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Beyond Referrals: Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) and Extra-familial Harm (EFH) in school settings

The Contextual Safeguarding Programme supports local authorities, schools and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) to identify and respond to a range of ‘extra-familial harms’ as forms of abuse requiring a child welfare response. We recognise that schools can be important places of safety for young people. We have developed two different self-assessment toolkits that can help schools recognise harm and create safety for students in their settings. One has a specific focus on Harmful Sexual Behaviours and the other more broadly on Extra-familial Harm.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB)

Young people report that schools are locations where students can encounter sexual harm. This can involve a range of harmful sexual behaviours (HSB) from name-calling and sexual bullying to sexual assault. Schools are also places that can provide safety to young people and promote positive ideas about gender and relationships.

Research indicates that in order to create safer school environments, schools, multi-agency partnerships and inspectorates need to work together to offer solutions to HSB that move beyond referrals to social care of the individuals involved. Instead professionals need to provide a holistic response to HSB in schools which crosses both prevention and intervention. Key thematic findings from the Beyond Referrals 2 project, along with the recommendations that followed, can be found in our briefing: Harmful sexual behaviour in school: a briefing on the findings, implications and resources for schools and multi-agency partners.

The Contextual Safeguarding team, supported by a Research Advisory Group, have created a range of resources for schools, multi-agency partnerships and inspectorates for tackling harmful sexual behaviour in schools. Under the heading ‘Harmful Sexual Behaviour in Schools’, this page provides all the resources for schools to assess their own response to harmful sexual behaviour. This includes guidance to the traffic-light tool for self-assessment; an example completed self-assessment; a range of resources to help schools complete their self-assessment; and finally, an online scorecard where you can enter your scores and print tailored reports.

To begin, download the HSB traffic-light tool and guidance

Extra-familial harm in schools

’Extra-familial harm’ refers to a broad category of harm types, including peer-on-peer harm, sexual and criminal exploitation and bullying. Often, these different harm types share overlapping drivers, methods and consequences for young people. Schools can be settings in which young people are harmed and exploited and they can also be settings that support positive peer relationships and safety.

Research carried out by the Contextual Safeguarding team for the Beyond Referrals 2+ project indicates that whole-school approaches are needed to prevent and respond to these forms of harm, that young people face outside of their homes. This requires schools to develop ways of creating safety, beyond solely making referrals to their designated safeguarding leads or to social care services. To do so, schools, students, parents/carers and multi-agency partners and inspectorates must understand the levers for preventing and intervening when harm occurs in school/college contexts and work together to build safety.

The Contextual Safeguarding team have created a range of resources to support schools to prevent and respond to extra-familial harm in their settings. Under the heading ‘Extra-familial Harm in Schools’, this page provides a range of resources for schools to audit and assess their response to extra-familial harm. This includes: an introductory video explaining how to use the resources; a traffic-light tool for self-assessment, with guidance on how to use the tool, an example self-assessment and a blank self-assessment template; a range of resources to help schools complete their self-assessment, including guidance on hotspot mapping and carrying out policy reviews

To begin, download the EFH traffic-light tool and guidance video.

Using the Beyond Referrals toolkits – how to use the tool, and which tool to use when.

With multiple toolkits and resources aimed for schools it can be difficult to determine which toolkit is best in which circumstances. We have developed two toolkits for schools one, for fro EFH (including elements of HSB) and a toolkit for HSB specifically. For schools that have particular concerns around issues such as peer-on-peer abuse, child sexual or criminal exploitation or bullying, we recommend using the toolkit ‘Beyond Referrals: levers for addressing ‘extra-familial’ harm in schools’ and resources in the ‘Extra-familial Harm in Schools’ area below. Where there are particular concerns around harmful sexual behaviours such as sexual harassment and violence, we recommend using the HSB toolkit, this is because the examples and resources are specifically tailored to this form of harm,

The Beyond Referrals self-assessment toolkits should be used to identify what you are doing well to mitigate against the harm risks in your school or college, and, importantly, to identify areas for development and improvement. The harms young people may face outside of their homes are constantly evolving, and no school will get everything right all the time.

There are five categories of self-assessment common to both toolkits:

  • Systems and Structures
  • Prevention
  • Identification
  • Response and Intervention
  • School Culture

Each category represents a ‘lever’ for preventing and addressing ‘extra-familial harm’ broadly or ‘harmful sexual behaviour’ more specifically, in school settings. Each lever has various components against which a school can assess itself and develop a plan of action as a result.

Both toolkits are designed to be used to support ‘contextual safety’, that is, safety in your school/college context. Our research indicates that contextual safety is best achieved when: interventions target the social conditions of harm; they prioritise child welfare as opposed to sanctions and policing; creative partnerships are established; and outcomes measure changes in contexts, not just changes in people.

The toolkits are designed to help schools identify the levers for addressing either extra-familial harm more broadly, or to assess in more depth specific concerns with respect to harmful sexual behaviour. A school/college setting can decide to use both toolkits alongside each other, or may wish to use one first and the other at a later point in the academic year. The decision may be determined by aspects of safety & harm local to the school that appear to more dominant/prevalent at any given time. Once areas of strength and areas for development are identified, the next step is to initiate a plan for change. There are a range of resources available to support this by joining the free Contextual Safeguarding Network