Abuse by Children and Young People

1. Introduction 

Children and young people are usually seen as the victims in cases of child maltreatment, perpetrated by adults. However, the harm caused by children and young people to other children and young people can be significant, long lasting and traumatic. Children and young people can also harm adults, whether they parents / carers, siblings, neighbours or strangers in the street, particularly Adults at Risk.

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.

Harm committed by children / young people on other people- whether they are children, young people or adults - transcends equalities issues. Gender, ethnicity, age, disabilities, sexual identity - all of these factors can be a part in harmful behaviour, for either the victim or the Child that bullies. Such abusive behaviour may be either a one-off incident or may be a continuous experience for someone, that is physical, sexual or emotional (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. It can be face to face, or in the form of cyberbullying (online via computers, games consoles or mobile phones).

Whilst victims need to be offered support by professionals 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 in 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 professionals involved. Those working with such children / young people should be aware that they are likely to pose a risk to others, not just the current victim and have a duty to safeguard others by sharing that information as appropriate.

As noted above, 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

As stated earlier this protocol 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. 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

Professionals should base their decision of 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 an Adult at Risk 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;
  • Whether the abuse was linked to honour based violence, as young people may be instructed to harm others by older family members.

4. Making a Referral and Action Following the Referral

If you are concerned that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm, make a referral to MASH – for more information see Referrals Procedure.

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

When the suspected abuser is a child / young person, a similar Strategy Meeting / Discussion (usually meeting) should be convened as soon as possible involving the police and Children's Services and other agencies who are involved.

When the children / young people concerned are the responsibility of different Children's 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 Services) in the area in which the alleged abuse took place.

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 Services and a record made. The following professionals 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 workers first line manager;
  • Police officers from the Police Public Protection Unit and / or an investigating officer as relevant;
  • A Youth Offending Team representative, if the child / young person who is the alleged abuser is aged eight 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 services 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 professional or agency involved with the child / young person alleged to have caused the harm;
  • College or work based learning providers.

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;
  • Information relevant to any abusive experiences of the child(ren) / young person(s) who has harmed is gathered.

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 as a child that bullies;
  • If the child / young person who caused the harm 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 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 children that bully, 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, which must have police attendance, should decide in which order any interviews take place.

Consideration should be given to referring un-convicted children aged 8 and above to the Youth Offending Service.

5. Criminal Investigation

The police will decide whether an alleged offence should be subject to criminal investigation. This will be the responsibility of the Detective Inspector, Public Protection Unit (PPU). The Child Abuse Investigation Team, within the PPU, will maintain responsibility in cases where there is a familial connection between the young people or children concerned.

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 the PPU. This will usually be a recorded interview held in a police station, under caution and with their parent / carer or another appropriate adult present.

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 professionals 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 alleged 'child that bullies', a social worker or other agency professional should attend to carry out their statutory responsibility to the child(ren) / young person(s) of an appropriate adult.

If, during the course of the interview the child / young person who is the victim of, or witness to, alleged abuse, they disclose 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, Criminal Justice System, Section 2.

Throughout the police enquiry, the immediate protection of all the children / young people involved must be ensured. If a decision is made that the alleged behaviour does not constitute a criminal offence and therefore there is no need for a criminal investigation but a Section 47 Enquiry may need to be conducted by Children's Social Care, 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 whether or not a Child's Assessment of need is warranted.

6. Outcome of Enquiries

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 exists 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 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:

  • What 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 what actions, including what action should be taken if the plan is not being successfully implemented;
  • The timescale for review of progress against planned outcomes.

7. 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.

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.

8. 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.

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 Youth Offending Services worker, or other specialist worker, should refer the child / young person to MAPPA if appropriate. For more information about MAPPA, see Persons who Pose a Risk to Children Procedure, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) - to follow.