NICE seeks views on new guidance about children displaying harmful sexual behaviour

24 Feb 2016 11:19 AM

NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – has published a new draft guideline to improve recognition and support for children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour.

Harmful sexual behaviour describes when children and young people engage in sexual discussions or acts that are inappropriate for their age. Many children and young people will naturally grow out of these behaviours, so whilst it is important that they are not unnecessarily stigmatised, their actions should also not be ignored. Harmful behaviour can range from using sexually explicit words, to inappropriate touching, to having sex with other children or adults.

A small number of children and young people commit sexual offences. Evidence shows early opportunities to recognise their behaviours are often missed1.

The draft guideline calls for early assessment of children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour and for support to be tailored to each situation. It includes recommendations on:

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE said: “Inquisitive behaviour is a normal part of growing up. It is natural for children to explore sexuality as part of this. There are normal things they will do such as asking about what body parts do, but there may be some actions such as forcing others to simulate sexual acts, that signal something is wrong.

 “It is important to strike a balance between taking no action, ignoring problem behaviour that could be the sign of another underlying issue, and overreaction which can lead to a child being stigmatised for life.

“We want all professionals who come into contact with children and young people to take notice if they are displaying harmful sexual behaviour. This guideline will help them to take appropriate action when needed.

“The consultation on the proposed recommendations is now open. We urge all those with an interest in this area to comment via the NICE website.”

The draft version of this guideline has been published for consultation. Organisations can register as a stakeholder on the NICE website and have until Wednesday 6 April to submit their comments. Individuals are advised to pass comments through a registered stakeholder organisation that most closely represents them.

The final guideline is expected to publish in September 2016.

For more information call the NICE press office on 0300 323 0142 or out of hours on 07775 583 813.

Notes to Editors


  1. Criminal Justice Joint Inspection. Examining multi-agency responses to children and young people who sexually offend. February 2013

About the guidance

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