SWGfL and the Marie Collins Foundation have handled over 450 cases relating to harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people, reported by professionals working with children, since the launch of the Harmful Sexual Behaviour* Support Service in January 2022.
Although each case is unique, there are common and recurrent themes which are becoming apparent as uptake of the Service grows, and a significant number of schools are requesting assistance with the writing of referrals for escalation to law enforcement and social services. Common cases include use of sexualised and inappropriate language towards other peers and adults, non-consensual touching and sharing of self-generated sexual imagery without consent.
Previously, when escalating harmful sexual behaviour concerns to statutory safeguarding bodies, schools would often be informed that reports did not meet thresholds for intervention by social services or law enforcement. Through the Harmful Sexual Behaviour Support Service, multiple schools have been able to revise and adjust their referrals to better portray the incidences of harmful sexual behaviour and contextualise them appropriately, so that they meet the thresholds for securing additional support. This means that schools have been able to better manage the impact of harmful sexual behaviour in their settings, for both children displaying the behaviours, as well as children affected by them.
Carmel Glassbrook, lead for Harmful Sexual Behaviour Support Service at SWGfL, said: “Navigating the procedures in place for seeking additional support in managing harmful sexual behaviour in young people is a significant burden on the children’s workforce. Before the service was launched, we knew that the majority of professionals working with children were under-equipped to address this issue and help the young people affected. The volume of cases we are now supporting professionals with demonstrate a significant need for the children’s workforce to be able to access advice and guidance on how to handle incidents of harmful sexual behaviour.”
Staffed by experts from both charities, the telephone and email Service equips education and safeguarding professionals, including the police, social workers and health practitioners across England, with the tools they need to address the alarming normalisation of harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people, both in-person and online.
Lawrence Jordan, Professional lead of the Marie Collins Foundation, said: “The data continues to emphasise that harmful sexual behaviours, including serious incidents of sexual abuse and harassment, are commonplace in schools and among children’s peer groups. As the scale of this problem is now recognised, it is vital that those on the front line have as much support as possible to enable them to respond appropriately.”
The Harmful Sexual Behaviour Support Service, funded by the Home Office and developed in collaboration with the Department for Education, is hosted by SWGfL and available Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, on 0344 225 0623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.