Healthcare professionals play a key role in child protection, both in identifying children who are in need of safeguarding and support and assisting families at risk.

Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) has been identified by NHS England as a priority area in healthcare. Everyone who works in the health sector has a key role in recognising when a child's sexualised behaviour becomes problematic or harmful, stopping it from escalating and making sure everyone involved gets the support they need.

What is harmful sexual behaviour?

Harmful sexual behaviours are sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years old that are developmentally inappropriate, and may be harmful towards self or another child, young person or adult.

Examples of harmful sexual behaviour are using explicit words and phrases, inappropriate touching using sexual violence or threats, or sex with other children or adults.

Around a third of sexual abuse is committed by other children or young people. Sometimes it can be hard to know whether the sexual behaviours a young person is displaying are appropriate and what you should do to address their risks and needs in order to keep them and other safe.

As a healthcare professional who comes into contact with children, young people and their parents and carers, it's important that you are aware of what HSB is and that you are equipped with the knowledge that helps you to recognise, record and respond appropriately.

Online resources and guidance

The NSPCC has worked with the St Helens Safeguarding Children's Partnership Board to develop resources and guidance to support health professionals improve their responses to incidents of harmful sexual behaviour.

Using the practical tools and resources, you can enhance your understanding of what developmentally healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviour looks like and improve your ability to identify, respond to, record and refer harmful sexual behaviour.

You can find the online guidance and resources at: nspcc.org.uk/hsbhealth