As many as one in three cases of child abuse is carried out by young people. The NSPCC’s Kevin Gibbs (pictured) wants services to reflect this. He talks to Amy Taylor
Sexual abuse by adults against children is now openly discussed but when the abuser is also a child the subject is still taboo.
At next week’s Community Care LIVE Children and Families in Manchester, the issue will be brought out into the open. Kevin Gibbs, NSPCC children’s services manager for south and east Wales and co-chair of the NSPCC Sexually Harmful Behaviour Group, will speak at a session on how professionals can support children who abuse.
NSPCC research last summer found that between a quarter and a third of sexual abuse of children is carried out by young people under the age of 17.
Gibbs says that services for the group are “hit or miss” and young people are often forced to wait months before receiving them. The patchy provision is partly due to children coming into services through two different routes, child protection or criminal justice, depending not on what they have done but on whether their behaviour is reported to social services or the police.
He says children whose behaviour is reported to the police can be placed on the sex offenders register while those whose similar offences are reported to social services are not placed on the register.
“What we need is to develop systems where it doesn’t matter through which route the behaviour is reported, so you have uniformity of provision,” he says
The vast majority of children who sexually abuse other children have suffered from abuse themselves (see box) and as a result often have other conditions. This makes joint working in multi-agency teams the best way to work with the group, says Gibbs, who points to youth offending teams as good examples.
When clients have a range of needs, professionals can find it difficult to co-ordinate all the services they require. He says services for children who sexually abuse other children work best when a protocol signed up to by a range of agencies is in place, making it easier to draw services together.
Specialist, dedicated provision for this group of children is the best treatment. The NSPCC runs 22 such services across the UK and wants to see similar provision made available across the whole country.
Treatment involves cognitive behavioural therapy, which attempts to get the young person to recognise their behaviour is harmful and to develop strategies to manage their own risk.
This treatment appears to be effective. Gibbs says that research has found that few children who are treated carry on being abusive in adulthood.
Society’s heightened awareness of adult paedophiles is to be welcomed, but Gibbs says that the disdain shown for child sex offenders has made some people more reluctant to report children who sexually abuse other children to the authorities.
“We don’t like to talk about this as a society and even social care professionals don’t like to think of young people being sexual towards another young person,” he concludes. CC
Children who abuse other children
Research has found that about 40 to 60 per cent of young people who sexually abuse other children have been sexually abused themselves. Gibbs says they are reacting to their own abuse and mirroring the behaviour.