3.11.3 Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse by Children and Young People of other Children and Vulnerable Adults

1. Introduction

Children and young people are usually seen as the victims in cases of child maltreatment, which is perpetrated by adults. However, the harm caused by children and young people to others can be significant, long lasting and traumatic. Children and young people can and do on occasions harm other young people and adults, whether they are parents / carers, siblings, neighbours or strangers in the street. Vulnerable adults are at particular risk of harm.

These procedures are written in relation to sexually harmful behaviour, serious non-sexual violence or serious emotional abuse by a child or young person, either singularly or as part of a group. This includes gang and / or weapon related violence. For more information see Gangs Procedure.

Abusive behaviour may be either a one-off incident, a pattern of behaviour in response to a certain context or set of circumstances which are present at the time or may be a continuous experience for someone, that is Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Emotional Abuse (including verbal) in nature, or may be a combination of those factors. It may be inflicted by a single child / young person, in pairs or by groups or gangs. Issues of gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual identity and the context in which the behaviour occurs need to be considered during assessment, but must not be allowed to undermine the prime consideration that abuse is abuse and must be prevented.

Whilst victims need to be offered support by practitioners according to the trauma they have experienced and any associated issues, children / young people who harm others also need agency involvement, which may be intensive and protracted in its nature, in order to achieve better outcomes for their future. Just because they are the aggressor does not mean that they should not be safeguarded nor their welfare promoted. Safeguarding applies to all children / young people, whatever their background or circumstances. Those who harm others should be held responsible for their behaviour, whether that is by a court of law, other sanctions or approaches depending on the nature and severity of the incident and as agreed by the practitioners involved. Those working with such children / young people should be aware that they pose a risk to others, not just the current victim and have a duty to safeguard others by sharing that information as appropriate. (See Section 3, Information Sharing and Confidentiality of the Underlying Principles and Values).

Children / young people who harm others are likely to be children with additional or complex needs themselves. Evidence suggests they may have suffered significant disruption in their own lives; they may have been exposed to Domestic Abuse within their family, witnessed or suffered physical or sexual abuse themselves, be educational under-achievers and may be involved in other types of crime.

2. Principles

This procedure is written in relation to sexually harmful behaviour, serious non-sexual violence or serious emotional abuse by a child or young person, either singularly or as part of a group against other child or young person or adults. Given the potential gravity of the behaviours, workers should adhere to the following principles:

  • When a child / young person has, or may have harmed another child, young person or adult, all agencies must be aware of their responsibilities to both the victim and the alleged abuser. This must be reflected in the multi-agency management of both, or all of the cases;
  • The needs of the victim/s must always be paramount when considering the multi-agency response;
  • It is essential to safeguard other children, young people or adults, for example siblings, if it is thought that the child / young person could go on to harm others;
  • The child / young person is likely to have significant needs of their own too. If they have also been the victim of abuse, this needs to be addressed by the multi-agency response.

3. Recognising Abuse

Practitioners should base their decision on whether or not the behaviour of the child / young person should be categorised as harmful, on each individual incident. The following should be taken into consideration when making such a decision:

  • The relative chronological and developmental ages of the children / young people involved (if the victim is significantly younger or has developmental delay, or is a vulnerable adult the behaviour is more likely to be abusive);
  • Whether the child / young person acted alone or with others;
  • If there were others involved were they younger, older or the same age;
  • If there was a difference between victim/s and perpetrator/s in power or authority, for example in relation to age, race, gender, physical, emotional or intellectual vulnerability of the victim;
  • All alleged physical / verbal aspects of the actual behaviour / incident;
  • Whether the behaviour involved inappropriate sexual knowledge or motivation;
  • What was the degree of physical aggression, intimidation, threatening behaviour or bribery;
  • What affect the experience has had on the life / lifestyle of the victim, for example if they were hospitalised, have they stopped attending school, do they avoid certain places they used to go;
  • What attempts have been made to ensure the behaviour / incident is kept a secret;
  • What was the child / young person's motivation or reason for the behaviour, if they admit that it occurred;
  • Whether this was a one-off incident, or longer in duration.

4. Making a Referral

If a worker is concerned that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, a telephone referral must be made as soon as possible to the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub. For more information see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.

Following the telephone referral, all practitioners must follow up contact with the Safeguarding Hub by completing a Multi-Agency Confirmation Form (MACF). See Making a Referral following the identification of child safety and welfare concerns, Section 8, Information required when making a Referral.

If practitioners need to refer a child who they think has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm outside of office hours, they should ring the Children's Social Care Emergency Duty Team via the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub or by contacting the police on 999.

5. Strategy Discussion / Meeting

When any agency makes a referral to Children's Social Care about a child or young person who has been or is likely to be a victim of abuse, an initial Strategy Discussion / Meeting must take place between Children's Social Care, the police and other relevant agencies. The purpose is to share information and determine whether the threshold for Section 47 enquiries has been reached. (See Strategy Discussions Procedure and Section 47 Enquiries and Assessments Procedure.

When the suspected abuser is a child / young person, a similar Strategy Meeting should be convened within 48 hours, but preferably within 24 hours of the initial referral or identification of concern, involving the police and Children's Social Care, and other agencies who are involved.

When the children / young people concerned are the responsibility of different Children's Social Care services, each local authority must be represented at the Strategy Meeting / Discussion. This will usually be convened and chaired by the local authority (Children's Social Care) in which the victim lives.

The child / young person who is the victim, and the child / young person(s) who are the abuser should be allocated different social workers. This should be the case even if they continue to live in the same household. This is to ensure that both children / young people have their needs assessed and met individually, and that they are supported through the child protection process, and any other that may take place such as a criminal court case.

The Strategy Meeting / Discussion should be convened and chaired by Children's Social Care or Safeguarding Children's Service and a record made. The following practitioners should be invited:

  • The social worker(s) for the child(ren) / young person(s)who is the suspected or alleged abuser;
  • The social worker(s) for the child(ren) / young person(s) who are the alleged victim(s);
  • The social worker(s) first line manager;
  • Police officers from the Child Abuse Investigation Unit and / or an investigating officer as relevant;
  • A Youth Justice Service representative, if the child / young person who is the alleged abuser is aged ten or over;
  • School / college representative/s, particularly if there are any concerns that other children / young people in the educational setting have been, or are at risk of being abused;
  • A school nurse or any other health service staff, as appropriate;
  • A Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) representative;
  • Representatives of fostering or residential care, if relevant;
  • Local specialist voluntary agencies and any other practitioner or agency involved with the child / young person alleged to have caused the harm.

The Strategy Meeting should plan the roles and responsibilities of those who will be involved in the enquiries. It is essential that the Strategy Meeting achieves the following objectives:

  • The safety of each individual child / young person, and adult involved, while concerns are investigated. Particular attention should be paid to where they reside and any necessary contact arrangements;
  • Any criminal aspects of the abuse are investigated;
  • Gathering information relevant to any abusive experiences of the child(ren) / young person(s) with the harmful behaviour.

In planning the investigation, the following should be considered:

  • The age of all children / young people and adults who were involved, either as victim or perpetrator;
  • If the child / young person who caused the harmed was / is supported by other children / young people;
  • How serious was the alleged incident;
  • The effect on the victim/s and their own view of their (current and previous) safety;
  • The victim's parents / carers attitude about the incident and their ability to protect their child/ren;
  • The appropriateness of any existing residential or foster placements for any of the children / young people involved;
  • The abuser's parents / carers response to their child's behaviour;
  • If there is a suspicion, or known fact, that the child / young person who is the alleged abuser has also been abused;
  • If there is cause to suspect that adults are also involved in the alleged abuse in some way;
  • The likelihood and appropriateness of any resulting criminal prosecution;
  • The level of cognitive ability of all of the child(ren) / young person(s) involved, both as victims and perpetrators, to understand the seriousness of what has occurred and what the consequences may be;
  • Whether there are any equalities issues related to race, sexuality / sexual identity, age, gender, or religion that should be addressed;
  • The mental health state of the child(ren) / young person(s) and their capacity to be interviewed.

If it is suspected that a child / young person is both an abuser and a victim of abuse, the Strategy Meeting / Discussion should decide in which order any interviews take place.

Consideration should be given to referring children aged 8 to 9 years old, or un-convicted children / young people aged 10 and above to the relevant area Community Youth Team. For further information visit Sheffield YJS website or ring 0800 138 8381.

6. Criminal Investigation

The police will decide whether an alleged offence should be subject to criminal investigation. This will be the responsibility of the Senior Investigating Officer, in liaison with the Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU). CAIU will maintain responsibility in cases where there is a familial connection between the young people or children concerned. Decisions should be made in consultation with other agencies.

If a child aged ten or over is alleged to have committed an offence of a serious physical, sexual or emotional nature against a child / young person or adult, the first interview with them must be undertaken by a police officer from CAIU. This will be a recorded interview held in a police station, under caution and with their parent / carer or another appropriate adult present. See Section 47 Enquiries and Assessments Procedure, Seeing and Interviewing the Child, for further information.

Sometimes it may be agreed that interview by a police officer may not be in the best interests of the overall management of the investigation, nor in the welfare of the children involved. In such cases the police may agree that it would be preferable for a social worker from Children's Social Care, with other practitioners as appropriate, to interview the child if it is believed that they may have been a victim of abuse, as well as the abuser. Explicit police agreement must be obtained and documented prior to the interview taking place.

Should the police decide to conduct a separate interview' with the child / young person as an 'offender', a social worker, an approved Appropriate Adult or other independent agency practitioner should attend to carry out their statutory responsibility to the child(ren) / young person(s) as an appropriate adult.

If, during the course of the interview the child / young person who is the victim of, or witness to, the alleged abuse discloses offences that they have committed or been subjected to, these incidents should normally be the subject of a separate interview. For further information see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses and Using Special Measures (Ministry of Justice, March 2011).

Throughout the police enquiry, the immediate protection of all the children / young people involved must be ensured.

If the decision is made that the alleged behaviour does not constitute abuse and there is no need for further enquiry or criminal investigation, the details of the referral and the reasons for the decision must be recorded. In each case and in respect of each child involved or potentially involved, Children's Social Care will determine, as part of a Strategy Discussion, whether an Assessment of need is warranted. Reasons for any decision must be recorded in an Action Plan. Consideration should be given to whether a more specialist assessment is needed. A Person Posing a Risk assessment is not suitable for assessing a child / young person. A more suitable model is the AIM (2) model.

If the outcome of a Police investigation suggests any disposal other than a first Community Resolution is appropriate, this case will be referred to the Youth Justice Service's Youth Outcome Panel (YOP) for multi-agency discussion, assessment and decision making.

7. Outcome of Enquiries

The outcome of enquiries is as described in Section 47 Enquires and Assessment Procedure, Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry. It is essential that whatever the outcome, the position of the alleged victim and the alleged abuser are considered separately.

If the information gathered in the course of the enquiries suggests that the child / young person who is the abuser is also a victim, or potential victim, of any category of child abuse, a separate child protection conference must be convened for him / her.

If it is decided there are no grounds for holding a Child Protection Conference, but concern still exist about the child / young person's sexually, physically, and / or emotionally harmful behaviour, they should be considered as a Child in Need. A Multi-Agency Planning Meeting (see Section 10, Multi-Agency Planning Meetings) should then be held, and a plan for the delivery of required services for the child / young person and their family agreed. The meeting should agree:

  • Which agencies should be informed of the assessment of the child / young person's needs, the basis for the agency's involvement and the risk they may pose to others;
  • Who will have responsibility for which actions, including what action should be taken if the plan is not being successfully implemented;
  • The timescale for review of progress against planned outcomes.

Family Group Conferences may have a role to play in fulfilling these tasks. For information about Family Group Conferences see: Family Group Conferences: Principles and Practice Guidance (2002, Barnardo's / Family Rights Group / NCH).

8. Child Protection Conference

Consideration should be given to inviting a representative of the Youth Offending Service to the Conference of any child / young person, aged eight or over, who is engaged in harmful behaviour. This may be a YOS worker if the child / young person is already known, or a worker from the Youth Offending Prevention Team in all other cases. For more information about Child Protection Conferences, see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure.

In addition to carrying out its usual functions, the Child Protection Conference must also consider how to respond to the child / young person's needs as a possible abuser.

If it is decided that the child / young person who is the alleged abuser is not to be placed on the List of Children with a Child Protection Plan, in order to protect them consideration should be given to the need for services to address abusive behaviour and the multi-agency responsibility to manage any risk. This should take place through Multi-Agency Planning Meetings.

9. Criminal Proceedings

The decision whether to proceed with a criminal prosecution against the child / young person will be made by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The police must operate in accordance with the duty to seek to investigate and prosecute all crimes. Agencies working with young offenders should ensure that actions by staff do not undermine the need to ensure a criminal conviction if the substance of the allegation so warrants it.

If a child / young person, whether they are the alleged abuser or victim, is referred for therapy during the course of the police investigation or the court proceedings, further information is available: Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses during a Police Investigation or a Criminal Trial Procedure.

10. Multi-Agency Planning Meetings

It is likely that both the child / young person who is a victim and those who abused will have complex needs. These will require a multi-agency response. In cases where there are no grounds for holding a Child Protection Conference, or where one has been held but the outcome was not to add the child / young person to the List of Children with a Child Protection Plan, a Multi-Agency Planning Meeting should be convened to plan services for a child in need.

It is not envisaged that universal services would be able to deal with children / young people with such complex needs through the Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF).

For each child / young person involved, who are either victim/s or abuser/s, a Multi-Agency Planning Meeting should be convened, by Children's Social Care in order to:

  • Share information;
  • Agree to undertake an assessment of the victim/s needs;
  • An assessment of the needs and risks posed by the child young person who is the abuser;
  • Set a timetable for both assessments;
  • Agree to refer for a specialist assessments as required;
  • Coordinate interim support for the victim/s;
  • Ensure interim risk management for the child / young person with harmful behaviours, to minimise the risk of them engaging in further abuse;
  • Allocate agency and practitioner roles, including which agency will be responsible for the interim risk management plan.

Those invited to the Multi-Agency Planning Meeting should include participants of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting, as well as representatives from health, including CAMHS, the school / college and any other practitioners with relevant knowledge of the child / young person and their parents/carers.

On completion of the assessments, the Multi-Agency Planning Meeting should be reconvened for each child / young person to consider the outcome, and to review and co-ordinate the roles of relevant agencies in providing identified interventions. This should include a risk management plan and specialist input for those with special needs.

The Multi-Agency Planning Meeting should have agreed which agency is responsible for the risk management plan for a child / young person with harmful behaviours. It should always address the risk to other children / young people and adult, particularly in relation to any identified triggers that may provoke such behaviour. A plan must be in place to minimise risk of future offending.

The Chair of the Multi-Agency Planning Meetings should decide the frequency of the review meetings. This should be in accordance with each child/ young person's needs and / or risk. Both the risk management plan for the child with harmful behaviour and support for a child who is the victim should be reviewed at regular multi-agency meetings. At the point of closure, the review meeting must consider whether there is a need for long-term monitoring, how this will be implemented and reviewed, and the availability of advice and other services.

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) have been put in place to protect the community from known potentially dangerous offenders. This includes young people who meet the MAPPA criteria. The YOS worker should refer the child / young person to MAPPA. See MAPPA Procedure for more information.

11. Children / Young People moving into or Re-entering a Local Authority Area

Children / young people with inappropriate sexual or very violent behaviour who are re-entering the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation, or who move into an area from another local authority, require the multi-agency response (assessment / intervention) as outlined in Section 10, Multi-Agency Planning Meetings, above. This should be initiated at the earliest opportunity.

Where a child / young person who has been convicted of sexual or serious violent offences is released into the community, MAPPA must be invoked to ensure the safety of the community. See MAPPA Procedure for more information.

12. Children and Young People involved in Weapons and Gangs

See Gangs Procedure.

Appendix 1: Flowchart for referring Concerns

Click here to view Flowchart for referring Concerns.