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 the child themselves or other children.

We have guidance and resources to help people working with children respond appropriately to problematic and harmful sexual behaviour.

Guidance: key messages 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)

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

Area Child Protection Committees’ regional policy and procedures

(Department of Health, 2005)

Information for professionals on responding to children who sexually abuse others or display sexually harmful behaviour.

Download Area Child Protection Committees' regional policy and procedures (PDF)


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

Resources for professionals

Harmful sexual behaviour framework

We've worked with Research in Practice and experts to create a framwork to help local areas develop and improve multi-agency responses to children displaying harmful sexual behaviours.

Find out more

Safeguarding children

What organisations and groups that work with or come into contact with children should do to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm.
Find out more

Find resources in our library catalogue

Browse resources to help you keep children safe in the UK's only library dedicated to child protection.

Browse our library catalogue

Online training courses

Managing sexualised behaviour in primary schools - online course

An online course to help you manage incidents of sexualised behaviour within your primary school. Cost: £30
More on this course

Child protection in schools - online course

Our online safeguarding children training gives people who work in schools or colleges the skills to protect children. Cost: £20
More on this course

Keeping children safe online - online course

Online training to give you a clear understanding of how children use the internet and other digital technology. Cost: £30
More on this course

Our latest research

Exploring technology-assisted harmful sexual behaviour

Research into the backgrounds and behaviours of boys and young men who engage in harmful sexual behaviours using online and mobile channels. Part of the NSPCC’s Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

The characteristics of children who display harmful sexual behaviour

The needs of children with a learning difficulty, younger children and girls accessing a specialised service for harmful sexual behaviour. Part of the NSPCC’s Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

Turn the page: final evaluation

Final evaluation of a service working with teenage boys who display harmful sexual behaviour. Part of the NSPCC’s Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

More research and resources

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

Browse our resources