Many professionals working with children displaying harmful sexual behaviour are not confident of their ability to do direct work in this area, research has found.
A survey of 594 professionals, including social workers, teachers and mental health workers, found most felt the issue was becoming more prevalent but 50% had low confidence in working with children to address it.
Most respondents said they felt confident in identifying harmful sexual behaviour but felt they needed more support from senior staff when working with young people directly.
The research was carried out by the National Children’s Bureau and Research in Practice. Their report said the low confidence could be caused by young people who display sexually harmful behaviour proving difficult to engage, or professionals finding it difficult to balance the interests of a child in that position with the safety of other children and professionals around them.
The research identified four key areas where policy and practice could be improved. These were:
- embedding peer support and team-based learning on the issue
- strengthening support through reflective supervision for practitioners working directly with children displaying harmful sexual behaviour
- training and skills development for those working with or caring for children displaying harmful sexual behaviour
- improving awareness of harmful sexual behaviour
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said it was important to listen to practitioners’ experiences.
She said: “Professionals must have the support they need to feel confident in taking difficult decisions that balance the needs of children with the safety of other young people.
“As a top priority, local authorities and other key organisations should enable staff to discuss the challenges they face, through one-to-one supervision, team learning opportunities and ‘case clinics’, where agencies can come together on effective practice and problem solving.”
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