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Sexualised behaviour in children: A sensitive issue

1 August 2019

Problem sexual behaviour in children and young people is a complex matter. Disturbingly it has become more common. So, more than ever, staff in schools and education and care services need to know how to deal with this very sensitive and emotive issue.

A key resource for this issue is Responding to problem sexual behaviour in children and young people. It provides guidelines for staff in education and care settings.

Of particular help is the ‘Sexual behaviour guide: birth to 18’. This covers developmental age groups and colour codes sexual behaviour as either:

  • age appropriate (green)
  • concerning (orange)
  • serious (red).

This guide appropriately identifies that all behaviour must be considered in context. All concerning and serious behaviour must be addressed. Taking action early is extremely important.

Intervention may require the involvement of other professionals. This could include child protection workers and police officers, especially if the child involved is over 10 years of age.

It can be difficult to work out whether a behaviour is serious or not. Often people think a behaviour is natural curiosity, and sometimes it is. But it can be more serious or concerning when it causes discomfort or harm to others.

Age also makes a big difference. A behaviour between two four-year-olds might be natural curiosity. But between a 10-year-old and four-year old it may be more serious. Consider whether it is age-appropriate behaviour.

There is a legal responsibility for services to report. It comes under the:

Changes to the EECSRS Act in 2017 mean that education and care service providers must notify the ESB of physical or sexual abuse. This is in addition to mandated reporting obligations to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) and, if necessary, other agencies or services such as SA Police or a medical practitioner.

When and how to notify ESB:

  • If the behaviour is in the concerning (orange) or serious (red) categories.
  • If a parent/guardian raises concerns about information their child has disclosed, complete the COI notification form.
  • If you have observed a situation or a child has disclosed information, complete the I01 notification form.

Another useful resource is Managing allegations of sexual misconduct in SA education and care settings. This resource is focused more on abuse from adults towards children. However, section three has a useful list of steps to take, which could be helpful in child-to-child sexual abuse too.