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Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

The resources below can help parents and professionals identify which behaviors are developmentally appropriate, which behaviors may be problematic or abusive, and how to respond accordingly. If there is concern that a child's sexual behaviors are problematic or abusive, parents may need to seek specialized assessment and possibly treatment with a therapist in your community.

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In addition to locating, or in the absence of a therapist in your area who specializes in treatment of youth with problematic or abusive sexual behaviors, you can contact a treatment professional in your area listed in the Washington State Department of Health's Sex Offender Treatment Provider Directory to see if this is a service they provide many of these providers work with youth who demonstrate inappropriate sexual behavior, but have not committed an offense.

You can also request a list of provider referrals from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. Subscribe to Our Newsletter. EN ES. Date of Publication. While some children who display problematic sexual behavior have experienced sexual abuse, many have not. There are various reasons why a child might engage in problematic sexual behavior. Prevalence, whether developmentally appropriate, use of force, and general context are not known. More information should be collected to place the behavior in either of the other categories.

Context of Behavior The context in which a behavior occurs may place the behavior in another usually more severe category. Here are some contextual factors that will affect the judgment of the behavior.

Reporting and Responding to Child-to-Child Sexual Behavior When child-to-child sexual behavior suggests the suspicion of abuse, it must be reported. But issues around reporting, communicating with parents, investigations by protective services, and staff communication are some of the most difficult issues facing early childhood professionals.

Responsibilities of providers, rights of parents, roles of regulatory agencies, and potential liability often conflict with each other. However, the responsibility of the child care organization is to provide a healthful, safe environment for children, and to work very closely with parents. All centers must have a policy addressing requirements to report to protective services. This policy might include something like, "We have to make a report to the appropriate agency under these circumstances but we cannot notify parents about every incident because of Social Services involvement.

A progression of activities should be followed when an incident of problematic child sexual behavior occurs. It is recommended that this process be conducted by a team comprising of the caregiver and director, and in large organizations, a Human Resources representative. These steps will enable a program to gather sufficient evidence to determine if a suspicion of abuse exists.

Finkelhor et al. After a problematic event has occurred:. The difficult question, however, is when does child-to-child sexual behavior constitute a suspicion of abuse? Any behavior that falls into category III constitutes suspicion. Parents of all children—children directly involved and other children in the program—must be informed.

Working with Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

There is considerable disagreement regarding how this should be done. Factors involved include the following:. While there is no simple solution to this dilemma, it is recommended that the center work closely with the regulatory agency. Ultimately, the state agency must follow its policy and the child care agency must follow its policy.

Once a report of suspected abuse is filed, the center still has a child with specific needs Good, Social Services must be involved, and a plan to meet the needs of the child—and all children in the center—must be developed. This plan should be developed, coordinated, and implemented by a team of mental health specialists and educators, with parents intimately involved.


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All people who work with young children should receive this kind of training. It should be integrated into existing courses and curricula, and not taught as a separate subject. A central component of this effort is to teach parents about developmentally expected behavior and problematic behavior, and how to respond to both.

It is also clear that this development needs appropriate support at home and in early childhood programs. All early childhood professionals need to know about healthy child-to-child sexual behavior, along with appropriate responses including reporting problematic behavior. This needs to be provided through ongoing training and training integrated into early childhood preparation courses. Francis Wardle, Ph. Besharov, D. Child abuse and neglect reporting and investigation: Policy guidelines for decision-making.


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Child and Youth Services , 15 2 , Borden, J. The aftermath of nonsubstantiated child abuse allegations in child care centers.

Working with Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

Child Youth Care Forum , 25 2 , Elendorde, J. The nature and substantiation of official sexual abuse reports. Child Abuse and Neglect , 12, Erikson, E. Identity, youth and crisis. New York : Norton.

Sexual Behaviors in Children | Psychology Today

Finkelhor, D. Nursery crimes: Sexual abuse in day care. Newbury Park , CA : Sage. Gesell, A. Maturation and patterning of behavior.


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Murchison Ed. A Handbook of Child Psychology. Good, L. When a child has been sexually abused: Several resources for parents and early childhood professionals. Young Children , 51 5 , Haugaard, J. Child Abuse and Neglect. Johnson, T. Assessment of sexual behavior problems in preschool-aged children and latency-aged children.

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