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Children who Abuse Others

Scope of this chapter

The following procedures apply when there is an allegation or suspicion that a child has abused or is at risk of abusing another child or adult, including both those:

  • Outside of the child's immediate household; and
  • Within her/his household e.g. sibling abuse.

Child victim

Severe harm may be caused to children by abusive and bullying behaviour of other children, which may be physical, sexual or emotional and such abuse must be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. Abusive/inappropriate behaviour is often characterised by a lack of true consent, the presence of a power imbalance and exploitation the same signs and symptoms that pertain to the abuse of children by adults are applicable to the abuse of children by other children.

The effect on the victim of intimidation and peer pressure by their abuser may make disclosure difficult for the victim.

The boundary between what is abusive and what is part of normal childhood or youthful experimentation can be blurred. The ability of professionals to determine whether a child's sexual behaviour is developmental, inappropriate or abusive will hinge around the related concepts of true consent, power imbalance and exploitation. This may include children who exhibit a range of sexually harmful behaviours such as indecent exposure, obscene telephone calls, fetishism, bestiality and sexual abuse against adults or children and accessing/downloading sexually abusive child images from the Internet.

Developmental sexual activity encompasses those actions, which are to be expected from children as they move from infancy through to adulthood, developing an understanding of their physical, emotional and behavioural relationships with each other. Such sexual activity is essentially information gathering and experimentation characterised by mutuality and consent.

Sexual behaviour can be inappropriate socially, inappropriate to development or both. It is important to consider what negative effects the behaviour has on any of the parties involved and what concerns it raises about a child. It should be recognised that the behaviour may be motivated by information seeking but may cause significant upset, confusion physical damage etc. It may also be that the behaviour is acting out which may derive from other sexual situations which the child has been exposed to.

Abusive sexual activity is characterised by behaviour involving coercion, threats, aggression together with secrecy or where one participant relies on an unequal powerbase.

Professionals must decide in the circumstances of each case whether or not behaviour directed at another child should be categorised as 'abusive' and it will be helpful to consider the following factors:

  • Relative chronological and developmental age of the children (the greater the difference the more likely the behaviour should be defined as abusive);
  • A differential in power or authority e.g. related to race or physical or intellectual vulnerability of the victim;
  • Actual behaviour (both physical and verbal factors must be considered);
  • Whether the behaviour could be described as age appropriate or involves inappropriate sexual knowledge or motivation;
  • Physical aggression, bullying or bribery;
  • The victim's experience and perception of the behaviour;
  • Attempts to ensure secrecy;
  • An assessment of the change in the behaviour over time (whether it has become more severe or more frequent);
  • Duration and frequency of behaviour.

When there is suspicion or an allegation of a child having sexually abused or being likely to sexually abuse another child (or an adult), it should be referred immediately to Children's Services or the Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT).

Adult victim

If allegations concern abuse of an adult by a child, the Police would normally undertake the criminal investigation, but a referral to Children's Services should take place about any allegation of abusive behaviour by a child, irrespective of the age of the victim.

Adult Care Services and/or Hertfordshire Partnership Trust should be informed and involved when a vulnerable adult is alleged to have been abused.

Alleged abuser - a possible victim?

The possibility the alleged abuser is or was also a victim of abuse should be considered.


Bullying is a common form of deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for the victims to defend themselves.

Damage inflicted by bullying is often underestimated. It can cause considerable distress and affect health and development and in the extreme can cause significant harm, including self-harm. This could be via acts of omission or commission by an individual or institution.

Bullying takes many forms, but the three main types are physical (hitting, kicking, theft), verbal (racist or homophobic remarks, threats, name calling) and emotional e.g. isolating an individual from social activities. Perpetrators and victims may be male or female.

All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home are required to adopt policies to combat bullying including cyber bullying via mobile phones or internet usage and in the first instance, cases should be dealt with under such policies.

When there are concerns about sexual abuse or serious or persistent physical or emotional abuse, referrals should be made to Children's Services or the Police.

Bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment) and this must be reported to the Police at the earliest opportunity. See Bullying Procedure

Schools' role in recognition of abuse

Concerns about possible abuse by one child of another are frequently first considered within a school environment and it may frequently be unclear if the circumstances should be considered under child protection procedures or not.

When it is clear that the concern is one of child protection there should be no delay in the referral to Children's Services or the Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT) e.g. disclosure or witnessing of sexual abuse or allegation of physical assault.

When further assessment is required prior to deciding the extent and nature of the concerns, the school should undertake an evaluation of all relevant information is required to inform the extent and nature of the concerns and the appropriate response:

  • An initial discussion should be held with each of the pupils involved and they should be given the opportunity to record or dictate, in their own words an account of what has happened;
  • On the basis of the accounts given, the perceived level of distress experienced by the pupils and/or risk of further incident, consideration should be given to the need to separate alleged victim and perpetrator in the classroom or in the school and the possible need to send one or both home (for a defined period);
  • A written record of pertinent information including date and time of the incident and staff signature - a diagram / photo of the room / playground may be useful, as well as a description of who was present (potential witnesses);
  • It may be appropriate to seek an account of the incident from other pupils or staff named as being present;
  • Provide the child with the opportunity to confirm the accuracy of the record and record any disagreement.

The information gathered should be kept as a formal record of the incident and:

  • Pupils involved given the opportunity to comment on the factual accuracy of this formal record and any disagreement recorded;
  • Parents / carers of pupils involved should, without delay be informed of the incident, the initial action taken by the school and a meeting should be arranged so that they can be present when the pupils are formally interviewed about the incident by school staff.

These procedures are additional to those that apply to all children.

The interests of the identified victim must always be the paramount consideration. However, whenever a child may have abused another, all agencies must be aware of their responsibilities to both individuals and multi-agency management of the case must reflect this.

It is likely that the abuser may pose a significant risk of harm to other children, have considerable needs themselves and may also be or have been the victim of abuse.

Strategy discussions

On receipt of a referral to Children's Services, a decision should be taken if the threshold for Section 47 Enquiries has been reached. The Police must be informed if a criminal offence may have been committed in line with normal child protection procedures. See Contacts and Referrals Procedure

When the decision is reached that the alleged behaviour does not constitute abuse and there is no need for further enquiry or criminal investigation, the details of the referral and the reasons for the decision must be recorded. In these circumstances consideration should be given to the need for any further assessment or support services, from any agency, for either child. In the case of a child's sexualised behaviour, consideration should be given to the use of multi-agency child in need meetings (see Section 6, Multi Agency Child In Need Meetings).

If a decision is reached that the behaviour does constitute alleged abuse and the suspected abuser is a child, Children's Services must convene a Strategy Discussion (usually a meeting) within the Section 47 time-scales (See Strategy Discussion and Meetings Procedure)

In cases where the alleged perpetrator is below the age of criminal responsibility, those involved in the Strategy Discussion should agree whether Police involvement in the enquiry is necessary.

When the children concerned are the responsibility of different local authorities, each must be represented at the Strategy Discussion, which will usually be convened and chaired by the authority in which the victim lives.

The Strategy Discussion must consider the needs of both children. It may be helpful for separate meetings to be convened for victim and alleged abuser.

To ensure that both are supported through the process of the enquiry and that both their needs are fully assessed a different social worker may be allocated for the victim and the abuser, even when they live in the same household.

Strategy discussion(s) should be convened and chaired by Children's Services and a record made. The following individuals should be invited to the meeting:

  • Social worker for the child suspected or alleged to have abused another person;
  • Social worker for the child alleged to have been abused;
  • Social workers' first line manager(s);
  • Police Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT);
  • YOT representative where the alleged abuser is aged ten or over;
  • School representative(s) (particularly if the concerns suggest that other children in the school setting may have been or may be at risk of being abused);
  • School nurse or other health services staff as required;
  • Child protection school liaison officer;
  • Education welfare service;
  • Representatives of fostering or residential care as applicable;
  • Any other professionals involved with the child (or where relevant the family) e.g. CYPMHS.

The discussion/s must plan in detail the respective roles of those involved in enquiries and ensure that:

  • Information relevant to the protection needs of the alleged victim is gathered;
  • Any criminal aspects of the abuse are investigated;
  • Any information relevant to any abusive experiences and protection needs of the alleged perpetrator is obtained.

In planning the investigation the following should be considered:

  • Age of both children;
  • Seriousness of the alleged incident;
  • Effect on the victim and her/his own view of personal safety;
  • Parental attitude and ability to protect their child;
  • Arrangements to protect the victim and other children, especially where the victim and alleged perpetrator are in the same household or school class;
  • Whether there is suspicion that the alleged abuser has also been abused;
  • Whether there is reason to suspect that adults are also involved;
  • The likelihood and desirability of criminal prosecutions taking place.

When there is suspicion that the child is both an abuser and a victim of abuse, the Strategy Discussion must consider the order in which interviews will take place.

Where Police decide to conduct a separate 'offender' interview, Children's Services will not normally be involved other than in performing any statutory responsibilities to the child e.g. as appropriate adult.

Throughout the enquiry, the immediate protection of the child(ren) must be ensured, if that is necessary.

Children's Services Team Managers must ensure that critical risk assessments are completed in all circumstances where sexually harmful behaviour has been referred.

The outcome of enquiries is as described in Section 47 Enquiry Procedure. However, the position of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator must be considered separately.

If the information gathered in the course of enquiries suggests that the perpetrator is also a victim, or potential victim, of abuse including neglect, a child protection conference must be convened.

When there are no grounds for a Child Protection Conference, but concerns remain regarding the child's sexually abusive behaviour, (s)he will be considered as a child in need. In such cases, a multi-agency planning meeting should be held. See Section 6, Multi Agency Child In Need Meetings

Standard conference procedures should be followed for the alleged abuser or the victim when the criteria are met. See Child Protection Conferences Procedure

In addition for any conference about an alleged abuser:

  • Consideration should be given to inviting a YOT representative to the conference of alleged abusers aged 10 or over, and informing the YOT of the meeting in the case of younger children;
  • As well as carrying out all of its normal functions the child protection conference must consider how to respond to the child's needs as a possible abuser.

Where the alleged abuser does not become the subject of a Child Protection Plan with their name placed on the List of Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan, consideration should be given to the need for services to address any abusive behaviour and the multi-agency responsibility to manage any risk, through the use of multi-agency child in need meetings (See Section 6, Multi Agency Child In Need Meetings

The decision as to how to proceed with the criminal aspects of a case will be made by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This decision will take into account any recommendations of the YOT and the views of other professionals.

Best practice suggests that criminal proceedings should not be taken where:

Children with sexually abusive behaviour who are returning to the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation and children, who move into an area from another area, should be referred to the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).

When there are insufficient grounds for holding a Child Protection Conference, or where one has been held but a child protection plan was not implemented, a multi-agency approach will still be needed if the young abuser's needs are complex.

In such cases a multi-agency child in need (CIN) meeting should be convened by Children's Services to pool information, allocate roles and set a time-table for an assessment of the needs of the child and the risk posed by them, as well as to co-ordinate any other interim intervention.

The meeting should be chaired by the appropriate line manager and held within:

  • Fifteen working days of the last Strategy Discussion; or
  • A maximum of three months of the Child Protection Conference which decided that a Child Protection Plan was not required but implemented a Child In Need Plan, and six months thereafter, or more frequently dependent on the Plan.

Those invited should include participants of the Strategy Discussions and representatives from health (including Children and Young People's Mental Health Services), school and any other appropriate service provider, the child and her/his parents / carers.

A plan should be agreed which:

  • Defines the elements of a multi-agency assessment;
  • Identifies any specialist assessments of the abusive behaviours;
  • Addresses any immediate intervention required to minimise risk of future offending, including educational and accommodation needs;
  • Co-ordinates the role of relevant agencies and identifies those responsible for specific actions;
  • Defines timescales, expected outcomes and contingency arrangements.

On completion of the assessment, the same forum should be reconvened (within three months) to consider the outcome and the use of a further child in need plan.

Intervention should be reviewed subsequently at multi-agency meetings at intervals of no more than six months. At the point of closure, the review should consider the possible need for long-term monitoring and the availability of advice and other services.

Each meeting should consider the need for relevant professionals to meet regularly prior to the next review, so as to ensure that the plan is progressed and contingency arrangements implemented if required.

Last Updated: December 7, 2023