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5.23 Working with Sexually Active Young People under the Age of 18

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

DfEE, Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for Head teachers, Teachers & School Governors (2000)

Brook/PSHE, Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) For the 21st Century, Supplementary Advice,( 2014)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2015 to reference the Early Help Assessment Tool to ensure young people's situation can be fully understood and their needs met if required. Links were also added to Sex and Relationship Education Guidance for Head teachers, Teachers & School Governors (2000) which should be read in conjunction with Brook/PSHE, Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) For the 21st Century, Supplementary Advice, (2014).


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Assessment
  3. Process
  4. Young People under the Age of 13
  5. Young People between 13 and 16
  6. Young People between 17 and 18
  7. Sharing Information with Parents and Carers
  8. The Role of other Professionals
  9. Pregnancy of a Child


1. Introduction

Most people under the age of 18 will have an interest in sex and sexual relationships. When a professional working with a young person under the age of 16 becomes aware that the young person is engaged in sexual activity, clear procedures should be in place to assist accurate assessment of the likelihood of suffering Significant Harm in order to protect the welfare of the child or young person. As a minimum the professional should take advice from the nominated safeguarding professional within the organisation.


2. Assessment

All young people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, who are involved in sexual activity, must have their needs for health, education, support and/or protection assessed by the agency involved. This assessment must be carried out in accordance with any local guidance which exists.

In assessing any particular behaviour, it is essential to look at the nature of the 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 factor e.g. a 15 year old girl with a 25 year old man). There may also be an imbalance of power if the young person's sexual partner occupies a position of trust e.g. teacher, youth worker, carer etc. (In these circumstances, see also Allegations Against People who Work with Children Procedure).

In order to determine if the relationship presents a risk to the young person, the following factors, which are not exhaustive, may need to be considered:

  • The age of the young person - sexual activity at a young age is a very strong indicator of risks to the welfare of the young person (boy or girl) and, possibly, others;
  • Whether the young person is competent to understand and consent to the sexual activity in which he or she is involved;
  • The nature of the relationship between those involved, particularly if there are age or power imbalances;
  • Whether overt aggression, coercion or bribery was involved including misuse of substances/alcohol as an inhibitor;
  • Whether the young person's own behaviour, for example, through misuse of substances, including alcohol, 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 there have been concerns about the sexual partner, including his/her relationships with other 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' (see PAN Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol);
  • Whether sex has been used to gain favours e.g. exchanging sex for cigarettes, clothes, alcohol, drugs, mobile phones, etc;
  • Whether the young person has unreasonable amounts of money or other valuables that cannot be accounted for.

It is considered good practice for workers to follow the Fraser Guidelines when discussing personal or sexual matters with a young person under 16. 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 contraception/protection, for example, condom advice, is being given;
  • The young person is likely to begin or continue to have sex without the provision of contraception or protection by a barrier method such as a condom;
  • It is in the young person's best interests to receive contraceptive/safe sex advice and treatment without parental consent and the young person's physical or mental health is likely to suffer unless he or she receives contraceptive advise or treatment.


3. Process

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 and best interests of the young person can only be safeguarded by sharing information with others.

In some cases urgent action may need to be taken to safeguard the welfare of a young person. However, in most circumstances there will need to be a process of information sharing and discussion in order to formulate an appropriate plan. It is important that all decision-making is undertaken with full consultation, never by one person alone, and with the knowledge of the young person, unless sharing such information with the young person would itself increase the likelihood of suffering Significant Harm. Consideration should be given as to whether an Early Help Assessment would be the appropriate course of intervention for the child or young person.

Following a referral to Children's Social Care there will be one of the following responses:

  • No further action may be deemed necessary following consideration of the information made available including, at times, further enquiries being made by Children's Social Care;
  • An Single Assessment may be undertaken which may identify the young person as a Child in Need and additional services may be provided.

See Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedure for further information.

A Single Assessment may be undertaken by Children's Social Care, which may identify the young person as a child at risk of sexual exploitation. In this event, there should be a request for a Sexual Exploitation Strategy Meeting (see PAN Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol). The details of concern should be sent to Careline who will forward the information to the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit for approval before a meeting is agreed.

If a Sexual Exploitation Strategy Meeting is agreed, it should be held within 7 working days. These meetings are multi-agency and are chaired by a Safeguarding Officer from the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit. There should be a discussion between the social worker or Team Manager, and the chair of the Strategy Meeting as to which professionals should be invited to attend. Families are not invited to these meetings because, often, information is shared which should not be made available to members of the public. (Detailed information relating to the processes involved in circumstances where young people are at risk of sexual exploitation is included in PAN Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol).

When there is concern about a young person being at immediate likelihood of suffering Significant Harm a Strategy Discussion between the allocated Safeguarding Team and the Police should take place without delay.

The outcome of the Referral will be formally fed back to the referrer who should continue to offer services and support as appropriate to the young person.

Professionals should always make a referral to Children's Social Care if they believe that a young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation.


4. Young People under the Age of 13

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, children under the age of 13 cannot legally consent to sexual activity. They are considered of insufficient age to give such consent.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, penetrative sex with a child under the age of 13 is classed as rape.

There should therefore always be reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the age of 13 engaging in sexual activity is at risk of, or is suffering Significant Harm.

Where a professional is aware that a young person under the age of 13 is sexually active, a full assessment of their health, education and support needs must be made by the professional involved. All referrals to Children's Social Care should follow the usual procedure (see Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedure).

General Medical Council Guidance indicates that safeguarding decisions should be made on a case by case basis. Where a decision is taken that a referral to Children's Social Care is not required, the professional/agency is accountable for that decision. The professional must discuss this decision with their lead safeguarding professional. The decision must be recorded in the young person's record along with the reasons for not making a referral to Children's Social Care, who was involved in the decision-making process and what action was taken in relation to that young person by the professional or agency.

Where a referral to Children's Social Care is made, in order for this to be meaningful, the young person will need to be identified, as will their sexual partner if details are known.

When a girl under 13 is found to be pregnant, the professional involved should discuss any proposed action with the nominated safeguarding lead within the organisation and a referral to Children's Social Care must be made by the professional involved. A Strategy Discussion between Children's Social Care and the police should then be held to agree a plan.

The police must be notified as soon as possible when a criminal offence has been committed or is suspected of having been committed against a child.


5. Young People between 13 and 16

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 reinforces that, whilst mutually agreed, non-exploitative sexual activity between teenagers does take place and often no harm comes from it, the age of consent should remain at 16. This acknowledges that young people aged 13, 14 or 15 are still vulnerable, even when they do not view themselves as such.

Sexually active young people in this age group should continue to have their needs assessed by the professionals involved. A decision to refer to Children's Social Care will depend on the level of risk or need assessed by those working with the young person. It should be considered that the nearer the child is to the age of 13 the higher the risk to the child. Consideration should be given to commencing an Early Help Assessment where necessary with this cohort of children.


6. Young People between 17 and 18

Although sexual activity in itself is no longer an offence over the age of 16, young people under the age of 18 are still offered the protection of the Children Act 1989. Consideration still needs to be given to issues of sexual exploitation through abuse of power - see Section 2, Assessment. Young people, of course, can still be subject to offences of rape and assault. Young people aged 16 or 17 are deemed not able to give consent if the sexual activity is with an adult in a position of trust or a family member as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Consideration also needs to be made of the young person's Mental capacity to consent to sexual intercourse and if necessary reference needs to be made to the Mental Capacity Act to assess the young person's capacity.


7. Sharing Information with Parents and Carers

Decisions to share information with parents and carers should be taken using professional judgement, consideration of Fraser Guidelines to ascertain whether the child is Gillick Competent and with reference to these procedures. Decisions will be based on the child's age, maturity and ability to appreciate what is involved in terms of the implications and risks to themselves. This should be coupled with the parents' and carers' ability and commitment to protect the young person. Professionals should encourage the young person to share information with their parents and carers whenever it is safe to do so.


8. The Role of other Professionals

Health professionals and others working with young people have responsibility to provide confidential advice or treatment on contraception, sexual and reproductive health to young people under 16. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that a person is not guilty of aiding, abetting or counselling a sexual offence against a child where they are acting for the purpose of:

  • Protecting a child from pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection;
  • Protecting the physical safety of a child;
  • Promoting a child's emotional well-being by the giving of advice.

In all cases, the person must not be causing or encouraging the commission of an offence or a child's participation in it; nor must the person be acting for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.


9. Pregnancy of a Child

All professionals, particularly health and education staff who are most likely to have contact with pregnant teenagers, have a responsibility to consider the welfare of both the prospective mother and her baby.

Such professionals should consider what support systems exist for the pregnant girl and her family.

All pregnant girls under the age of sixteen have by definition had unlawful sexual intercourse. If it is suspected that the pregnant girl has also been sexually abused, referral to Children's Social Care should be made. Any professional involved with a pregnant girl under the age of 16 should discuss their proposed action with their organisations nominated Safeguarding lead. Where a decision is taken by a professional not to refer to Children's Social Care the reason for this decision should be clearly recorded on the child's file or record. If a referral to Children's Social Care has been excluded consideration must be made to commence an Early Help Assessment.

Where referral to Children's Social Care is made, Children's Social Care has a duty to inform the police wherever information suggests that a criminal offence has been committed against a child.

Where there are concerns during the pregnancy about the ability of any young mother to care for her baby without additional support, a referral should also be made to Children's Social Care.

End