Managing allegations made against a child

Last updated: 16 Apr 2021
Introduction

Every organisation that works with children must have procedures about how to respond to allegations of abuse made against a child and concerns that a child or young person may pose a risk of abuse to others.

The information on this page will help you to:

  • ensure children who may have been abused by another child or young person are protected and supported
  • provide the child or young person who may have carried out the abuse with the appropriate help
  • make sure your organisation's response to any allegations is fair and consistent and any risks posed to children are managed appropriately.

Managing allegations of abuse training

Face-to-face training to help you gain the skills you need to manage allegations of abuse made against staff or volunteers in England and Scotland.

Learn more about the course

 

Identifying concerns

Types of allegations

There are many ways that a child may be abusive towards others. A child who is displaying abusive behaviour may not realise they are doing so.

When a child abuses another child, it is sometimes called 'peer-on-peer abuse'.

Identifying concerns

There are a range of ways concerns might be raised.

  • A child or adult might make a direct allegation of abuse by a child or young person.
  • A child or adult might tell you they're uncomfortable with a child or young person's behaviour. They may not realise the behaviour is abusive.
  • A member of staff or volunteer might observe behaviour that gives cause for concern and make a report following your organisation’s safeguarding procedures.
  • Your organisation may be informed that a child or young person is the subject of an investigation.
  • A child or young person might tell you they have harmed someone else or are at risk of doing so.

> For more information about managing allegations of sexual abuse made against a child, read our information on protecting children from peer-on-peer sexual abuse

Responding

Responding to concerns

When responding to an allegation of abuse made against a child, it's important to consider the needs of everyone involved.

> Find out more about how to respond when a child tells you they've been abused

Talking to a child who tells you they have behaved abusively

Sometimes a child may tell you directly that they have behaved abusively towards someone else. If this happens:

  • reassure the child that they've done the right thing by telling you about it
  • listen carefully to the child and let them tell their whole story. Don't try to investigate or quiz the child, but make sure you understand what they're saying
  • use non-judgmental language
  • remember that a child who is telling you they've abused someone else is a child in need of support
  • tell them that you now have to do what you can to keep them and the other children involved safe
  • explain what you are going to do next and that you will need to speak to other people who can help
  • reassure the child that they can get help to change their behaviour and move forward with their life
  • you may want to suggest the child contacts Childline for support.

Never promise to keep what a child tells you a secret. Explain that you need to talk to other people who can help keep them and the other children involved safe.

Talking to a child who may be behaving abusively

If allegations have been made against a child you should speak to your nominated child protection lead, who can advise you on the best way to proceed. If you confront the child about the allegations before taking advice, it may make the situation worse.

For more advice about speaking to a child who may be behaving abusively, contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing help@nspcc.org.uk.

If you work or volunteer in a school setting, you can also contact the Report Abuse in Education Helpline for support and guidance on 0800 136 663 or at help@nspcc.org.uk. Any child who has experienced sexual abuse in a school setting can also contact the Helpline.

Sometimes you may have noticed a child behaving inappropriately and you may need to talk to them about this immediately, in order to manage the behaviour. Remember that they may not realise their behaviour is unacceptable. Talk to them calmly and explain why their behaviour is unsuitable and what they can do to improve it.

It's helpful to have a code of conduct which everyone in your organisations agrees to, and which you can refer to when managing behaviour.

Be aware that a child who displays challenging behaviour may be doing so because they have experienced abuse or neglect. If you think this may be the case, follow your organisation's child protection procedures.

> Find out more about managing sexualised behaviour in schools

> Find out more about behaviour codes

Making notes

It's important to keep accurate and detailed notes on any concerns you have about a child. You will need to share this record with your nominated child protection lead. Include:

  • the child's details (name, age, address)
  • what the child said or did that gave you cause for concern (if the child made a verbal disclosure, write down their exact words)
  • the details of any other children involved or impacted.

> Browse our introductory training courses for more information on child protection and recording concerns

Child protection

Deciding if a concern is a child protection issue

When a child or young person behaves inappropriately towards another child, a decision needs to be made about whether there may be a child protection concern.

Your organisation's nominated child protection lead should make this decision in consultation with:

  • the volunteer or staff member who is responsible for the supervision/pastoral care of the children involved
  • the senior manager or trustee responsible for safeguarding
  • any other agencies you know are working with the child
  • the local child protection services if necessary.

When an allegation is a child protection concern

An allegation becomes a child protection concern when:

  • the behaviour involves sexual assault or physical assault
  • the child who has experienced the abusive behaviour has suffered significant harm
  • the behaviour forms part of a pattern of concerning behaviour by the child or young person who is being abusive
  • the child carrying out the abuse is displaying harmful sexual behaviour
  • you are concerned that the child carrying out the abuse may be doing so because they have experienced abuse or other upsetting experiences themselves.

It is also a child protection concern when there's a significant difference of power between the child who is displaying abusive behaviour and the person being abused, for example when:

  • there's an age difference of more than two years
  • there's a significant difference in terms of size or level of ability
  • the child displaying abusive behaviour holds a position of power (such as being a helper, volunteer or informal leader)
  • the child being abused is significantly more vulnerable than the other child or young person.

When you're not sure

If you aren't sure whether a child or young person's behaviour is abusive, you could contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing help@nspcc.org.uk. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you, give you expert advice and take action to protect the child as appropriate. This may include making a referral to the local authority.

Anyone who works or volunteers in a school setting and needs support or guidance can also contact the Report Abuse in Education Helpline on 0800 136 663 or help@nspcc.org.uk.

You should also discuss the matter with your local authority child protection services.

Parents

Telling parents that their child may have abused someone else

The child's parents or carers should be told what has happened, as long as it doesn't increase the risk to the child.

Ask the child how they would like their parents/carers to be told. You could suggest:

  • talking to parents first without the child there, then summarising everything with the child present
  • helping the child tell their parents in their own words, with you present for support.

It's important for parents and children to talk about what's happened and begin to come to terms with it as a family.

When talking to parents or carers, remember that the news their child has behaved abusively may be a shock. Reassure them that support is available to help their child change their behaviour and move forward.

Support for parents

You should also make sure that the parents/carers are offered appropriate support. Some organisations that may be helpful for parents/carers include:

Reporting

Reporting concerns

If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.

Services will risk assess the situation and take action to protect the child as appropriate either through statutory involvement or other support. This may include making a referral to the local authority.

Protecting children and young people

Taking action to keep all children and young people safe

Depending on the nature of the allegation or concern, you may need to take action to protect and support children who have experienced peer abuse.

You should also consider how best to support the child against whom the allegation was made.

Sanctions

Your organisation should have a behaviour code which explains how you expect people to behave. It should set out what sanctions will apply to anybody who chooses not to behave appropriately.

You should follow these sanctions for any child who does not behave in the right way.

> Find out more about behaviour codes

Emotional support

If peer abuse has taken place in your organisation, this may have an emotional impact on everyone in the group.

Make sure children, young people and adult supervisors have access to the emotional support they need and know who they can talk to if they are worried about anything.

Childline provides confidential help and advice for children and young people. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Risk assessment

Conduct a risk assessment and develop a risk management plan to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep all your children and young people safe.

Things to consider include:

  • any relevant information from other agencies, such as care plans or multi-agency assessments
  • making sure the child who is alleged to have carried out the abuse is separated from the children who experienced the abuse
  • separating the child who is alleged to have carried out the abuse from other children where there is a risk of further abuse
  • whether the children who experienced the abuse are at risk of bullying or victimisation from others and what prevention measures are needed
  • whether the child who is alleged to have carried out the abuse is at risk of any retaliation and what action can be taken to keep them safe.

Multi-agency working

If statutory agencies are investigating and assessing the situation you should stay in contact with them and share all relevant information with multi-agency partners.

> Find out about the best practice for multi-agency working

Sexting

If a young person in your organisation has been involved in sexting, it’s important to respond appropriately and follow the right procedures.

> Read our advice about responding to sexting

Legislation

Guidance on managing allegations made against a child

Statutory guidance across the UK highlights the responsibility of those in the education, community and care sectors to safeguard children from all forms of abuse and neglect.

In England, Keeping children safe in education requires schools to have a child protection policy that includes:

  • procedures to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse
  • information about how allegations of peer on peer abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with
  • clear processes for how any child involved with or affected by peer on peer abuse will be supported
  • a clear statement that abuse should never be tolerated or passed off as "banter", "just having a laugh" or "part of growing up"
  • recognition that peer on peer abuse can be gendered but also that all peer on peer abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously
  • information about the different forms peer on peer abuse can take

(Department for Education, 2021).

In Northern Ireland, Co-operating to Safeguard Children and Young People in Northern Ireland highlights the responsibility of professionals to children and young people who have been abused as well as those who have behaved abusively (Department of Health, 2017).

The guidance highlights that professionals should consider whether a child or young person who has abused another child is at risk of continuing significant harm and should be the subject of a child protection case conference.

In cases where it's decided not to hold a child protection case conference, a multi-agency assessment and response should be made to meet the young person's needs.

In Scotland, National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2014 (PDF)  highlights the importance of working both with those who have experienced abuse and those who have carried out abuse, including young people (Scottish Government, 2014).

The guidance highlights that when abuse of a child or young person is reported to have been carried out by another child or young person, the behaviour should always be treated seriously and involve a discussion between relevant agencies. This discussion should cover all the children involved.

In cases where a child or young person displays harmful sexual behaviour, organisations should immediately consider whether child protection action is needed to:

  • protect the child who has been abused
  • to address concerns about what has caused the child/young person to display the harmful sexual behaviour.

> Find out more about harmful sexual behaviour

In Wales, the Wales Safeguarding Procedures includes a practice guide on safeguarding children where there are concerns about harmful sexual behaviour. 

This sets out how organisations should respond to allegations concerning harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) by one child towards another (Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2020). When there are concerns about a child displaying HSB, this must include a discussion about keeping other children safe. This should include within the child’s home and education setting (Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2020).

If a decision is made not to hold a child protection conference or put the young person on the child protection register, work with the young person and possibly their family/caregivers may still be recommended and there must be continued multi agency working and meetings.

References and resources

References and resources

Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Keeping children safe in education (2020): statutory guidance for schools and colleges. Update - January 2021. London: Department for Education (DfE).

Department of Health (2017) Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Department of Health.

Scottish Government (2014) National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF). Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.

Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board (2020) Wales Safeguarding Procedures. [Accessed 13/04/2021].

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

Our elearning courses can help develop your understanding of how to protect children from abuse:

Further reading

For further reading about early help, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keywords "managing allegations" "peer abuse".

If you need more specific information, please contact our Information Service.