consultation.

Accordingly, in cases where it appears abuse may have been committed by a child or young person, the Youth Offending Service will be invited to be part of the strategy discussion (see Strategy Discussions Procedure).

Following the conclusion of S.47 enquiries, social services and the YOS, if involved, will need to agree which agency will take the lead on assessing the needs of a child or young person who has abused others, and what the contribution of each should be. The lead agency will then be responsible for co-ordinating the contribution of other agencies and professionals to the assessment.

In assessing a child or young person who abuses another, the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families should be followed. Relevant considerations specific to these cases include:

  • The nature and extent of the abusive behaviours. In respect of sexual abuse, there are sometimes perceived to be difficulties in distinguishing between normal childhood sexual development and experimentation and sexually inappropriate or aggressive behaviour. Expert professional judgement may be needed (for example from a Clinical Psychologist) within the context of knowledge about normal child sexuality.
  • The context of the abusive behaviours, including the history and pattern of behaviours and the extent to which the child or young person acknowledges the behaviours.
  • The child's development, and family and social circumstances, including any factors which may help to understand the origins of the abusive behaviour, and the parents' level of understanding and acceptance of the abuse.
  • Needs for services, specifically focusing on the child's harmful behaviour as well as other significant needs, including those which arise from any harm the child or young person may themselves have suffered, and
  • The risks to self and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network.

Further guidance, and a model for the assessment of young people who sexually abuse others is contained later in this policy.

The risk of further abusive behaviour is likely to be present unless: the opportunity to further abuse is ended, the young person has acknowledged the abusive behaviour and accepted responsibility and there is agreement by the young abuser and his/her family to work with relevant agencies to address the problem.

Decisions for local agencies (including the Crown Prosecution Service where relevant), according to the responsibilities of each, include:

  • The most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system, if the child is above the age of criminal responsibility, and agreement about who will work with the alleged offender prior to the criminal process being completed.
  • Whether the young abuser should be the subject of a child protection conference; and
  • What plan of action should be put in place to address the needs of the young abuser, detailing the involvement of all relevant agencies. Inter-agency plans should be regularly reviewed.

A young abuser should be the subject of a child protection conference only if he or she is considered personally to be at risk of continuing to suffer significant harm. Where there is no reason to hold a child protection conference, there will still be a need for a multi-agency approach if the young abuser's needs are complex. Issues regarding suitable educational and accommodation arrangements often require skilled and careful consideration.

A Procedure on Children and young people who display sexually inappropriate or harmful behaviours can be found in see Children and Young People who Display Sexually Inappropriate or Harmful Behaviours Procedure.