Keeping Children Safe
This aim of this page is to provide advice on how to keep children safe with regards to a range of specific issues, like online safety, drug and alcohol use, and self-harm. This advice is for anyone in contact with children, notably parents or carers and professionals.
Quick links for sections on this page:
The internet is an exciting and integral part of life for children and young people to explore, learn, play, and connect with friends. Whether on a computer at school, a laptop at home, a games console or mobile phone, children and young people are increasingly accessing the internet whenever they can and wherever they are. The internet is also an important learning tool, with early use of digital technology being shown to improve children’s social development, creativity, and language skills.
However there are also risks, such as seeing inappropriate content, having personal information stolen, being cyberbullied, or at its worst, being targeted by groomers who wish to exploit vulnerable people.
By understanding and talking about the dangers you can help children and young people better understand the online world, recognise risks and help them stay safe. If a child understands the risks and can make sensible and informed choices online, they can get the most from the internet and stay safe whilst doing so – particularly from those people who might seek them out to harm them.
For some helpful advice on online safety, including information about how safe certain sites are, how to set up parental controls, and more, view the NSPCC website here.
Also see these useful websites:
- Net Aware – the NSPCC & O2 have asked children to review the social networks and apps that they use, and created a handy a safety guide for parents. This is also available as an app from the App Store or Google Play.
- Internet Matters
- UK Safer Internet Centre
- Safety Net
- Think U Know
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre
Bullying is behaviour by a person or group, repeated over time that intentionally hurts others either physically or emotionally. Bullying is not always easy to recognise as it can take a number of forms. A child may encounter bullying attacks that are:
- Physical: pushing, kicking, hitting, pinching and other forms of violence or threats
- Verbal: name-calling, sarcasm, spreading rumours, persistent teasing
- Emotional: excluding (sending to Coventry), tormenting, ridiculing, humiliating.
Persistent bullying can result in many different problems like depression, isolation, and self-harm.
You should take action if you suspect or discover your own child or a child you know is being bullied, or if you are concerned that your own child is bullying others.
- Talk to the parents/carers of children who are being bullied or might be bullying others.
- Talk to teachers/the school.
- If it’s serious, you should talk to Children’s Social Care (see Reporting Concerns).
- Read Brighton & Hove City Council’s leaflet for parents here, which includes advice for talking to the school about the problem as well as ways to support your child
- Read NSPCC’s advice on bullying and cyberbullying
- Check out online advice such as The Anti Bullying Network or Bullying UK
Learning about sex and sexual behaviour is a normal part of a child’s development. It will help them as they grow up, and as they start to make decisions about relationships. Children pass through different stages of development as they grow, and their awareness and curiosity about sexual matters changes with them.
Each child is individual and will develop in their own way. However, there is a generally accepted range of behaviours linked to a child’s age and developmental stage. Sometimes these will involve some exploration with other children of similar age. It can often be difficult to tell the difference between age-appropriate sexual exploration and warning signs of sexually harmful behaviour.
It is important to have a clear idea of what is normal sexual behaviour so that you can spot the warning signs if something might not be quite right.
Underage sexual activity
The age of consent for any form of sexual activity is 16 regardless of the gender or sexual orientation and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.
It is a criminal offence for anyone to engage in any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16, although government guidelines say there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age. However, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that children under the age of 13 are legally deemed incapable of consenting to sexual activity and therefore all incidences of sexual behaviour involving children under 13 should be considered as a potential criminal or child protection matter.
What is harmful sexual behaviour?
Sexually harmful behaviour is the term used to describe children or young people who sexually abuse other children, young people or adults. Sexually harmful behaviours are likely to include elements of:
- power imbalance – possibly involving significant difference in age and developmental factors
- degradation and threats
- compulsive behaviours
- age inappropriate knowledge or experience
- use of bribes, gifts and removal of inhibitors, for instance using drugs or alcohol.
The sexual abuse perpetrated by children can be just as harmful as that perpetrated by an adult, so it is important to remember the impact on the victim of the abuse as well as to focus on the treatment of the child or young person exhibiting the sexually harmful behaviour.
Abusive/inappropriate behaviour is often characterised by a lack of true consent, the presence of a power imbalance and exploitation. The boundary between what is abusive and what is part of normal childhood or youthful experimentation can be blurred.
The ability of professionals to determine whether a child’s sexual behaviour is developmental, inappropriate or abusive will depend upon the related concepts of true consent, power imbalance and exploitation. This may include children who exhibit a range of sexually problematic behaviour such as indecent exposure, obscene telephone calls, fetishism, bestiality and sexual abuse against adults or children and downloading indecent images of children from the internet.
Children and young people, particularly living away from home, are vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering or at risk of suffering Significant Harm from an adverse source.
A significant proportion of sex offences are committed by teenagers and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abusive, and between appropriate and exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as “normal” between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.
The NSPCC has a useful guide to keeping children safe, spotting warning signs and what to do if you’re worried.
Many parents and carers may be concerned about their child experimenting with alcohol drugs, or other substances as they grow older. It is important that children are made aware of risks and how to keep themselves safe, and it is better to talk to children earlier rather than later about the potential dangerous consequences or risks with alcohol and drug use.
It is important to keep in mind the laws on alcohol and under 18s.
Advice from the NSPCC recommends having open talks with children about the risks of drinking that are brief conversations over time and not perceived as ‘lecturing’. View the NSPCC’s full advice on how to talk to your child about drinking here.
The Frank website is an excellent resource for information about drugs, which includes a glossary of slang terms and advice for worried parents.
Frank says that it is important for parents and carers to remember that:
- For most young people illegal drug taking is not a part of normal life.
- Most people who do try drugs do not continue using them.
Substance Use & Sexual Health in Brighton & Hove
ru-ok? is Brighton and Hove’s under 18s substance use and sexual health service. They aim to offer a family and young person-friendly service, reducing the harm caused by alcohol and drug use and improving young people’s sexual health through education and preventative work. They offer free confidential advice and information to young people.
The team offers specialist consultation, advice and training to professionals. They work with young people who have complex, long-term substance misuse problems, where their use is causing or risks causing serious problems in their day-to-day life. They also offer preventative work in schools and the community.
Anyone can refer to the service. If you are a young person, or a parent/carer or professional worried about a child or young person, please call the duty worker between 2pm to 5 pm Mondays to Thursdays and 2pm – 4.30 pm on Fridays.
Where to find ru-ok?:
ru-ok? The Adolescent Service, 1 Regency Road, Brighton, BN1 2RU
Tel: 01273 293966
It can be really difficult for someone to open up and talk about if they are self-harming. If you are concerned a child or young person in your care is self-harming, or they have disclosed to you that they are, the best thing is not to panic. You could try to find out why they self-harm (it’s important to focus on the reasons and not the injuries) and listen to them. Be prepared that the child or young person may not understand why they self-harm, and may not be able to answer this question.
There are lots of places online where you can find support and information, and lots of places that young people can go to talk to someone in person. First we’d recommend that you read the Right Here mini-guide Talking About Self Harm (which includes local support services).
Specific support for parents and carers:
- Royal College of Psychiatrists factsheet
- Do’s & Don’ts for Parents
- Right Here Guide for Parents and Carers
- Young Minds or call the YoungMinds Parents’ Helpline free on 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm)
Other useful websites about self-harm:
Lastly, if you’d like to read some recent research into self-harm in Brighton & Hove, here are two reports:
- Right Here report: Young People and Self Harm: Perceptions and Understanding
- Self-Harm Needs Assessment report
Children run away for all sorts of reasons, including trouble at school or arguments within the family. They may leave on impulse or in protest. Sometimes they may be drawn away by something outside of the home such as older friends. On most occasions they return home safely.
It is important to remember that you do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting somebody missing. You can make a report to the police as soon as you have done as much as possible to locate your child and that you consider them to be missing. There is no minimum waiting time. Dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police force immediately on 101.
A child running away from home or going missing is often a call for help and may indicate that something is going wrong in the child’s life, like violence at home, drug or alcohol abuse, bullying, difficulties at school, or sexual abuse. Running away or going missing is also an early indicator of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) or Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Research by The Children’s Society has found that many as 70% of children who are sexually exploited go missing from home.
When a child runs away they are at risk of serious harm. Working Together 2018 highlights threats that children may face from outside their families that may make them vulnerable to abuse or exploitation. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. They can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines, trafficking, online abuse and sexual exploitation.
Our Community Safety and Crime Reduction Strategy focuses on the following strands of exploitation and risk, recognising that individual children may be vulnerable to a range of risks and exploitation and that children who go missing from home and care are at increased risk of being exploited:
- Child sexual exploitation
- Child criminal exploitation
- Missing children
- Human Trafficking / Modern Day Slavery
- Harmful sexual behaviour
- Peer on peer abuse
The Children’s Society has a developed a series of guides giving useful information and advice on how to prevent children from going missing and what to do when a child has gone missing:
- Thinking of running away? is a guide for children and young people about the risks of running away and advice on where they can find help.
- What to do if your child goes missing explains to parents and carers why children and young people run away and what steps to take if a child goes missing.
- What to do when a child goes missing is a guide for teachers and youth workers on how to recognise the signs that a child may be running away and how to help them.
Adolescent Vulnerability and Risk Management Meetings
Brighton & Hove Council and Sussex Police also chair an Adult Vulnerability Risk Meeting (AVRM) which aims to identify, share information and mitigate risk to young people who are considered to be at risk of exploitation or harm to others.
If a child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police by calling 999.