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1.1.2 Sexually active young people

Last Modified: 08-Oct-2019 Review Date: 30-Nov-2010

Purpose

To guide child protection workers in responding to young people with whom the Department of Communities (the Department) has a role, who are, or may become, sexually active.

Practice Requirements

  • The Department does not condone sexual relationships involving children under the age of consent (16 years of age). 
  • If you become aware that a child in the care of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), or a child that we are involved with is, or is considering becoming sexually active, you must:
    • provide information about the implications of such behaviour to the child, and
    • where possible and appropriate, takes steps to protect the child from harm or to minimise the potential for harm.  
  • If you believe a child's sexual activity may be sexual abuse and a criminal act that warrants a Western Australia Police (WA Police) investigation, you must discuss this with childFIRST  immediately.
  • You should advise the child's parents and/or carers of their child's circumstances, wellbeing and safety, including information relating to a child’s sexual activities except when:
    • sharing the information would place the child at risk, or
    • the child is mature enough, as defined by the Gillick Principle, to decide whether he or she wishes to share this information. 
Process Maps

Not applicable.

Procedures

  • Overview
  • Assessing a child’s circumstances
  • Discussion with the child
  • Provision of information to the child
  • Setting professional boundaries
  • Action and documentation
  • Overview

    In Western Australia, section 321 of the the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (the Criminal Code) stipulates that the age of consent for sex is 16 years. The age of consent refers to the age that an individual is considered capable of legally providing informed consent to sexual interactions with another person. Under the Criminal Code, children under 16 years of age are considered to not have the emotional maturity to consent to sexual activities.

    Children 13 years or younger are considered incapable of consenting to sex (s.319(2)(c) of the Criminal Code) and those accused of engaging in sexual behaviour with a child 13 years or younger cannot use the defences available under the Criminal Code (s.321(9-10)).

    Consent is where a person freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in sexual activities and this consent is not obtained by force, threat, intimidation, deception or fraud. Consent also requires that both parties are aware of the possible consequences of the sexual relationship, and are intellectually able and not drunk or drugged.

    To determine if child sexual abuse has occurred, you should assess the children’s respective ages, developmental levels and the nature of the relationship. Sexual activities between young people are not considered as sexual abuse unless:

    • it is non-consensual or there are concerns about the young person’s capacity to give consent
    • there are factors such as bribery, coercion, threats, exploitation or violence, or
    • the child has less power than the other person, or there is significant disparity in the developmental function or maturity.

    Where you identify that a child or young person may have been sexually abused or is likely to be, you must undertake the steps outlined in the Chapter 2.2 entries: Conducting and Child Safety Investigation and Child sexual abuse.

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    Assessing a child’s circumstances

    If you are concerned that the child has been sexually abused you must conduct a Child Safety Investigation - refer to Chapter 2.2 Conducting a Child Safety Investigation within the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework.

    If the child is in the CEO's care, or we one we have contact with is engaging in sexual activities, consider the following factors to assist in determining whether the child may be sexually abused:

    • the age of the child 
    • the age difference between the child and their sexual partner
    • whether the child understands the possible consequences of their behaviour
    • any developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, impairments or reduced maturity which could impact on the ability to give informed consent 
    • the child's own views of his or her sexual behaviour
    • whether the child has any specific vulnerability to increase the likelihood of harm or exploitation – for example, previous sexual abuse experiences, immaturity, disability, mental health issues or isolation
    • evidence of coercion, force, bribes, drugs or threats
    • concerns around the issue of consent
    • health concerns, such as the risk of sexually transmitted infections, or unplanned pregnancy, and/or 
    • whether the child is using contraception, and if they are engaging in safe sex.
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    Discussion with the child

    Talking about sexual issues with a child is a sensitive matter and  best undertaken by someone who has a trusting relationship with the child.

    You need to determine the extent of the child's sexual knowledge and behaviour. There are sometimes challenges in having these discussions with the child and you should discuss any concerns with your team leader as part of case practice supervision.

    You should also explain to the child our responsibility to advise the WA Police if there is reasonable belief that a criminal act has occurred or is occurring in relation to the sexual activity.

    Where it is believed that sexual activities pose a risk to the child’s wellbeing, you must discuss this with your team leader and, if appropriate, at care planning meetings. Where possible, you should inform the child that concerns regarding their sexual activity will be discussed before the meeting.

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    Provision of information to the child

    Where you have discussed the legal issue of consent with the child and the child still intends to be sexually active, you must provide information about:

    • safe sex
    • risks associated with unsafe sex,
    • information about contraception and unplanned pregnancy,
    • risks of sexually transmitted infections, and
    • their responsibilities to themselves and to others.

    Information should be provided in various ways, including:

    You should also refer children to the Department of Health Get the Facts website which provides advice and accurate information for young people in WA on relationships and safer sex. 

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    Setting professional boundaries

    When you discuss sexual activities and behaviours with the child, you must maintain appropriate professional boundaries and be mindful of potential accusations that can be made by the child.

    Use the following strategies to minimise the opportunity for false accusations:

    • where possible, discussions should be undertaken by officers of the same sex as the child
    • where possible, discussions should occur with another person present (team leader, psychologist, foster carer, etc)
    • discuss any concerns with the team leader before meeting with the child, and 
    • document the discussion with the child in the case file in Objective.
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    Action and documentation

    Based on the assessment of the child's circumstances and through discussion with the child, you must decide on the most appropriate course of action or referral, or whether you need to pursue an action or referral.  Record this information on the child's case file. Refer to Chapter 2.2: Child sexual abuse.

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