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An upset child sitting against a wall with a hood pulled tightly over his head

A new NSPCC national framework to help tackle the issue of harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people is proving beneficial to professionals working in safeguarding.

The research of Professor Simon Hackett has strongly influenced the Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) framework of which he is the first author.

Professor Hackett's research tries to understand the problem of young people with harmful sexual behaviour.

The new HSB framework helps professionals identify the signs of HSB, offering a range of tools and resources to support them at each stage.

Supporting children

Sometimes children are sexually abused by other children or young people. Between a quarter and one-third of child sexual abuse happens in this way.

When the person who has committed the abuse is another child or young person, it is important to help them understand and address their behaviour.

However, without a national strategy for tackling harmful sexual behaviour, many children have limited access to support with some areas in the country offering no services at all.

Early intervention

Professor Hackett, who has a long history of working in the field of HSB, both as a practitioner and as a researcher, said: "In our experience, we know that professionals struggle to have the thorny issue of HSB taken seriously.

"There is a difficult balance to be struck between intervening to help children at the earliest opportunity and labelling or, even worse, demonising them as a result of their sexual behaviours. As professionals, we want to tackle HSB without stigmatising a child or young person, or negatively affecting their life chances.

"This is why this framework is so important."

The framework includes an audit tool that can be used to screen different levels of behaviours, clearly articulating the continuum of harmful sexual behaviour across childhood and adolescence.

It also has guidance that will hopefully lead to consistent assessment practice across all areas.

National response

Professor Hackett was asked to contribute to the HSB framework based on his extensive research in the area including his book called 'Children and Young People with Harmful Sexual Behaviours' which gives a concise review of research into HSB from the past 25 years.

The NSPCC brought people together across professional boundaries, from the voluntary sector and academia, as well as independent experts, policymakers and relevant organisations.

The framework has been piloted in a number of areas and shown to help in developing a consistent approach to HSB.

Professor Hackett added: "In my view, the framework's greatest strength is its potential to address the postcode lottery that currently exists between areas in the UK in the response to children and young people with HSB.

"The audit tool is also hugely beneficial as it's easy to tell people what's wrong with the way they're working but the framework aims to help professionals get things right."

Harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people includes:

  • Using sexually explicit words and phrases
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Using sexual violence or threats
  • Full penetrative sex with other children or adults

Children and young people who develop harmful sexual behaviour have usually experienced abuse and neglect themselves.

Source: NSPCC

This article was adapted from 'How we developed the HSB framework' which first appeared on the NSPCC's Impact and Evidence Hub.