Sexually Active Young People

Introduction

This policy has been devised with the understanding that most young people under the age of 18 will have a healthy interest in sex and sexual relationships. It is designed to assist those working with young people to identify relationships which may be abusive and where young people may need protection or additional services

In developing this policy, the Safeguarding Children Board recognises that safeguarding children includes the provision of sexual health education and support, whilst protecting the child or young person from inappropriate or abusive sexual contact. It is therefore essential that children and young people are not deterred from accessing sexual health services and that a balance is struck that promotes a child or young person’s welfare.

Identifying cause for concern

All young people regardless of gender, who are believed to be engaged in, or planning to be engaged in, sexual activity should have their needs for health education, support and/or protection assessed by the agency that has contact with them.

If you identify any concerns you must follow agency policies and local safeguarding procedures. The considerations in the checklist (see below) should be taken into account when assessing the extent to which a child/young person (or other children/young people) may be suffering or at risk of harm.

If you have concerns that a young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation through prostitution, please refer to the relevant procedure.

For staff involved in giving contraceptive treatment to a young person, it is considered good practice for workers to follow the Fraser Guidelines. Ongoing consideration should be given as to whether a young person’s circumstances have changed and/or if further information is given which may lead to the need for referral or re-referral. 

In working with young people, it must always be made clear to them that absolute confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, and that there will be some circumstances where the needs of the young person can only be safeguarded by sharing information with others. This discussion with the child/young person may prove useful as a means of emphasising the gravity of some situations.

Young people under the age of 13

In all cases where the sexually active young person is under the age of 13, there must be a discussion with the organisation’s child protection lead. There should be a presumption that a referral will be made to City of York Children’s Services and a strategy meeting held. Where there are extenuating circumstances and a referral is not made, the professional and agency concerned is accountable for the decision and a good standard of record keeping must be made, including the reasons for not making a referral to Children’s Services (please see guidance).

Where a discussion is held with the child protection lead an enquiry should be made to the Child Protection Register. Telephone number 01904 555618.

When a girl under 13 is found to be pregnant, a referral to Children’s Services must be made, they will hold a strategy discussion with the police and/or other agencies and a multi agency support package should be formulated.

In cases of concern where sufficient information is known about the sexual partner/s the agency concerned should give this information to Children’s Services when referring who will check with the police and other agencies as appropriate.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, children under the age of 13 are considered of insufficient age to give consent to sexual activity.

Young people between 13 and 15

Sexually active young people in this age group should have their needs assessed by the agency which has contact with them to establish whether they are at risk of harm.  Discussion with the child protection lead is not mandatory and will depend on the level of risk/need assessed by those working with the young person.

Where a discussion is held with the organisations child protection lead an enquiry should be made to the Child Protection Register.

Within this age range, the younger the child, the stronger the presumption must be that sexual activity will be a matter of concern.

In cases of concern, e.g. where a person is suspected of targeting a young person/s, and information is known about the person the agency concerned should share this information with their child protection lead who will check with the police Child Abuse Investigation Team to find out what is known about the person.

Young people between 16 and 18

Young people under the age of 18 are still classed as children under the Children Act 1989.  Although sexual activity in itself is not an offence over the age of 16, young people under the age of 18 are still offered the protection of the Child Protection Procedures. Where young people are believed to have or have been sexually harmed a referral must be made to Children’s Services.

Where a person aged 18 or over is in a position of trust with a young person under 18, it is an offence for that person to engage in sexual activity with or in the presence of that child, or to cause or incite that child to engage in or watch sexual activity.

Consideration should be given to cases where it comes to light that a person under the age of 18 is sexually involved with someone who works with children and young people the City of York Safeguarding Children Board Allegations Against Staff Procedures must be followed.

Sharing information with parents

Decisions to share information with parents will be taken using professional judgement and in consultation with the Child Protection Procedures.  Decisions will be based on the level of risk involved.

Checklist

Organisations need to ensure that they incorporate the following information into their own paperwork.

Name

Age

DOB

Carer

School/College

Attending     Yes/No

Clinic/Site

 

Contact details

Age of partner:

Name of partner:

Length of current relationship:

Does the young person know that it is illegal to have sex under 16? (Statutory rape for under 13’s)

Yes/No

 

Further information/comments:

Signed ______________________________  Date____________  Time______

 

There is a need to balance the information and use your professional judgement as to whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and the need for a referral to Children’s Services.

The following screening tool is intended to help with this decision

A discussion must take place with your agency child protection lead regarding the referral to Children’s Services in the following situations:

  • Familial child sex offences

  • Coercion or bribery

  • Overt aggression or power imbalance

  • The use of substances (alcohol or drugs) so that he/she is unable to make an informed choice about any activity

  • Any attempts to secure secrecy by the sexual partner (beyond what would be considered usual in a teenage relationship)

  • Use of methods consistent with grooming

The following factors may indicate a level of concern dependant on the details; a discussion with your agency child protection lead is regarded as good practice in the following situations:

  • An age imbalance

  • Unusual behaviour e.g. withdrawn or anxious

  • Lack of maturity and understanding

  • Whether the child denies, minimises or accepts concerns

  • Is the sexual partner/s known by one of the agencies

  • Are there any concerns about their living circumstances?

If you are unsure as to whether a referral should be made to Children’s Services you must consult with your agency lead for child protection and/or Children’s Services.

Guidance

Most young people under the age of 18 will have a healthy interest in sex and sexual relationships. This guidance is designed to assist those working with young people to identify relationships, which may be abusive, and where young people may need protection or additional services.

In developing the guidance the CYSCB recognises that safeguarding children includes the provision of sexual health education and support, whilst protecting the child from inappropriate or abusive sexual contact. It is therefore essential that children and young people are not deterred from accessing sexual health services and that a balance is struck that promotes a child or young person’s welfare.

The former Department for Education and Skills recognised the dilemma faced by sexual health workers when it stated:

There is evidence that young people having under-age sex are the group least likely to use contraception and therefore the group at most risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. A key reason for this is that they have concerns that disclosure of mutually agreed sexual activity will lead to a referral to social services or the police.  A strategy of formal referral to the police of every case of sexual activity of under 16 year olds is therefore likely to have a negative effect on young people seeking support. (LASSL (2004) 21)

Importantly, those professionals providing sexual health advice and care to children and young people should be reassured that, providing advice to young people, over the age of 13 years. Achieving the right balance requires skill, professional judgement and knowledge of the issues involved, however, the child or young person’s welfare should always been viewed as paramount a point reflected in guidance issued by the Teenage Pregnancy Unit (2004) and supported by the CYSCB:

Although the age of consent remains at 16, it is not intended that the law should be used to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation, however, the younger the person, the greater the concern about abuse or exploitation.  It is therefore expected that local policies will reflect the need for social care practitioners to use their discretion in weighing up the circumstances of each individual case to determine whether a formal notification to the police is necessary.

Young people under the age of 13

Sexual activity involving a child under the age of 13 years should always be considered to be of serious concern with a presumption that a referral should be made to Children and Family Services and/or the police. However, consideration should still given to what is in the best interest of the child.

When dealing with any child, especially children under the age of 13, it is recommended that those providing sexual health advice explore the nature of the child’s relationship in order to ascertain the child’s own wishes and feelings. On occasions children may experience ambivalence, feeling obliged (short of coercion), to engage in sexual activity for example as a result of peer pressure, a desire to conform or a belief that such behaviour equates to affection. In such cases a referral to Children and Family Services should be made.

Where a professional assesses that making a referral is not in the best interest of the child, there must be a discussion with a recognised ‘named person (child protection)’ and the decision endorsed, in writing, by a person with sufficient authority within the organisation. This discussion should be informed by the assessment undertaken using this guidance.

All such decisions must be recorded, in writing, and placed on the child’s file. The recording should include the rationale for the decision, the advice sought, and the name of the person authorising the decision.

Fraser guidelines (also known as the ‘Gillick competence)

It is considered good practice for workers to follow the Fraser guidelines when discussing personal or sexual matters with a young person under 16. The Fraser guidelines give guidance to doctors, social care and health professionals in England and Wales on providing advice and treatment to young people under 16 years of age. These hold that sexual health services can be offered without parental consent providing that:

  • The young person understands the advice that is being given.
  • The young person cannot be persuaded to inform or seek support from their parents, and will not allow the worker to inform the parents that contraceptive advice is being given.
  • The young person is likely to begin or continue to have sexual intercourse without contraception.
  • The young person's physical or mental health is likely to suffer unless they receive contraceptive advice or treatment.
  • It is in the young person's best interest to receive contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent.

Assessment

All young people, regardless of gender, who are believed to be engaged in, or planning to be engaged in, sexual activity should have their needs for health education, support and/or protection assessed by the agency involved.

In assessing the nature of any particular behaviour, it is essential to look at the facts of the actual relationship between those involved. Power imbalances are very important and can occur through differences in size, age and development and where gender, sexuality, race and levels of sexual knowledge are used to exert such power (of these age may be a key indicator, e.g. a 15-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man).

If the young person has a learning disability or other communication difficulty and cannot easily communicate to someone that they have been abused, then the behaviour may well have been abusive. There may also be an imbalance of power if the young person’s sexual partner is in a position of trust.

In order to determine whether the relationship presents a risk to the young person, the following factors should be considered:

  • Whether the young person is competent to understand, and consent to, the sexual activity they are involved in
  • The nature of the relationship between those involved, particularly if there are age or power imbalances as outlined above whether overt aggression, coercion or bribery was involved including misuse of substances as a dis-inhibitor
  • Whether the young person’s own behaviour, for example through misuse of substances, places them in a position where they are unable to make an informed choice about the activity
  • Any attempts to secure secrecy by the sexual partner beyond what would be considered usual in a teenage relationship
  • Whether the sexual partner is known by the agency as having other concerning relationships with similar young people
  • Whether the young person denies, minimises or accepts concerns
  • Whether methods used to secure compliance and/or secrecy by the sexual partner are consistent with behaviours considered to be ‘grooming’ as per sexual exploitation

If, at this stage, you have concerns that the young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation through prostitution, please refer to the CYSCB’s Child Protection Procedures.

Process

When working with young people, it must always be made clear to them at the earliest appropriate point, that absolute confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, and that there will be some circumstances where the needs of the young person can only be safeguarded by sharing information with others. This discussion with the young person may prove useful as a means of emphasising the seriousness of some situations.

On each occasion that a young person is seen, consideration should be given as to whether their circumstances have changed or further information is given which may lead to the need for referral or re-referral.

In some cases urgent action may need to be taken to safeguard the welfare of a young person although in most circumstances there will need to be a process of information sharing and discussion in order to formulate an appropriate plan. There should be time for reasoned consideration to define the best way forward.

Anyone concerned about the sexual activity of a young person should initially discuss this with the person, or unit, in his or her agency responsible for child protection. There may then be a need for further consultation with Children and Family Services.

All discussions should be recorded, giving reasons for action taken and who was spoken to, as support for the professional decisions made. It is important that all decision-making is undertaken with full professional consultation.

Following any referral to social services there may be one of these responses:

  • No further action deemed necessary
  • An initial assessment undertaken which may identify the young person as a child in need and additional services provided
  • An initial assessment undertaken which may identify the young person as a child at risk of significant harm and in need of child protection intervention

Wherever possible, appropriate support should be offered and agencies should continue to offer the services provided.

Sharing information with parents

Decisions to share information with parents will be taken using professional judgement and in consultation with the Child Protection Procedures. Decisions will be based on the child’s age, maturity, and their ability to appreciate what is involved in terms of the implications and risks to themselves. This should be coupled with the parents’ ability and commitment to protect the young person. Given the responsibility that parents have for the conduct and welfare of their children, professionals should encourage the young person, at all points, to share information with their parents where ever safe to do so.

Confidentiality

Good practice is for any information, which has been shared ‘in confidence’, should only be passed to, or discussed with, another with the consent of young person. However, where it is felt that the information amounts to a concern about the young person’s own or another’s welfare, a judgement has to be made as to whether to dispense with the person’s consent