Working with children and young people who have displayed harmful sexual behaviour: evidence based guidance for professionals working with children and young people

Guidance to support professionals who work with children and young people to identify, prevent and mitigate harm caused by children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour

Annex: Practice Examples – Identifying and responding to behaviours

A) Normative and developmentally expected sexual behaviour

Example 1:

Mary, aged 4, touches and rubs her vulva because it feels nice. Mary’s parents talked to her about using the correct names for private body parts and advised that touch should only take place in a private space.

Example 2:

John is 14 and has a learning disability. He has a girlfriend his own age and they like to hold hands and kiss. Staff at his school ensured that John and his girlfriend had information available in relation to healthy relationships, intimacy and consent.

Behaviour in this category typically requires no specialist or targeted assessment or intervention.

Education on typical and healthy sexual development, gender, sexuality, relationships and other related areas should be provided to all children and young people (particularly those with vulnerabilities) at a developmentally appropriate level. If appropriate, children may be gently redirected to alternative activities depending on age, or the behaviour can be used to generate discussion on healthy sexual expression and behaviour in an age-appropriate way. Normal, healthy sexual behaviour can be encouraged and promoted through giving children and young people the skills, knowledge and boundaries they require. A proactive approach to providing RSHP education formally at school, and informally at home, can prevent and reduce harmful sexual behaviour.

Typically parents and perhaps school will be the only adults involved in relation to normative sexual behaviour. Educators will be involved providing RSHP education to all children and young people aged 3-18, including those with additional support needs as well as promoting a whole school approach to preventing gender based violence. The parents’ role will involve promoting learning at home using resources as appropriate and finding opportunities in every-day life to teach privacy, consent, boundaries, etc. House, family and community rules and expectations of behaviour can also be reinforced as needed.

Attitudes and values can influence our acceptance of what is ‘normal, healthy sexual behaviour’. Some parents, carers or professionals may find it difficult to view a child or young person as a sexual being, especially if that child is very young, or has a learning disability. The Traffic Light Tools listed on page 13 can assist with parental understanding from a child development perspective.

In some cases, limited work with parents or caregivers may also be necessary in order to educate them about sexuality and how behaviours naturally evolve with age and maturity, especially with the onset of puberty with sexual drives, hormonal urges and desires.

Children whose sexual behaviours are considered normative for their age and stage of development, as well as consensual, should not be referred for an assessment in relation to harmful sexual behaviour. Undertaking an assessment of behaviours in such circumstances could be damaging for the child’s development and risks significant negative labelling of the child.



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