Children with harmful sexual behaviours

Volume 10 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission in 2017 contains 7 recommendations for improving responses to children with problem or abusive sexual behaviours. The Victorian Government accepted all 7 recommendations, either in full or in principle. You can read the Victorian Government’s 2018 response to Volume 10 here.

A framework for improving responses to problem or abusive sexual behaviours

The Royal Commission highlighted the issues of problem and abusive sexual behaviours in children and the need to better recognise, prevent and appropriately respond to these behaviours.

Dealing with children’s problem or abusive sexual behaviours through primary and secondary prevention strategies, and tertiary interventions, is a national priority for the states, territories and the Australian Government.

Victoria will collaborate with other states and territories to develop a national strategy to prevent child sexual abuse that includes prevention and intervention strategies dealing with children’s problem or abusive sexual behaviours.

Victoria has a number of primary and secondary prevention strategies and tertiary interventions that align closely with those recommended by the Royal Commission. For example, Victoria recognises that sexual health, sexuality and protective behaviours education is a primary prevention strategy that can safeguard against sexual abuse. Sexuality education is included in the Victorian curriculum at both primary and secondary school level. Respectful Relationships education is also included in the curriculum and supported by implementation of a whole school approach in more than 1,000 schools in line with a recommendation of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. Both programs help children and young people identify their personal rights and responsibilities, teach positive behaviours, and build the knowledge and skills necessary for respectful decision-making.

Assessment and intervention for children with problem or harmful sexual behaviours

The Royal Commission found that problem or abusive sexual behaviours can be reduced or eliminated by applying a tailored therapeutic response.

Victoria funds a comprehensive response for children who have engaged in problem or abusive sexual behaviour designed to prevent children and young people from continuing the behaviours and causing further harm.

Sexually abusive behaviours treatment services are located at various sites across Victoria. These services provide assessment of, and therapeutic intervention for up to 24 months for, children from birth to 17 who display problem or abusive sexual behaviours. The services encourage parents to connect children to treatment in a voluntary capacity and avoid exposing children to any court process. A key principle of the services is to acknowledge the historic, individual and systemic issues that led to these behaviours. Interventions include collaboration with a child’s family, school and community. Since 2017, following the Royal Commission into Family Violence, all sexually abusive behaviour treatment services are funded to provide therapeutic treatment to children aged 15 to 17. Prior to this, only three services were funded for this age group.

The Victorian Government will soon start work with the Aboriginal community to design a sexually abusive behaviour treatment service for Aboriginal children and young people that promotes self-determination.

If Child Protection services assess that a child, aged 10 to 14 who has displayed problem or abusive sexual behaviours, is in need of therapeutic treatment but unlikely to access it voluntarily, Child Protection services can apply for a Therapeutic Treatment Order (TTO). A TTO requires the child and their family to attend a sexually abusive behaviour treatment service. These orders involve Child Protection applying to the Family Division of the Children’s Court. A finding of guilt is not required for the child to be made subject to a TTO. In 2019, the maximum age of children eligible for an order will be raised from 14 to 17 years.

When a child has been found guilty of a sexual offence and receives a Youth Justice supervised sentence, the court will include a condition to attend the Male Adolescent Program for Positive Sexuality (MAPPS). MAPPS is an intensive group treatment program for adolescents, based on cognitive-behavioural models. It requires participants to understand and accept responsibility for their offending behaviour, develop social skills and empathy for their victims, and aims to prevent reoffending.

Strengthening the workforce

The Royal Commission identified a number of best practice principles for dealing with problem or abusive sexual behaviours.

All practitioners in sexually abusive behaviour treatment services have qualifications in psychology, social work or another relevant discipline and extensive therapeutic experience with children and families. All practitioners work to the Human Services Standards and the CEASE standards of practice. These standards align with those the Royal Commission recommended.

In Victoria, specific training and professional development is provided to workers, including residential carers, disability workers, and child protection practitioners, who deliver services to children with abusive sexual behaviours.