Skip to main content
Pan Lancashire SCB Logo

Top of page

Size: View this website with small text View this website with medium text View this website with large text View this website with high visibility

Caption: main heading

5.34 Peer Abuse


In November 2013, this chapter was updated in line with the Single Assessment Framework.

  1. Children, particularly those living away from home, are also vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be subject to the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering, or at risk of suffering, Significant Harm from an adverse source. A significant proportion of sex offences are committed by teenagers and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abusive, and between appropriate and exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as 'normal' between young people, and should not develop high thresholds before taking action;
  2. Work with children and young people who abuse others - including those who sexually abuse/offend - should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children who abuse others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, and may have committed other offences. Such children and young people are likely to be Children in Need, and some will, in addition, be suffering, or at risk of suffering, Significant Harm, and may themselves be in need of protection. Children and young people who abuse others should be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, while being identified and responded to in a way that meets their needs as well as protecting others. Allegations of peer abuse will be taken as seriously as allegations of abuse perpetrated by an adult;
  3. Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:
    • There should be a coordinated approach on the part of Youth Justice, Children's Social Care, education (including educational psychology) and health (including Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) agencies;
    • The needs of children and young people who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims. This should include both the risk posed to the child and the risk posed by the child;
    • An assessment should be carried out in each case of abuse, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.
  4. Where a professional has concerns that a child may cause harm to another child, it is important that information is shared between Agencies, to ensure that a risk management plan is in place. Information should be shared in accordance with Information Sharing Procedures;
  5. A social worker from the relevant locality team will carry out an Single Assessment. Different social workers will be allocated to the victim and to the child with the alleged abusive behaviour, even if they live in the same household, to ensure that both are supported through the process of the enquiry and that both their needs are fully assessed;
  6. It should be recognised that disclosure of sexually inappropriate behaviour or abusive behaviour by a child can be extremely distressing for a parent/carer. The child and family should always be advised of their right to seek legal representation to support them through the process;
  7. The Police should always consult with Targeted Services regarding cases that come to their attention in order to ensure that there is an assessment of the victim's needs and that in all cases there is an assessment of the alleged abusing child's needs. Each child should be referred to the locality team responsible for the area where the child resides;
  8. Children with sexually abusive behaviour who are returning to the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation also require consideration through this procedure;
  9. In all cases where the suspected or alleged abuser is a child, Targeted Services and the Police must convene a Strategy Meeting within the timescales set out. This will be chaired by a Quality Assurance Officer;
  10. If the children involved are the responsibility of different local authorities, each must be represented at the Strategy Discussion which will usually be convened by the authority in which the victim resides;
  11. Consideration should be given to separate Strategy Discussions being held for the child who is alleged to have abused another and for the alleged victim(s);
  12. Care must be taken to ensure that the appropriate professionals attend the right meeting to ensure appropriate confidentiality. For example, school representatives should only attend for the pupil at their school. The Police officer and social worker who are investigating should attend both sets of Strategy Discussions. Where the abusing child is over 10 years a Youth Offending Team representative should be in attendance;
  13. The Strategy Discussion must plan in detail the respective roles of those involved in the enquiries and ensure the following objectives are met:
    • Information relevant to the protection and needs of the alleged victim is gathered;
    • Any criminal aspects of the alleged abuse are investigated;
    • Any information relevant to any abusive experiences and protection needs of the child who is the alleged abuser is gathered;
    • Any information about the risks to self and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network is gathered.
  14. Section 47 Enquiry will be pursued in respect of the alleged abusing child when he/she is personally suffering or at risk of Significant Harm;
  15. Where there is suspicion that the child who is the alleged abuser is also a victim of abuse the Strategy Meeting must decide the order in which the interviews should take place;
  16. When a child is aged 10 or over and is alleged to have committed an offence the Police must undertake the first interview under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;
  17. If a child is to be interviewed as a victim of or witness to an alleged offence under the provisions of the Achieving Best Evidence guidance and the child admits these offences, these incidents should normally be the subject of a separate interview;
  18. In complex situations where there are a number of victims and possible abusers the Strategy Discussion should involve Group Managers to coordinate the process;
  19. If it appears that the alleged abusing child is suffering or is at risk of Significant Harm the Section 47 enquiry and Single Assessment process will be followed;
  20. In assessing a child or young person who abuses another, relevant considerations include:
    • The nature and extent of the abusive behaviours. In respect of sexual abuse, there are sometimes perceived to be difficulties in distinguishing between normal childhood sexual development and experimentation, and sexually inappropriate or aggressive behaviour. Expert professional judgment may be required, within the context of knowledge about normal child sexuality. It may be appropriate to undertake a joint assessment;
    • The context of the abusive behaviours;
    • The child's development and family and social circumstances (if a child is Looked After and is at risk of sexual offending due consideration must be given as to whether a Child Protection Conference /multi-agency plan is required);
    • Needs for services, specifically focusing on the child's harmful behaviour as well as the child's other significant needs;
    • The risks to self and others, including other children in the household, extended family, school, peer group or wider social network. This risk is likely to be present unless the opportunity for further abuse is ended, the young person has acknowledged the abusive behaviour and accepted responsibility, and there is agreement by the young abuser and his/her family to work with relevant agencies to address the problem.
  21. Decisions for local agencies (including the Crown Prosecution Service where relevant) according to the responsibilities of each include:
    • The most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system, if the child is above the age of criminal responsibility;
    • Whether the young abuser should be the subject of a Child Protection Conference;
    • What plan of action should be put in place to address the needs of the young abuser, detailing the involvement of all relevant agencies.
  22. If there is a balance of probability that nothing abusive or inappropriate took place, then no further action may be required. However in cases of alleged sexual abuse, it is important to keep this separate from the issue of denial. Strength of denial by the child and/or the family should have no bearing on any decision about no further action;
  23. If there is a continuing risk of Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference should be held. If the child becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the coordination of services will continue through the Core Group, which should address the child's inappropriate behaviour as well as the concerns, which resulted in their need for a Child Protection Plan;
  24. If the child is not considered as requiring a Child Protection Plan but is assessed to be a Child in Need, a meeting should be held, as set out in the paragraph below;
  25. Where there are insufficient grounds for holding a Child Protection Conference, or where a Child Protection Plan was not needed, a multi-agency approach will still be needed if the young abuser's needs are complex;
  26. In such cases a multi-agency planning meeting should be convened by Children's Social Care to pool information, allocate roles and set a time-table for an assessment of the needs of the child and the risk posed by them, as well as co-ordinate any other interim intervention;
  27. Those invited should include participants of the Strategy Meeting and representatives from health (including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), school, YOT and any other appropriate service provider, the child and her/his parents / carers;
  28. In cases where the young abuser is also looked after by the local authority consideration should be given to the need for a plan to minimise risk of future offending, agreed with carers and their agency;
  29. On completion of the assessment, the same forum will be reconvened to consider the outcome, to review and co-ordinate roles of relevant agencies in providing any identified intervention, including specialist input with regard to service users with special needs. Care must be taken to provide services culturally appropriate to the needs of the child and the family;
  30. Intervention should be reviewed at regular multi-agency meetings. At the point of closure, the review will consider the possible need for long-term monitoring and the availability of advice and other services;
  31. Children's Targeted Services will undertake a multi-agency assessment when a young person has committed an offence against a child and is due to be released following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation.

    Criminal Proceedings
  32. When the child is over 10 years, the Police will consult other agencies including the Crown Prosecution Service to decide the most appropriate course of action within the criminal justice system before any decision is made to issue a reprimand, final warning or informal disposal, or to pursue prosecution;
  33. In cases where criminal proceedings are taken against an alleged abusing child, the YOT should be added to the list of possible attendees at any meetings. Both the compilation of the YOT Asset Assessment and the preparation of a Single Assessment will be facilitated through this;
  34. When a case is going through the Youth Court or the Crown Court, the YOT will provide information for the Single Assessment process. This may include plea, bail conditions and variations between adjournments;
  35. LSCP's and Youth Offending Teams should ensure that there is a clear operational framework in place, within which assessment, decision-making and case-management take place. Neither child welfare nor criminal justice agencies should embark on a course of action that has implications for the other without appropriate consultation.

    The Child Victim
  36. Where the assessment of the child or children who have been abused concludes that they may still be at risk of Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened to assess the risks and safeguard them through a Child Protection Plan if needed;
  37. They may require services to support them through interviews in line with Achieving Best Evidence Guidance. The assessments undertaken may determine that there is a need for support services, such as counselling services, whether the child is in need of safeguarding or a Child in Need.

  38. Bullying may be defined as deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves. It can take many forms, but the three main types are:
    • Physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, theft);
    • Verbal (e.g. racist or homophobic remarks, threats, name-calling);
    • Emotional (e.g. isolating an individual from the activities and social acceptance of their peer group).
  39. The damage inflicted by bullying can frequently be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, at the extreme, causes them Significant Harm (including self-harm). All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place rigorously enforced anti-bullying strategies.