8.10 Children who Harm Other Children
Last reviewed in October 2021
Next review October 2023
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Bullying(Jump to)
- Sexual Abuse(Jump to)
- Teenage relationship abuse(Jump to)
- Role of Schools and Colleges in Recognition of Peer on Peer Abuse, including sexual violence and sexual harassment between children(Jump to)
- Recognition of Abuse for Referral to Children's Social Care(Jump to)
- Response to Referrals(Jump to)
- Strategy Discussion(Jump to)
- Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries(Jump to)
- Child Protection Conference(Jump to)
- Criminal Proceedings(Jump to)
- Multi-Agency Planning Meetings(Jump to)
Severe harm may be caused to children by the abusive and bullying behaviour of other children, which may be of a physical, sexual or emotional nature.
The effect on the victim of intimidation and peer pressure by their abuser may make disclosure difficult for the victim.
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. It can take many forms, but the three main types are physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, theft), verbal (e.g. racist or homophobic / religious remarks, threats, name calling) and emotional (e.g. isolating an individual from social activities, cyberbullying).
The damage inflicted by bullying is often underestimated and can cause considerable distress to children to the extent that it affects their health and development. In the extreme it can cause Significant Harm, including self-harm.
Bullying may involve an allegation of crime (assault, theft, harassment) and this must be reported to the police at the earliest opportunity.
Schools are required to have policies to combat bullying and in the first instance cases should be dealt with under such policies. The Government's guidance for schools on tackling bullying, Safe to learn, is available on the Department for Education website. The Department for Education has also published a report outlining anti-bullying tactics employed by schools - Approaches to preventing and tackling bullying.
For information about tackling bullying in other settings, please see the Safe from Bullying suite of guidance on the Department for Education website.
When there is suspicion or an allegation of a child having been sexually abused or being likely to sexually abuse another child, it should be referred immediately to Children's Social Care or the Police - see Making a Referral Procedure.
When considering whether sexual abuse has occurred, it is important to determine what is developmentally normal sexual experimentation and what is coercive (see also Sexually Active Children Procedure) and 8.13 Guidance on Children who present with Harmful Sexual Behaviours | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual
Teenage relationship abuse
Young people can also experience domestic abuse within their own intimate relationships. This form of peer on peer abuse is sometimes referred to as ‘teenage relationship abuse’. Depending on the age of the young people, this may not be recognised in law under the statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’ (if one or both parties are under 16). However, as with any child under 18, where there are concerns about safety or welfare, child safeguarding procedures should be followed and both young victims and young perpetrators should be offered support.
Role of Schools and Colleges in Recognition of Peer on Peer Abuse, including sexual violence and sexual harassment between children
Concerns about possible abuse by one child of another (often referred to as peer on peer abuse) 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.
All staff should be aware that children can abuse other children. And that it can happen both inside and outside of school or college and online. It is important that all staff recognise the indicators and signs of peer on peer abuse and know how to identify and respond to it.
Keeping children safe in education - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) emphasises the importance of challenging inappropriate behaviour between peers. These can include:
Downplaying certain behaviours, for example dismissing sexual harassment as “just banter”, “just having a laugh”, “part of growing up” or “boys being boys” can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviours, an unsafe environment for children and in worst case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it.
All school staff should understand, that even if there are no reports in their schools or colleges it does not mean it is not happening, it may be the case that it is just not being reported. As such it is important if staff have any concerns regarding peer on peer abuse they should speak to their designated safeguarding lead (or deputy).
All school staff should be clear as to the school’s or college’s policy and procedures with regard to peer on peer abuse and the important role they have to play in preventing it and responding where they believe a child may be at risk from it.
Where it is clear that the concern is one of child protection there should be no delay in the referral to Children's Social Care e.g. disclosure or witnessing of peer on peer sexual abuse.
Where further assessment is required prior to deciding the extent and nature of the concerns, the school should:
Recognition of Abuse for Referral to Children's Social Care
Professionals must decide in the circumstances of each case whether or not behaviour directed at another child should be categorised as abusive or not. It will be helpful to consider the following factors:
Where it is clear that the concern is one of child protection there should be no delay in the referral to Children's Social Care - see the Making a Referral Procedure.
Response to Referrals
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. The interests of any such children must also be considered as part of the response to the referral and in the multi agency management of the case.
In all cases where the suspected abuser is a young person, the Police and Children's Social Care must convene a Strategy Discussion (usually a face-to-face meeting) within the Section 47 Enquiry time-scales. The Police will also decide whether a criminal offence is alleged.
Where the decision is reached that the alleged behaviour does not constitute abuse or the child is under the age of criminal responsibility, 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.
When the young people 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, as well as any other children who may be at risk from the alleged perpetrator. Best practice would be for separate meetings to be convened for the victim/others at risk and the alleged abuser.
A different social worker should be allocated for the victim and the abuser, even when they live in the same household, to ensure that both are supported through the process of the enquiry and that both their needs are fully assessed.
The Strategy Discussion will be convened and chaired by Children's Social Care and a record made.
The following individuals should be invited to the meeting:
The Strategy Discussion must plan in detail the respective roles of those involved in enquiries and ensure the following objectives are met:
In planning the investigation the following factors should be considered:
Where there is suspicion that the child is both an abuser and the victim of abuse, the Strategy Discussion must consider the order in which interviews will take place.
The conduct of any investigation will be discussed within a Strategy Discussion and the interview planning meeting to ensure the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 and Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) are met.
Practice reminder: If the child gives a clear disclosure to the first responder (e.g. a teacher) then there is no need for the Police to take a first account (Q&A). The child should be able to go straight to an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview. Wherever possible the child should not have to repeat the disclosure before an ABE interview. In the cases where it is felt that an intermediary is needed to support the child and aid communication, this should be recorded and evidenced as to why it might delay the interview. The interview should be child-focused. The interview planning is important and should also be fully recorded.
Where police decide to conduct a separate 'offender' interview, Children's Social Care 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.
Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries
The outcome of enquiries is as described in the Section 47 Enquiries Procedure.
However, the position of the alleged victim(s) and the alleged perpetrator must be considered separately.
Where 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.
Child Protection Conference
Consideration should be given to inviting a youth offending team representative to the conference of alleged abusers aged 10 or over, and informing 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 perpetrator is not 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 planning 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 youth offending team and the views of other professionals.
Best practice suggests that criminal proceedings should not be taken where:
Multi-Agency Planning Meetings
Where there are insufficient grounds for holding a Child Protection Conference, or where one has been held but the child is not subject of a Child Protection Plan as a result, a multi-agency approach will still be needed if the young abuser's needs are complex.
In such cases a multi-agency planning meeting should be convened by Children's Social Care 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 coordinate any other interim intervention.
Those invited should include participants of the Strategy Discussion and representatives from health (including child and adolescent mental health services), school and any other appropriate service provider, the child and her/his parents / carers.
In cases where the young abuser is also Looked After, consideration should be given to the need for a plan to minimise risk of future offending, agreed with the child's carers and their agency.
On completion of the assessment, the same forum will be reconvened to consider the outcome, to identify a Lead Professional and the roles of relevant agencies in providing any identified intervention, including specialist input with regard to young people with special needs.
This may include action to address the risk posed to other children in contact with the alleged abuser as well as the identified victim.
Care must be taken to provide services culturally appropriate to the needs of the child and the family.
Intervention should be reviewed at regular multi-agency meetings at intervals of no more than six months.
At the point of closure, the review will consider the possible need for long-term monitoring and the availability of advice and other services.
Young people with inappropriate sexual behaviour who may pose a risk to children with whom they have contact or who are re-entering the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation, or who move into an area from another local authority also require such a multi-agency assessment / intervention -Section 9 of this manual, Risk Management of Known Offenders and Those who Pose a Risk.