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  • Writer's pictureHelen Haydock

Who Harms Children? And Why is This Important? (Part 3/3)

Over the past 2 blog posts we have been looking at The Australian Child Maltreatment Study findings around the most common types/class of perpetrator of child sexual abuse. Many may have been surprised to find that it is adolescents and not adults who the study found were most commonly reported as the perpetrator.

This poses somewhat of a dilemma for organisations, who should have robust screening and policies in place around the adults they recruit to work with children but who may know very little about the young people they provide services to. My experience over the years is that organisations have often given a lot of thought to potential risks posed by adults but haven't considered that young people themselves may pose a risk.

In today's blog we are going to look at some of the key elements of safeguarding and start to think about how we might assess and manage this risk.

First a quick note on language. For the remainder of this blog we will refer to "sexual harm" to encompass the wide and complex range of sexual behaviour that can occur between young people: from non-criminal problem sexual behaviour displayed by children under 10 to behaviour that may meet definitions of criminal sexual offending by older children and adolescents.


Child safe organisations should have a range of regularly reviewed policies documenting how they keep children safe. This should include a child safety and wellbeing policy, complaint handling policies, a code of conduct, and policies relating to the recruitment of staff and volunteers. It is essential that consideration is given to identifying organisation specific risks, including the different ages of children within the organisation, when developing policies. A complaint handling policy should consider complaints about both staff/volunteers and other children within the service and it should include specific information regarding responding to allegations of sexual harm by other children and young people.

Screening and Recruitment

All organisations should have robust screening and recruitment policies/processes but these can be difficult to apply to young people under 18 who may be either employees or volunteers. Young people are generally exempt from Working With Children Checks. Organisations should utilise multiple strategies to ensure those working and volunteering with children are suitable and supported, including reference checks, interviews, supervision and ongoing training and support. For those under 18 a declaration from a parent or guardian confirming that the child has never received criminal convictions or charges related to sexual offences, violence or other offending towards children could be sought. A great example is the one developed by Vicsport for use in Victorian Sporting Organisations.

Staff/Volunteer Training

Staff and volunteers should receive training and information about recognising indicators of child harm and responding to disclosures. Staff need to be able to differentiate between normal childhood developmental behaviours and problematic or harmful sexual behaviours. Staff also need to know how to respond to concerns that a child or young person within the organisation may pose a risk. Policies and procedures play a part in this but staff may have their own biases and misconceptions, which could impact on their response to a disclosure from a young person or indicators of harm.

Risk Assessment of both physical and online environments

When considering risk it is important to think about both physical and online environments. Physical environments need to be suitable for the age of the children and young people using them. If you have groups of different aged children in the same space additional risk assessments should be completed to ensure all children are safe. Any use of technology should also be considered and risk assessed. For example if young people have access to devices, what rules are in place to ensure their appropriate use? How are they supervised? How do you ensure that children/young people don't share inappropriate content whilst under your supervision. (Just a note here on Internet blocking/filtering systems-some children and young people are very good at finding ways around this-they may even have a VPN on their device which will allow them to easily bypass any restrictions you have put in place)

In Summary

This blog is not intended to be a How To guide, nor is its aim to demonise teenagers. Its aim is simply to ensure that possible risk posed by young people is considered the same way we consider risks from adults. If as a result of reading this you would like to explore further training for your team please contact us to request further information.

To read the full research article referenced in this post see below:
Mathews, B., Finkelhor, D., Pacella, R., Scott, J. G., Higgins, D. J., Meinck, F., Erskine, H. E., Thomas, H. J., Lawrence, D., Malacova, E., Haslam, D. M., & Collin-Vézina, D. (2024). Child sexual abuse by different classes and types of perpetrator: Prevalence and trends from an Australian national survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 147, 106562.

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