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1.1.2 Sexually active young people

Last Modified: 27-Jul-2018 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 a child protection worker becomes 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, the child protection worker:
    • has a responsibility to ensure that the child is provided with information about the implications of such behaviour, and
    • where possible and appropriate, takes steps to protect the child from harm or to minimise the potential for harm.  
  • The child protection worker must discuss immediately with childFIRST if the sexual abuse warrants a Western Australia Police (WA Police) investigation because a criminal act may have occurred or is occurring.
  • The child protection worker should advise the parent(s) and/or carer(s) of the child 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 maturity and views of the child, as defined by the Gillick Principle, should be prioritised.
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 is not obtained by force, threat, intimidation, deception or fraud. Consent also includes both parties having an awareness of possible consequences of the sexual relationship, being intellectually able and not drunk or drugged.

    To determine if child sexual abuse has occurred, an assessment of the children’s respective ages, developmental level and the nature of the relationship should occur. 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 a child protection worker identifies that a child or young person may have been sexually abused or is likely to be, they must undertake the steps outlined in the Chapter 2.2 entries: Assessment and investigation processes and Child sexual abuse.

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    Assessing a child’s circumstances

    If there is concern that child sexual abuse may have occurred child protection workers must undertake an assessment (refer to Chapter 2.2: Assessment and investigation processes) in accordance with the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework.

    If a child in the CEO's care, or with whom we have contact is engaging in sexual activities, child protection workers should consider the following factors to determine whether there is a concern that 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 is best undertaken by someone who has a trusting relationship with the child.

    Child protection workers 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 child protection workers should discuss any concerns with their team leader as part of case practice supervision.

    Child protection workers 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, this information must be discussed with the team leader and, if appropriate, care planning meetings. Where possible, the child should be informed that the concerns regarding their sexual activity will be discussed prior to the meeting.

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    Provision of information to the child

    Where the child protection worker has discussed the legal issue of consent with the child and the child still intends to be sexually active, it is important that the child is provided with information about the risks associated with unsafe sex and their responsibilities to themselves and to others.

    The child protection worker must provide information about contraception and risks of sexually transmitted infections (safe sex) and support the child to take steps to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Information should be provided in various ways, including:

    Child protection workers should 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 child protection workers discuss sexual activities and behaviours with the child, they should maintain appropriate professional boundaries and be mindful of potential accusations that can be made by the child.

    Child protection workers should 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 prior to 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, child protection workers must decide on the most appropriate course of action or referral, pursue the action or referral, and document the information on the child's case file. Child protection workers should refer to Chapter 2.2: Child sexual abuse.

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