Harmful sexual behaviour Keeping children safe

Teenage girl standing in the streetWe can all play a part in helping keep children safe from harmful sexual behaviour - whether it's happening at school, at home or online.

It's important that if a child’s sexual behaviour is not healthy or age-appropriate, then adults respond quickly before the behaviour becomes harmful to that child or other children.

We have guidance and resources to help people working with children respond appropriately to problematic and harmful sexual behaviour and advice for parents, carers and concerned adults.

Guidance for professionals

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own guidance for how professionals must respond to child abuse and protect children from harm. These include key messages for practice for professionals working to safeguard children at risk of harmful sexual behaviour.

Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges

(Department of Education (DfE), 2017)

This advice clarifies for schools and colleges what sexual violence and sexual harassment is, how to minimise the risk of it occurring and what to do when incidents occur, or are alleged to have occurred. The advice highlights schools’ and colleges’ legal responsibilities and provides examples of best practice. It cross-references other advice and statutory guidance. 

Download Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges (PDF)

Read our briefing that summarises the key points from the DfE guidance on sexual violence and sexual harassment between children (anyone under the age of 18) at school and college

Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE)

(Department for Education (DfE), 2016)

Statutory guidance on safeguarding children for schools and colleges in England. Contains brief information about allegations of abuse against peers.

Download Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) (PDF)

Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people

(National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2016)

Covers children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour, including those on remand or serving community or custodial sentences. It aims to ensure these problems don't escalate and possibly lead to them being charged with a sexual offence. It also aims to ensure no-one is unnecessarily referred to specialist services.

Download Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people (PDF)

View Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people: interactive flowchart

Sexting in schools and colleges

(UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), 2016)

Advice for schools and colleges on responding to incidents of sexting. Aims to support them in tackling the range of issues which these incidents present, including responding to disclosures, handling devices and imagery, risk assessing situations and involving other agencies.

Download Sexting in schools and colleges: responding to incidents and safeguarding young people (PDF)

Safeguarding and child protection in schools

(Department of Education, 2017)

Specific safeguarding guidance for schools containing information on children who display harmful sexualised behaviour.

Download Safeguarding and child protection in schools: a guide for schools (PDF)

Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2017)

Overarching framework for safeguarding young people in Northern Ireland. This has sections on peer abuse and harmful sexual behaviour.

View Co-operating to Safeguard Children and Young People in Northern Ireland

Revised regional core child protection policies and procedures for Northern Ireland

(Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, 2017)

The Revised regional core child protection policies and procedures explain the actions that must be taken when there are concerns about the welfare of a child/young person. They cover: core procedures; individuals who pose a risk to children and young people: learning and improvement to support and develop child protection; the roles and responsibilities of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland; and interagency guidance and protocols.

The policies and procedures are operational as of 15 December 2017. They replace the Area Child Protection Committee Regional Policies and Procedures that were issued in April 2005.

View Revised regional core child protection policies and procedures for Northern Ireland (click on Core child protection procedures)


National guidance for child protection in Scotland

(Scottish Government, 2014)

Includes sections on responding to children and young people who display harmful or problematic sexual behaviour, and underage sexual activity.

Download National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF)

National guidance - under-age sexual activity

(Scottish Government, 2010)

Designed for professionals to use alongside National guidance for child protection in Scotland.

View National guidance - under-age sexual activity: meeting the needs of children and young people and identifying child protection concerns (PDF)

Safeguarding children

The Welsh government sets out how all agencies and professionals should work together to safeguard and promote children's welfare. Includes a section on abuse by children and young people.

View Safeguarding Children: Working together under the Children Act 2004

Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014

(Welsh Government, 2014)

A suite of guidance and codes of practice issued under section 145 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. These documents set out the social services requirements for local authorities in Wales. The codes and guidance cover both services for adults and children.

There is one outstanding code of practice in relation to Part 7 of the Act, on handling individual cases to protect children and adults at risk. Once this has been published, the codes will replace Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 in its entirety.

View Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014: codes of practice and statutory guidance

Books to help prevent harmful sexual behaviour

Reading a book with a child can be a good way to start a conversation about sensitive subjects such as harmful sexual behaviour. When having these conversations, make sure the child knows you’re there to support them and explain that you aren’t angry but just want to make sure they’re safe and happy.

Some parts are not for sharing 

By Julie K. Federico

This illustrated children's story book helps young children to learn about the boundaries of appropriate touching in a non-threatening way. Using a story based on sea creatures, it explains how some parts of the body are not for sharing, and encourages children to tell an adult if anyone asks or tries to touch them in a "private area".

No means no: teaching children about personal boundaries, respect and consent; empowering kids by respecting their choices and their right to say, 'no'

By Jayneen Sanders

Designed to be read by an adult to a child, this illustrated storybook helps children aged 3-9 years to learn about personal boundaries. It includes ideas for discussion questions related to each scenario described.

For more books, search our library catalogue or contact our Information Service.

I said no: a kid-to-kid guide to keeping private parts private

By Zack King, Kimberly King and Sue Rama

Aims to help primary school aged children learn about appropriate touching and setting healthy boundaries in relation to their bodies. Explores appropriate touching and with whom; how to deal with inappropriate behaviour; when and where to get help; and dealing with feelings of guilt and shame.

STOP!: just for kids: for kids with sexual touching problems, by kids with sexual touching problems

By Terri Allred and Gary Burns

Based on a book written by a group of 10-13 year old boys in a residential treatment programme for young sexual offenders, this book is aimed at children aged 10 and over. Has a small amount of text on each page to enable children to think deeply about topics such as personal responsibility, consent, empathy, denial, and ‘normal’ sexuality.

Roadmaps to recovery: a guided workbook for young people in treatment 

By Timothy J. Kahn

Treatment workbook for children aged 8 years and over who display harmful sexual behaviour. Chapters include Learning to talk about my feelings; What should I do when I get those sexual feelings?; and Understanding my changing body.

For more books, search our library catalogue or contact our Information Service.

Child abuse (Issues Today Series, Vol. 28)

By Christina Hughes (ed.)

This textbook-style booklet provides an introduction to the topic of child abuse. It discusses the full range of child abuse including peer-to-peer abuse, sexual abuse and internet safety. It includes case studies and a selection of assignments to help young people explore the ideas presented in the resource.

Growing beyond: a workbook for teenage girls. (Revised edition)

By Susan L. Robinson and Robert E. Longo

This is a workbook for teenage girls who display sexually harmful behaviour. It includes quizzes and worksheets on subjects such as relationships, sexuality, the impact of sexual abuse, and empathy with others. It’s accompanied by a treatment manual for professionals.

For more books, search our library catalogue or contact our Information Service.

Understanding children's sexual behaviors: what's natural and healthy. (Expanded edition)

By Toni Cavanagh Johnson

Helps parents to understand children’s sexual behaviour. It covers topics including: developing healthy sexual behaviours in children; responding to children's sexual behaviours; individual differences in sexual behaviours; sexting; characteristics of problematic sexual behaviour; and what help is available for children with harmful sexual behaviour. Considers when sexual behaviours may be considered natural and healthy and when they may be seen as problematic, and gives advice on reducing the risk of abuse to children.

What's the problem?: a guide for parents of children and young people who have got in trouble online. [Online report]

By Lucy Faithfull Foundation

This online guide helps parents to understand and respond to three online safety issues: children and young people accessing adult pornography; children and young people sending or receiving sexual images; and children and young people arrested for viewing child abuse images. Offers advice on how parents can talk to their children about these issues.

For more books, search our library catalogue or contact our Information Service.

Helping children with sexual behavior problems: a guide for professionals and caregivers. 4th ed

By Toni Cavanagh Johnson

Helps practitioners and parents or carers who are supporting children aged under 12 who display harmful sexual behaviour. Discusses healthy sexual exploration and the continuum of sexual behaviour. Includes chapters about: modifying problematic sexual behaviours; encouraging healthy boundaries; preparing the home environment; talking about sex and listening to the child; assessment and treatment.

Growing beyond: treatment manual: a guide for professionals working with teenage girls with sexually abusive behavior. (Revised edition)

By Susan L. Robinson and Robert E. Longo

A manual for professionals, to be used in conjunction with the 'Growing Beyond' workbook for teenage girls who display harmful sexual behaviour. Looks at how girls develop and discusses factors which should be considered when working with adolescent girls. Suggests different therapeutic approaches.

For more books, search our library catalogue or contact our Information Service.

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Our latest research and insights blogs

More research and resources

Our child protection research, evaluations and safeguarding resources on harmful sexual behaviour.

Browse our resources