New NICE guidance for nurses on harmful sexual behaviour in children

Concerns from nurses about a child's sexual behaviour – including sexting and sharing sexual images – should always be followed up, according to new guidance.
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Concerns from nurses and other professionals about a child's sexual behaviour – including sexting and sharing sexual images – should always be followed up, according to new guidance.

New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also calls for professionals to consider involving a child's family before intervening.

It lists the sexual behaviours that may be inappropriate for the child's age, and to which nurses, teachers and social workers should be alert – but urges them to avoid stigmatising the child.

Behaviours to look out for 

Behaviours include using sexualised language, such as adult slang, to talk about sex, viewing pornography, and sexualised behaviour such as sexting or sharing and sending nude images by mobile phone or email.

The guidance says that while these behaviours should not be ignored, many children will naturally grow out of them.​

It states that professionals should focus on the child or young person as an individual and not on the presenting behaviour, and recognise that inappropriate sexualised behaviour is often an expression of a range of problems or underlying vulnerabilities.

The guidance recommends professionals use the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool, which lists sexual behaviours by age group to say whether they are normal or need further investigation.

Electronic media 

It also calls for further research into the impact electronic media is having on sexual behaviour.

Figures released earlier this month by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)  showed that more than 2,000 UK children were reported to police for crimes linked to indecent images in three years.

Under the letter of the law, making or sharing indecent photographs of anyone aged under the age of 18 could be classed as an offence,  but there have been calls for recording rules to be adapted so that children are not routinely criminalised.

In one incident, a 14-year-old boy was added to a police database after he sent a naked image of himself to a female classmate on picture messaging app Snapchat.

Preparation, recognition 

NICE deputy chief executive Professor Gillian Leng said: 'Inquisitive behaviour is a normal part of growing up and it is natural for children to ask about different body parts or be curious about the differences between girls and boys.

'However, there is also a minority of children and young people who engage in sexual behaviour that is not appropriate for their age or development.

'This guidance is about preparing teachers, nurses, social workers and others to recognise harmful sexual behaviour when it occurs, and ensure they can work across team boundaries so that problem behaviour is not ignored or missed, and children and young people receive the help they need.'

Further information

Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people

Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool