Research Review published: Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours

09 June 2014

Image: Research Review: Children and young people with harmful sexual behavioursResearch in Practice has published its latest Research Review: Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours. Written by international expert Professor Simon Hackett, the Review provides leaders in safeguarding and child protection with essential evidence for developing strategy and services in this challenging area.

This comprehensive review draws together UK and international research findings to provide a fundamental contribution to emerging national strategic initiatives to create and test a national framework for children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours for use by local areas.

Pat Branigan, the NSPCCs development manager for sexual abuse said: “The publication of this review is timely. The NSPCC is currently chairing a national strategic group which is developing a strategy for harmful sexual behaviour. This review provides essential insight for a consistent and effective approach to this work.”

Dez Holmes, Director of Research in Practice, sits on the national strategic group which is developing a national strategy for harmful sexual behaviour. NSPCC is chairing the group. Aim (Assessment Intervention Moving on) is leading on developing and testing the framework with local authorities.

The scale of the problem is significant and underreporting is likely due to the stigma and shame surrounding this issue (Masson, 2001). Despite this, children and young people account for approximately a quarter of all sexual abuse convictions against victims of all ages (Vizard, 2004) and a third of all sexual abuse coming to the attention of professionals in the UK (Erooga and Masson, 2006). The review also highlights that in many cases, children and young people are both perpetrators and victims of abuse.

Professor Hackett said: “Knowledge has developed steadily about children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours over the last two decades. It’s now time to take stock of what’s been learnt and consolidate the excellent pockets of practice that exist in the UK.

It’s a complex problem that carries with it immense stigma for children and their families. We need a balanced approach to this issue that recognises both the risks and needs of children presenting with harmful sexual behaviours.”

Many families of young people with harmful sexual behaviours are described as multiply troubled; a significant proportion are from highly problematic family backgrounds and have experienced multiple disadvantages and adversities. Facing up to a child’s harmful sexual behaviours can represent a profoundly difficult parenting experience and parenting competence and resources can be undermined. Many parents whose children display harmful sexual behaviours are lonely and isolated. They often face considerable social stigma, rejection and hostility in response to their child’s behaviour. Attention should be given to identifying and building upon family strengths.

With concise, robust and accessible research findings, the review is written and edited to speak directly to local policy makers and leaders. It clarifies terminology in the field and offers up to date insights from research and innovative practice into assessment and intervention. The review will support local leaders and decision makers in developing policy, practice and service multi agency service improvement, providing the knowledge and tools to navigate a path through this complex terrain.

Dez Holmes, Director of Research in Practice, said: “Local Authorities are eager to embrace a more strategic approach in this area. Indeed much of the expertise needed for developing a national framework exists at a local level. We are therefore delighted to be publishing this Review and expect it to be an immediate resource both for service delivery and for development of a national framework.”

Copies of Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours , are available now. Read the executive summary here.

Watch a short video , with international expert Professor Simon Hackett, and author of the review, outlining his thoughts on the significance of this review, at this time.

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