Harmful sexual behaviour framework

Last updated: 04 Sep 2018 Topics: Harmful sexual behaviour

An evidence-informed framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours

This framework aims to help local areas develop and improve multi-agency responses to children displaying harmful sexual behaviours (HSB). It seeks to provide a coordinated and consistent approach to recognising both the risks and the needs of this vulnerable group.

The framework was developed by the NSPCC, Research in Practice and Professor Simon Hackett with input from a large number of national organisations, local authorities and subject experts.

Authors: Simon Hackett, Dez Holmes and Pat Branigan
Published: 2016

What is the harmful sexual behaviour framework?

The framework aims to support local work with children and young people who have displayed HSB, and their families, by delivering and developing clear policies and procedures, and by refreshing local practice guidelines and assessment tools.

It seeks to provide a more coherent and evidence-informed approach for work with these children and young people, and to better understand how to improve outcomes.

Who is the framework for?

The framework is a systemic tool to help develop a local area response to HSB. To get the most out of the framework we advise a joint local approach involving:

  • staff with a strategic role in coordinating child protection and local HSB responses
  • commissioners of local child protection and HSB services
  • those with a wider safeguarding remit and audit responsibility, such as chairs and members of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).

What does the framework do?

The framework seeks to:

  • support an integrated understanding of, and response to, HSB
  • identify a continuum of responses to children and young people dependent on levels of risk and need. Responses will range from early community-based identification and support to assessment, intervention and intensive work
  • promote effective assessment as key to preventing unnecessary use of specialist time and, where appropriate, to support earlier interventions
  • ensure children and families are offered the right level of support by suitably trained and skilled workers
  • promote the advantage of involving frontline agencies and workers, especially education services, in earlier recognition, assessment and intervention
  • encourage inter-agency work designed to reduce feelings of professional isolation and anxiety when making decisions, which may currently lead to under and over estimation of risk
  • promote the use of a shared language, skills and training exchange, and development of appropriate local peer support systems
  • promote the importance of evaluation and monitoring of outcomes for children and young people.

How is the framework organised?

The framework promotes five domains that cover the essential elements of developing and delivering an integrated and effective HSB service for children, young people and their families:

  1. A continuum of responses to children and young people displaying HSB.
  2. Prevention, identification and early assessment.
  3. Effective assessment and referral pathways.
  4. Interventions.
  5. Workforce development.

Each domain includes:

  • a summary of the latest evidence to back up practice and local decision making and the key issues being faced
  • an audit tool to help local areas assess the current state of their HSB offer and service responses
  • the key principles to consider when focusing on delivery, with practical examples.

How to use the audit tool

Each domain includes an audit tool to enable local areas to assess their practice, processes and leadership against the five key areas.

These tools provide a set of statements, based on research messages, against which a score between 0 (never/no evidence) and 4 (always/strong evidence) should be given.

Using the audit tool should enable local areas to focus their efforts on the domains where improvement is needed most. There are examples and resources which can be used to draft an action plan that reflects local needs and priorities.

Findings from the audit tool can be inputted into a star tool (XLSX) to help collate and produce a visual representation of the audit scores.

The audit should be repeated after an interval of 6 to 12 months to demonstrate progress and to inform any changes or developments required.

National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) HSB guidelines

The framework should be used alongside the NICE guidelines on harmful sexual behaviour among young people (NICE, 2016).

The guidelines make recommendations about:

  • roles of universal services
  • early help assessment and risk assessment
  • linking with families pre and post intervention
  • key principles and approaches for intervention.

The guidelines aim to ensure that children and young people who display HSB are assessed as soon as possible.

Implement this service through Scale-Up

Following requests for support with implementing the audit we have now finalised a support package to complement the framework and audit tool. If you’d like more information please email hsbframework@nspcc.org.uk


Please cite as: Hackett, S., Holmes, D. and Branigan, P. (2016) Operational framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours. London: NSPCC.


National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2016) Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people. [London]: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Download the framework, audit tool and star tool

Download Framework (PDF)

Download Audit tool (PDF)

Download Star tool (XLSX)