‘Children can abuse other children (often referred to as child-on-child abuse), and that it can happen both inside and outside of school or college and online.'
Keeping Children Safe in Education (September 2023)
Child-on-child abuse is behaviour by an individual or group, intending to physically, sexually or emotionally harm others. It can happen to children of a similar age or stage of development and can be harmful to the children who display it as well as those who experience it.
Child-on-child abuse can happen in a wide range of settings, including:
It can take place in spaces which are supervised or unsupervised. Within a school context, for example, child-on-child abuse might take place in spaces such as toilets, the playground, corridors and when children are walking home (Contextual Safeguarding Network, 2020).
Online child-on-child abuse is any form of child-on-child abuse with a digital element, for example:
As children develop healthily, it is normal for them to display certain types of behaviour. It is important that adults who work or volunteer with children can identify if any behaviour has become harmful or abusive, and respond proportionally to keep all the children involved safe.
It is essential that all our staff understand the importance of challenging inappropriate behaviours between peers. Child-on-child abuse will never be accepted or dismissed as ‘children being children’. Downplaying certain behaviours, for example dismissing sexual harassment as ‘just banter’, ‘just having a laugh’, ‘part of growing up’ or ‘boys being boys’ can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviours, an unsafe environment for children and in worst case scenarios a culture that normalises abuse leading to children accepting it as normal and not coming forward to report it. (KCSIE 23)
If one child causes harm to another, this should not necessarily be dealt with as child-on-child abuse: bullying, fighting and harassment between children do not generally require multi-agency intervention. However, it may be appropriate to regard a child’s behaviour as abusive if:
Indicators and signs that a child may be suffering from child-on-child abuse can also overlap with those indicating other types of abuse and can include:
Abuse affects our children and their presenting behaviours in different ways and the list above is not exhaustive. Children who present with one or more of these signs are not necessarily victims of abuse and their behaviour will depend on their individual circumstances.
ALL staff are alert to behaviour that may cause concern and think about what the behaviour might signify. We actively encourage children to share with us any underlying reasons for their behaviour, and, where appropriate, to engage with their parents/carers so that the cause(s) of their behaviour can be investigated and understood with the appropriate support in place.
We recognise that any child can be vulnerable to child-on-child abuse due to the strength of peer influence, especially during adolescence, and staff should be alert to signs of such abuse amongst all children.
Extra consideration should be given for pupils who may have additional vulnerabilities due to protected characteristics.
Individual and situational factors can increase a child’s vulnerability to abuse by their peers.
Research suggests that:
Many factors influence sexual behaviour, including:
This is not an exhaustive list and we may need specialist support to clearly identify the reason for the behaviour and the correct intervention.
Dealing with unhealthy sexual behaviour at an early stage can help to prevent subsequent sexually harmful behaviours from developing.
It is important to develop appropriate strategies in order to prevent the issue of child-on-child abuse rather than manage the issues in a reactive way.
Firstly, and most importantly, is recognition that child-on-child abuse can occur in any setting even with the most stringent of policies and support mechanisms. In which case it is important to continue to recognise and manage such risks and learn how to improve and move forward with strategies in supporting children to talk about any issues and through sharing information with all staff.
We actively seek to raise awareness of and prevent all forms of child-on-child abuse by:
level they may appear) and ensuring that no form of child-on-child abuse is ever
dismissed as banter or part of growing up.
There may be instances where staff feel it is necessary to go beyond teaching delivered through the curriculum in immediate response to a child’s behaviour. This may include targeted work with individuals or groups to address behaviour which puts the child or others at risk, or behaviours which are repeated or habitual.
A member of the safeguarding team (DSL/Deputy DSL) will discuss the concerns or allegations with the member of staff who has reported them and will, where necessary, take any immediate steps to ensure the safety of the child/all children affected.
The DSL/Deputy DSL will use their professional judgement to determine whether it is appropriate for alleged behaviour to be dealt with internally and, if so, whether any external specialist support is required. This may include consultation with children’s social care and/or any other external agencies on a no-names basis to determine the most appropriate response.
Further information about the school's response to child-on-child abuse is included in the school's Child-on-Child Abuse Policy.