Harmful sexual behaviour framework

Last updated: 18 Jun 2019 Topics: Harmful sexual behaviour

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

2nd edition

This framework helps local areas develop and improve multi-agency responses to children displaying harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). It provides a coordinated, systematic and evidence-based approach to recognising and responding to the risks and needs of this vulnerable group.

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

This new version updates and replaces the previous framework published in 2016.

Authors: Simon Hackett, Pat Branigan and Dez Holmes
Published: 2019

How to use the framework

The framework helps commissioners, strategic leads and lead safeguarding professionals from any sector to improve their local area response to harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). To get the most out of the framework we advise a multi-agency approach involving:

  • staff with a strategic role in coordinating child protection and local HSB responses from different agencies
  • commissioners of local child protection and HSB services
  • those with a wider safeguarding remit and audit responsibility.

The framework is split into 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
  • an audit checklist to help assess your HSB offer and service response
  • key principles to consider when improving HSB service delivery, with practical examples.

You should repeat the audit every 6 to 12 months to help track progress and help you continuously develop and improve your services.

The framework should be used alongside the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on harmful sexual behaviour among young people (NICE, 20161).

Audit tools

Each domain of the Framework includes an audit checklist. We've also provided a separate downloadable audit tool that brings all the checklists together in one place. This will help you record the results of your audit and gain an overall picture of your local area’s strengths and weaknesses.

You can also input the findings from your audit into our star tool (XLSX) which produces a visual representation of your audit scores.

If you work in the health sector, we've produced specific guidance to help you use the audit tool (PDF).


Implementation support

We provide a comprehensive support package to help local areas implement the HSB framework and audit tool.

We can:

  • support your audit of current local provision for responding to HSB
  • help compile a multi-agency action plan tailored to your audit responses
  • provide additional templates, resources and HSB services.

Contact us to discuss how we can help in your area scaleupunit@nspcc.org.uk.

> Find out more about our implementation support

See how the HSB framework was used in St Helens


Please cite as:

Hackett, S., Branigan, P. and Holmes, D. (2019) Harmful sexual behaviour framework: an evidence-informed operational framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours. 2nd ed. London: NSPCC.

NSPCC (2019) Completing the Harmful sexual behaviour framework audit tool: a guide for designated safeguarding leads in health. London: NSPCC.

NSPCC (2019) Harmful sexual behaviour framework: audit tool. 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).