Key messages from research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour

Source Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse Published 22nd February 2023

NIROMP are very pleased to let you know that today the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse have published updated Key messages from research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour. The findings from this important research is now live on their website.  

The Centre have been busy publishing a number of resources in the last few weeks including their updated Child sexual abuse in 2021/22: Trends in official data and their new eLearning course – a free, short, accessible course for all professionals working with children on identifying and responding to intra-familial child sexual abuse.  NIROMP are proud to promote this short, free course which will no doubt be invaluable to IRO as well as wider colleagues – to support knowledge and understanding of child sexual abuse.

The CSA Centre’s Key messages from research series

The CSA Centre’s Key messages from research series brings together the most up-to-date research into quick-read accessible overviews, to guide confident and evidence-informed professional practice.  This latest report in the series – Key messages from research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour – is an update from 2018, drawing on research published in the last five years, to help professionals, commissioners, managers and policy makers respond to the significant numbers of children and young people who need support right now.

Consideration of harmful sexual behaviour has received a welcome, growing focus over the past year in research, practice and policy. The Everyone’s Invited website received over 50,000 sexual abuse submissions (including harmful sexual behaviour) across education settings and Ofsted and Eystn both published reviews of sexual abuse and harassment in schools making recommendations including a need for greater understanding, recognition, and action to prevent and address such behaviour and support children and young people.  

Harmful sexual behaviour is sexual behaviour by under-18s that may be harmful towards themselves or another child, young person or adult.  Research suggests that children under-18 are responsible for a significant proportion of child sexual abuse, yet there remains little data on the scale of the full spectrum of harmful sexual behaviours.  However, one third of all child protection assessments relating to child sexual abuse concerned a child or young person who had harmed another child or young person in England last year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, professionals working with children are likely to need to respond to concerns of harmful sexual behaviour during their careers. It is important that professionals, commissioners, managers and policy-makers have the knowledge and understanding to respond and support children, and ensure their organisations are set up to maximise safety from harm.  The majority of children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour do not go on to sexually harm as adults and can benefit from confident professional intervention.

This succinct, focused report is a must read for all professionals working with children distilling the current evidence and research into an accessible read. The Key messages from research series remains some of our most downloaded content and the print copies fly off our stand at events.  We get feedback from professionals that they use them to inform their practice but also to stimulate team discussions and support supervision discussions.  The CSA Centre also offers practice resources to support professionals who have concerns about harmful sexual behaviour, including the Safety Planning in Education guide for professionals supporting children following incidents of harmful sexual behaviour. Take a look at http://www.csacentre.org.uk/knowledge-in-practice/practice-improvement/

Child sexual abuse in 2021/22: Trends in official data

This report is important because it brings together the data available from agencies including children’s social care, policing, criminal justice and health to build a picture of how services identify and respond to child sexual abuse. 

This year’s data has revealed a shift in the long-term trends. The report highlights significant improvement in the identification of child sexual abuse including a 15% increase in concerns of children being sexually abused recorded by children’s services, mirrored by a 15% rise in recorded offences of child sexual abuse, and a 13% rise in contact with sexual assault referral centres by under 18s in 2021/22. 

Not only this, but police forces in England and Wales recorded the most child sexual abuse offences ever in 2021/22, surpassing 100,000 for the first time. Likewise, children’s services assessments identified the highest number of concerns of child sexual abuse since records began.

In combination these rises suggest signs that services are becoming more confident in identifying and naming concerns of child sexual abuse.  The increase in identification of child sexual abuse concerns is likely to be the result of a combination of factors, including heightened awareness of concerns following campaigns such as Everyone’s Invited, increased focus on risks of hidden harms during COVID-19 lockdowns; and greater priority by services given to identifying these concerns post-lockdowns.

But there remains much more work to do because this latest data shows there remain some persistent and familiar challenges.  Sadly, amongst these indicators of improvements, there is increasing concern about the growing time it takes for reported child sexual abuse offences to proceed through the criminal justice system. In fact, in 2021/22 there was typically a wait of nearly two years (614 days) between reporting child sexual abuse to the police and the case concluding in court.

We estimate that 500,000 children are sexually abused every year, yet the data shows that fewer than 50,000 children were assessed as being at risk of sexual abuse (including child sexual exploitation concerns). So there remains a huge gap between those children who get help and those who remain unprotected.

Do give it a read: Trends in official data – CSA Centre

You can also access updated and new infographics to accompany the report. 

eLearning  – A free, short, accessible course for all professionals working with children on Identifying and responding to intra-familial child sexual abuse

The course is designed for anyone working with children to understand what intra-familial child sexual abuse is, provide guidance on how to identify concerns and build knowledge and confidence in how to respond to support both children and their wider family.

Victims and survivors of intra-familial child sexual abuse can and do recover from their abuse, especially when supported by professionals who show care and compassion, facilitate choice, control and safety, and are trained to best support them and their wider families.

This introductory course takes just 90 minutes to complete, is entirely free and consists of three engaging modules, with interactive tasks, video explainers and a final assessment. It’s designed for professionals at all stages of their career; for those new to safeguarding, or as a helpful refresher.  Gain confidence in your understanding of intra-familial child sexual abuse today – and get your certificate.

Access the course here https://www.csacentre.org.uk/training/elearning/

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