Children should not be treated as “mini sex offenders” for behaviour such as sexting or other types of exploration which they are likely to grow out of, official guidance for teachers, medical staff and social workers signals.
But it urges professionals to treat evidence that children have been sharing explicit images by text or the internet as a potential danger sign, especially in younger children, and step in if they have wider concerns.
The advice, published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), highlights the dangers of “stigmatising” young people with heavy handed intervention or constantly sending them off for assessments.
However it warns that children go on to become abusers if opportunities to intervene early on are missed.
The paper follows disclosure earlier this month that more than 2,000 children have been reported to the police in the last year over allegations involving indecent images - the majority of them thought to be young people sending nude photographs of themselves to peers.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of Nice, said: “Inquisitive behaviour is a normal part of growing up and it is natural for children to ask about different body parts or be curious about the differences between girls and boys."
The paper advises different agencies to work together including, where necessary, sharing sensitive information to protect children.
It recommends using an online tool which categorises risks attached to different activities on a traffic light system depending on children’s age. For example it classes some types of touching as “green”, meaning potentially safe and healthy development, in young children but not teenagers.
Sexting is classed as an “amber” risk in older teenagers but “red” for those of 13 or under.
“The committee agreed … that stigma and ostracism may arise if a child or young person is labelled as a sex offender,” the guidance says.
“It was keen to highlight that children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour are not ‘mini adult sex offenders’ and that offering interventions that are abuse-focused is potentially stigmatising.”
“However there is also a minority of children and young people who engage in sexual behaviour that is not appropriate for their age or development.
“This guidance is about preparing teachers, nurses, social workers and others to recognise harmful sexual behaviour when it occurs and ensure they can work across team boundaries so that problem behaviour is not ignored or missed and children and young people receive the help they need.”
Read the full Telegraph article: https://goo.gl/J3oAVB