Harmful sexual behaviour - developing a framework

Pat Branigan discusses the role of co-production in developing a working framework for harmful sexual behaviour

HSB imageSexual abuse perpetrated by children and young people is not a rare phenomenon.

Around one third of all sexual offences against children and young people in the UK are committed by other children and young people (Hackett 2014).

Professionals have learned much about the nature and extent of the problem, good assessment practice and effective interventions.

But service provision across the UK remains patchy and relatively uncoordinated.

There are beacons of good practice, but levels of professional confidence and competence are, at best, varied.

The NSPCC wanted to create a coherent, cohesive and effective response to children’s and young people’s harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). And coproduction played a pivotal role in the creation of the operational harmful sexual behaviour framework.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour framework

The operational harmful sexual behaviour (also referred to as HSB) framework aims to support local work with children and young people who've displayed harmful hexual hehaviour, and their families, delivering clear policies and procedures and refreshing local practice guidelines and assessment tools.

It seeks to provide a coherent and evidence-informed approach, improving outcomes for vulnerable young people, providing a framework to help local areas develop and improving responses to this child protection challenge.

The framework was coproduced by a group of service delivery organisations and experts in the field of harmful sexual behaviour, coordinated and led by NSPCC and Research in Practice.

We aimed for national buy-in and consensus on how the framework should look, be deployed and be used.

Together, we reviewed previous attempts to build a national harmful sexual behaviour strategy and signed-off on a new, joint approach.

Getting this off the ground wasn’t easy: working with a large group of diverse organisations and individuals is always a challenge. But it’s an effective way of gaining support, concentrating key thinking, sharing limited resources and gaining a sense of momentum.

Developing the framework

It's over 20-years since a national strategy to address the challenge of children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour was first proposed.

Despite repeated calls – and some indications that a cross-government framework was about to be published (Home Office, 2010) – a strategy has not been forthcoming.

Rather than just continuing to advocate for a national policy, we aimed to develop and provide a working product, or operational tool, for local areas.

We needed to be clear about the value in:

  • developing responses, from commubnity based assessment and intervention with low risk cases to intensive work with high risk cases
  • promoting effective assessment
  • encouraging the involvement of frontline agencies and workers in early recognition, assessment and intervention
  • encouraging inter-agency work and decision-making
  • promoting a shared workforce language, skills, training exchange and development of local peer support systems.

14 local authorities were involved in the development and writing stage. Once we had a pro-type framework written, 8 local areas tested it over a 6-month period, with a market research development approach. It wasn’t a purely academic process.

Advantages of co-production

A national steering group was tasked with exploring and developing the framework.

The steering group included:

  • Academics, independent experts, authors and research partners on harmful sexual behaviour
  • Large national charities: NSPCC, Action for Children, Lucy Faithfull, Barnardo’s, Brook, Ms Understood Partnership
  • YJB, Police, CEOP, NOMS/MAPPA, AIM Associates, CAPE, Glebe House
  • Observers from central government departments: Home Office, DH, CAMHS
  • Office for the children’s commissioner, LGA, linking with NICE
  • 14 local areas involved through the practice working group

The group worked collaboratively in an atmosphere of transparency and tolerance to avoid duplication and maximise impact.

It identified gaps in the information and evidence base, collected evidence to support positions and policy, promoted examples of good practice, produced and agreed briefings and position statements for parliamentary lobbying and advocacy, and sought joint meetings with national decision-makers. It spoke with one voice on policy, intelligence, barriers and challenges.

Group members have a shared reason to promote the outcomes of the group, creating an excellent communication opportunity - particularly as we worked with organisations traditionally seen as NSPCC “competitors”.

It’s also a useful platform to continue lobbying for a national harmful sexual behaviour strategy.

A new way of working

Although there was a certain amount of organisational pain, co-production is advantageous in terms of building alliances and aligning resources.

We could knit diverse cultures and ways of working together, rehearsing every argument and agreeing exactly how to get the message about the new framework out.

Coproduction can be used on a smaller scale, too. Service staff can play a crucial role in development work so that products, interventions and resources are informed by practice. It helps to understand barriers before they arise, making people at the delivery end part of the solution.

Coproduction isn’t necessarily the easiest or quickest path to developing national and local resources, but I believe it’s the strongest.

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  1. Hackett, S. (2014) Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours: Research Review. Dartington: Research in Practice.