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BASW: Professionals must get over their unease about sexualised behaviour in children

As a study from HM inspectorate of Probation of 24 male sex offenders, (10 of whom were minors) indicates that early signs of future sexual offending were missed in the majority of cases, BASW highlights a culture of ‘unease’ amongst professionals about the sexualised behaviour of some young children, that must be addressed by adequate provision of training and services.

Commenting on the research, conducted jointly by probation, police, prison, education, health, care and social services, BASW professional officer Sue Kent said: “We welcome this research as it identifies and confirms issues that social workers, other professionals and indeed the general public, have historically struggled with. The concept that young people as young as ten years old can commit sexual crimes is an uncomfortable one to accept.
“This general unease means that young people who commit sexual offences often do not receive the help and support they need at an early age and neither do their victims.
“The study finding that 21 of the 24 subjects had 'family issues' is unsurprising, as often young people who commit sexual offences have been victims of sexual abuse themselves. 
“What is concerning is that the services so desperately needed for these young offenders have been so limited in the past that it is often not until they are criminally convicted that they receive any help with their behaviour at all.
“We acknowledge that due to the delay in spotting the signs of potential offenders more children may suffer at the hands of an abuser and agree social workers and other professionals need more specified training to identify such behaviour at an early stage to prevent abuse. 
“As the study suggests, it is vital that such behaviour is addressed at an early age and to do this we not only need efficient training for all professionals involved, teachers, doctors, as well as social workers but an opportunity for the young person in question to receive individual specialist help. 
“Over the years, the social work sector has built up invaluable expertise in this area offering both those young people who have been sexually abused and those who have abused others appropriate, specialist support. 
“Unfortunately, such services have been piecemeal and subject to something of a postcode lottery. It is essential that we invest, develop and share this expertise, as the earlier we intervene the greater the likelihood of helping these young people not to continue sexually abusing others into adulthood. 
“Also, often the resources available are open only to adult offenders.  Those accessible by young people are either limited or only accessible once convicted, and as we see further cuts to public spending we worry that despite this report stressing the need for training and specific support, there will be little growth in services for this particular group of young people. This serves only to increase the threat that sexual offenders pose to the public. 
“Given that we have become much more sensitised as a society to child sexual abuse, we cannot afford to neglect our responsibility to address it when children are the offenders, as we know only too well the long term and devastating consequences of such behaviour.”