Problem Sexual Behaviour

When children attend early childhood education and care services it is important that educators and staff can identify what is age appropriate sexual behaviour and what is problem sexual behaviour and to take appropriate action to assist the child as well as ensuring the needs of other children being educated and cared for at the service are met.

A key objective of the National Quality Framework is to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children attending education and care services (section 3). In addition, early childhood education and care services must comply with the seven child safe standards including that they have processes for responding to and reporting suspected child abuse (standard 5) and strategies to identify and reduce or remove risks of child abuse (standard 6).

Age appropriate sexual behaviour

Sexual behaviour is part of children's learning and development. Children are curious about their own bodies and may engage in mutual, spontaneous activity, including role playing.

There are a number of types of behaviour that are considered to be age appropriate and are a natural, healthy part of sexual exploration.

Children involved in healthy sexual behaviour tend to be of a similar age, size and stage of development. They engage in healthy sexual exploration on a voluntary basis and readily take redirection from an adult. Children's interest in sexual activity is usually balanced with interest in other parts of their lives.

Problem sexual behaviour

Recognising and responding to problem sexual behaviour assumes an understanding of age appropriate sexual activity and what is outside age appropriate behaviour in terms of its nature, frequency and persistence. Such behaviour can include differences in age and developmental abilities and may involve coercion, aggression, bribery and violence.

Other important aspects of problem sexual behaviour may include patterns of behaviour that do not respond to intervention by adults; behaviour that is disturbing to other children; and behaviour that interferes with the child's social and educational development.

A link to a Sexual behaviour guide is set out below which provides a summary of what is generally considered age appropriate sexual behaviour in different age groups. These groupings of behaviour may be useful to educators and staff in making informed judgements about whether behaviour is inappropriate and, if so, how serious the behaviour is and what response is required.

This information can be found at pages 12 to 13 of the South Australian Department of Health and Human Services publication Responding to problem sexual behaviour in children and young people

Other information, support and training in identifying and dealing with concerning sexual behaviour and serious problem sexual behaviour is also available, including from organisations such as Childwise: Child Wise and the Children's Protection Society.

How to respond to problem sexual behaviour

National law and national regulations

An approved provider must notify the Department of any circumstances arising at the service that poses a risk to the health, safety and wellbeing of a child or children attending the service (section 174(2)(c), regulation 175(2)(c)). Further information is available in the Serious Incidents and Complaints fact sheet.

The types of circumstances in which the approved provider should notify the Department include, but are not limited to:

  • having formed a reasonable suspicion that a child has been, or is at risk of being, abused
  • problem sexual behaviour between children
  • a child displaying problem sexual behaviour that may indicate that the child has been or is at risk of being abused

To notify the Department of a complaint made to the service or an incident observed at the service, please lodge a notification in the  National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS)

Children 10 years or over

Concerning sexual behaviour exhibited by a child who is 10 years of age or over may be classified as a sexual offence under the Crimes Act 1958 and is often referred to as 'sexually abusive behaviour'. This type of behaviour includes indecent assault, unwanted touching and sexual assault.

More detail about sexually abusive behaviour and ways of dealing with it can be found in PROTECT Early Childhood Guidance - a publication developed by the Department of Education and Training Children exhibiting inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Child protection

If an approved provider, educator or a staff member forms a belief on reasonable grounds that the child's inappropriate sexual behaviour may mean that the child is in need of protection they should notify Child Protection of the matters observed.

Early childhood teachers registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching are mandated and must make a report as soon as practicably after forming a belief on reasonable grounds.

In cases where the cause of the inappropriate sexual behaviour is unknown, Child Protection should also be notified as the child may be learning the behaviours from their own family environment or from other children who have learnt the behaviour at home.

Where a matter is referred to Child Protection, Child Protection may investigate the child protection matters. The Department will still conduct its own investigation concurrently with the Child Protection investigation.

Notifying parents

The approved provider of a service must ensure that the parents of any child who is involved in any incident, trauma or illness is notified as soon as practicable, but no later than 24 hours after the occurrence (regulation 86). Educators and staff should contact both the parents of the child and the other children subject to the problem sexual behaviour to gain an understanding of what has occurred.

Care needs to be taken in communicating with the parents, caregivers and families of children engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour. Information should only be shared to the extent necessary for educators and staff to carry out their functions under the National Law and to manage the risks to the safety and wellbeing of children (section 273). Information which is recorded should be stored securely (regulations 181-184).

Further information

The Department of Education and Training is the Regulatory Authority in Victoria.

Phone: 1300 307 415
Web: Regulation and Quality Assessment

Other resources

Child safe standards

There are a range of resources available to assist services in understanding and meeting the child safe standards:

Department of Health and Human Services Child safe standards resources

Commission for children and young People Child Safe Standards

PROTECT: protecting children and young people from abuse is our responsibility - PROTECT is a site developed by the Victorian Government as part of its commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust report, which found that more must be done to prevent and respond to child abuse in our community.

This site contains a section entitled Early Childhood Guidance which has been developed to support staff employed in Victorian early childhood services to take action if they suspect, or are witness to any form of child abuse; including problem sexual behaviour.

Protecting the safety and wellbeing of children and young people (pdf - 1.63mb) - This document is a joint protocol between the Department of Health and Human Services (Child Protection), Department of Education and Training, children's services and Victorian schools. The protocol ensures a unified and consistent approach to protect children and young people is adopted.

Key information provided includes: reporting requirements, including responsibilities of mandated/non mandated persons; obligations and responsibilities of educators and staff in licensed or approved children's services and departmental authorised officers regarding children at risk of abuse or neglect; and how to access appropriate support services for children at risk of abuse or neglect and their families.

Responding to inappropriate sexual behaviour in children and young people- These are guidelines published by the Department for Education and Child Development South Australia to assist education and care staff to respond effectively to incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour involving children and young people.

This resource supports and promotes the view that circumstances underpinning inappropriate sexual behaviour in children and young people are often complex and reflect a range of social issues.  Consequently, a number of agencies and organisations are referred to in the guidelines.

Sexual Assault Support Services- Sexual assault support services provide services for children, young people and adults who have experienced recent or past sexual assault.  Non-offending family members and significant others are also able to access support. Contact can be made to the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292.