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Throughout the process of responding to concerns regarding child-on-child abuse, it is important for professionals to remember that child-on-child abuse is harmful to both the child who has been harmed and the child displaying the harmful behaviour.

At the heart of a professional response to child-on-child should be:

  • A commitment to the principle that a professional and their organisation will never do nothing in response to knowledge of child-on-child abuse.
  • A commitment to supporting those who disclose child-on-child abuse. This means taking all allegations seriously.
  • A commitment to taking a proportionate response. This means that the same actions will not always be taken if a report is upheld; instead, there should be a range of options with proportionality being a principle in determining actions to be taken.

It is important that child-on-child abuse is not dismissed as “banter” so as not to “normalise” abuse and child-on child-abuse should be reported appropriately in a timely way. The following principles should inform a professional response to a concern of child-on-child and when support or intervention is being considered:

  • All professional agencies should aim to be proactive rather than reactive and work together with other agencies before risk escalates.
  • Remember that children or young people who harm others may be at risk of harm themselves and have additional or complex needs such as significant disruption in their lives, exposure to domestic abuse, witnessing or suffering abuse, educational under-achievement, or being involved in crime.
  • Consider both the child who has been harmed and the child displaying the harmful behaviour in the response from your agency. All involved children should be considered as being at potential risk of harm, with awareness that there may be other children who have not yet been identified as being at risk.
  • Remember that a child-on-child abuse concern may indicate wider safeguarding concerns for any of the children involved and their social networks (both in person and online). Children’s experiences of abuse and/or violence can often be linked to other things that are happening in their lives, and to spaces in which they spend their time. Any response to concerns and allegations of child-on-child abuse therefore needs to consider the range of possible types of child-on-child abuse and to capture the full context of children’s experiences.
  • Consider whether there is a discriminatory aspect to the concern of child-on-child abuse, related to any particular vulnerabilities due to protected characteristics.
  • Explore the dynamic of power within the relationships for children where there is a concern regarding child-on-child abuse.
  • Schools and colleges should have due regard for guidance on how to supportively manage the situation of children who have been harmed and children who have displayed harmful behaviour sharing classes. This is available in Keeping Children Safe in Education and also in safety planning guidance from the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.
  • Ensure that all professionals working with children understand the prevalence and nature of online abuse.

All alleged incidents should be responded to sensitively, appropriately and promptly. The initial response by a professional to a disclosure from a child is incredibly important. The way in which a professional responds to a disclosure of child-on-child abuse can have a significant impact on the child and how they engage in any future support and intervention that is offered.

It is essential that all children who have been harmed by another child are reassured that they are being taken seriously, regardless of how long it has taken them to come forward, and that they will be supported and kept safe.

Confidentiality: When a concern regarding child-on-child abuse is raised with a professional, it is important that the professional is clear that they are not able to promise confidentiality. It may be that other professionals and agencies will need to be involved, to provide appropriate support and ensure that all involved children are effectively safeguarded. However, the professional can provide assurance that the information will only be shared with those who have a need to know for this purpose.

Feeling Supported: A child who has been harmed by another child should never be given the impression that they are creating a problem by disclosing child-on-child abuse. Nor should a child who has been harmed by another child ever be made to feel ashamed for making a disclosure.

Trust: Recognise that a child is likely to disclose to someone that they trust. It is important that the person to whom the child discloses recognises that the child has placed them in a position of trust. They should be supportive and respectful of the child.

Picture Building: Recognise that whilst an initial disclosure to a trusted adult may be the first incident that has been reported, this does not mean that only one incident has taken place. Professionals should remember that trauma can impact memory and so children may not be able to recall all details or a timeline of abuse.

Active Listening: Listening carefully to the child, reflecting back, using the child’s language, being non-judgemental, being clear about boundaries and how the report will be progressed, not asking leading questions and only prompting the child where necessary with open questions – where, when, what, etc. It is important to note that whilst leading questions should be avoided, professionals can ask children if they have been harmed and what the nature of that harm was.

Reports That Include an Online Element: There needs to be careful management and handling of reports that include an online element. The key consideration is for staff not to view or forward illegal images of a child. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to confiscate any devices to preserve any evidence and hand them to the police for inspection. The DfE Searching, Screening and Confiscation Advice for Schools guidance explains the powers that schools have to screen and search pupils, and to confiscate items they find.


Any support and intervention related to a child who has harmed should be underpinned by a child-first approach. This means that professionals should remain curious about the context around any harmful behaviours, so that the behaviours are not seen in isolation from the rest of the child’s lived experience. This is outlined in the image adapted below from HM Inspectorate of Probation:



As children Prioritise the best interests of children and recognising their particular needs, capacities, rights and potential. All work is child-focused, developmentally informed, acknowledges structural barriers and meets responsibilities towards children.
Building pro-social identity Promote children’s individual strengths and capacities to develop their pro-social identity for sustainable desistance, leading to safer communities and fewer instances of harmful behaviour. All work is constructive and future-focused, built on supportive relationships that empower children to fulfil their potential and make positive contributions to society.
Collaborating with children Encourage children’s active participation, engagement and wider social inclusion. All work is a meaningful collaboration with children and their carers.
Diverting from stigma Promote a childhood removed from the justice system, using pre-emptive prevention, diversion and minimal intervention. All work minimises criminogenic stigma from contact with the system.