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Sexual behaviour in children and young people procedure, guideline and resources

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The sexual behaviour in children and young people procedure and guideline give educators and care providers resources and guidance to respond to developmentally appropriate, concerning and harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people.

Who can use the procedure and guideline

The procedure and guideline are for educators and care providers in the government, Catholic and independent education and care sectors.

The procedure and guidelines apply to:

  • family day care services
  • long day care services and rural care program
  • out of school hours care services
  • preschools and early learning centres
  • respite care program
  • schools
  • education or care services provided by third party providers.

Procedure and guideline

You can view the procedure, procedure appendices and guideline as 3 separate documents, or combined into 1 document.

Procedure and appendices

The procedure outlines the immediate and necessary actions you need to follow when responding to sexual behaviour.

Sexual behaviour in children and young people procedure (PDF 528 KB)

The appendices give you the resources to carry out the actions in the procedure.

Sexual behaviour in children and young people procedure appendices (PDF 864 KB)


The guideline has additional information, best practice considerations and resources to support medium to longer term responses.

Sexual behaviour in children and young people guideline (PDF 1 MB)

Procedure, appendices and guideline – combined

Download the procedure, procedure appendices and guideline as 1 document.

Sexual behaviour in children and young people procedure and guideline (PDF 1 MB)

Resources to support the procedure and guideline

Refer to the procedure and guideline for how and when to use these resources.

Flowcharts and checklists

Templates and supporting resources


The Plink online learning module (login required) helps educators and care providers in the government, Catholic and independent sectors to respond to sexual behaviour. Non-department users can create a plink account.

For ancillary staff and volunteers

Resources for parents and carers

Public education and care settings

Sexual behaviour in children and young people – information for parents and carers

A hard copy brochure of ‘sexual behaviour in children and young people – information for parents and carers’ is also available. It tells parents and carers how education and care settings respond to children and young people’s sexual behaviour. Public education and care settings can request brochures from education.engagementandwellbeing@sa.gov.au.

Parents  and carers can watch the video to learn about:

  • developmentally appropriate, concerning and harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people
  • how schools, preschools and childcare settings respond to sexual behaviour to keep everyone safe.

Webinar transcript

Clare Kelly:  Hello and welcome to our webinar on the topic of children and young people's sexual behaviour. This webinar is for parents and carers of children and young people who attend government schools, preschools and childcare settings. My name is Clare Kelly and I'm the Senior Advisor for Behaviour, and I'm joined today by Robbie Thomas, who is the Team Leader of the Social Work Incident Support Service. So welcome, Robbie. Thanks, Clare. We'd like to start today by acknowledging that we are coming to you from the lands of the Kaurna people, and we acknowledge the Kaurna people as Traditional Owners of the Adelaide region, and that their cultural and heritage beliefs remain as important to the living Kaurna people today. We pay respect to the cultural authority of Aboriginal people joining our webinar today, and we acknowledge elders past, present, and emerging. You may be wondering why we start our webinar today with an acknowledgement of country. It's to remind people like Robbie, who deliver services and people like myself, who develop policy for government, that past services and government policy have caused significant harm to Aboriginal families and communities, and that we need to be really thoughtful about how we include Aboriginal children and young people in education and care.

So, you can see on screen what we're going to cover today in our webinar. We'll talk about the differences between sexual behaviour in children versus adolescents. We'll talk about the continuum of sexual behaviour. So, what that means is behaviour appears on a continuum from developmentally appropriate behaviour at one end of the continuum through to harmful sexual behaviour at the other end of the continuum and concerning sexual behaviour appears somewhere in the middle. We'll talk about the different responses to the continuum of sexual behaviour, including how parents and carers are advised about sexual behaviour. We'll discuss issues of privacy and confidentiality, and we'll talk about when schools can use suspension and exclusion as a response to sexual behaviour and strategies for keeping everyone safe and supported.

The topic of sexual behaviour in children, young people can be an uncomfortable topic. Generally speaking, adults can be a bit uncomfortable about thinking about sexual behaviour in children or talking about it. It can challenge our personal attitudes and values, and for some of us we may have religious or moral beliefs around children and sexuality. But we do know that other than the home, education and care sites are the most commonplace sexual behaviour to occur.

Because of that, the department has developed a range of resources for educators, students, parents, and carers. And today's webinar is one of those resources for parents and carers. The incidence of sexual abuse and sexual assault is incredibly high. So, today's webinar and this topic may raise personal issues for you. If it does, think about who you can talk to. That might be family, friends or work colleagues, and on screen, we've got a list of counseling services that are available and some of those are available immediately over the phone and for free. So, we'll get into our topic now. Robbie, help us understand how is sexual behaviour different in younger children versus adolescents?

Robbie Thomas: Great question, Clare. And I think what's really important here is that when we're talking about children, their sexual behaviour is a lot different than when we're talking about adolescents and teenagers. So, in children, we typically see more sexual behaviour in context of play and in terms of exploring their relationships with their peers, versus adolescents when we're seeing behaviour that's more likely to be sexually motivated.

Clare: Okay. So that's good to understand that the behaviour has different meaning and intent in younger children than it does in older children. Okay. And what about children with disabilities? How might their sexual development and their sexual behaviour be different from other children?

Robbie: Yeah, great point. And I think what's really important here too is that when we do get an incident of sexual behaviour, we take a range of factors into consideration, and one of the important factors that we'll take into consideration is the child's developmental age. So, if they're, say if they're 13 years old, they could be functioning at a much lower age. So therefore, we need to assess the behaviour as per their developmental age rather than their chronological age.

Clare: Okay. So, I guess, if a child or young person who's an adolescent is engaging in behaviours that might be typical in younger children, we might assume that those behaviours are sexually motivated for the adolescent, but they might actually not be in the context of their disability. Is that right?

Robbie: Yeah, that's right.

Clare: Okay, that's great to understand. So, let's move on to the continuum of sexual behaviour. So, we said earlier that at one end of the continuum is this developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour at the other end is harmful sexual behaviour and concerning sexual behaviour sits somewhere in the middle. So, let's unpack those different types of behaviour. So how about we start with developmentally appropriate behaviour, Robbie, what might be some of the characteristics of developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour?

Robbie: Yeah, so there's a few things that we take into consideration when we are looking at developmentally appropriate behaviour. One of the main things that we tend to see if, if it is developmentally appropriate behaviour, is the behaviour occurring in context of play. It's usually spontaneous and it usually occurs mutually between students as well. And this is behaviour that we typically expect for the age group as well, and it's balanced with other interests, so it's not just something that that student is focused on.

Clare: Okay. So, I guess it's part of natural child development, just like any other part of their development such as physical development, intellectual development, emotional development, et cetera. So, it's just all part of child development, which is to be expected.

Robbie: That's right.

Clare: Okay. That's good to understand. So, let's look at an example of developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour. So, Raj Salema and Malaki are all age four. They're laughing and showing each other their genitals. They stop when the educator comes, but eventually tell the educator what it was that they were doing. The educator notices that they don't look concerned, they were all giggling. So, what is it about that scenario that makes us understand that it's developmentally appropriate?

Robbie: Yeah, sure. So, there's a few things that stood out to me in relation to this one. The first thing is that it occurred with students at the same age group, they're all four years old. And I think also what appeared to me is that they were curious and it occurred in context of play. And the other thing that stood out to me was that they were giggling and it sounded like there was no levels of distress that occurred between the students in that incident. So really there's a few things that we take into consideration, but the main things are that it occurred in context of play, there was no significant difference in the developmental age or stated age of those children, and there was no distress shown by the students involved.

Clare: All right. Excellent. So, we'll move on to concerning sexual behaviour. So, help us understand the characteristics of behaviour when it's concerning.

Robbie: Sure. So, it's a little bit different than developmentally appropriate in terms of maybe the frequency. So maybe the behaviour occurred a few more times, has occurred more frequently than developmentally appropriate behaviour. It could be unusual for that child. So, we know, I think schools are a very good place in terms of understanding what is normal or what is expected behaviour for a student. So maybe a behaviour occurred of a sexual nature that is unusual for that child. Maybe a behaviour occurred, and it had a significant impact on that student in terms of potential impact to their wellbeing, and it could involve students at a different age group or different age group in terms of their developmental capacity as well.

Clare: Alright, so that's that power imbalance. And we'll look at an example of concerning sexual behaviour. So Avi is age eight. He often masturbates at school. When masturbating he will sometimes expose his penis to the rest of the class. Other students don't want to sit next to him or work or play with him. So, what is it about this scenario for Avi that would make us concerned about his behaviour?

Robbie: Yeah, so I really, I'm a bit concerned about Avi’s, the impact on Avi in terms of his social development and impact on peers as well. I think it's unusual behaviour for that age group as well, and it's likely that, it sounds like it's happening often as well. So, it's not just a once off event that's occurred, it's something that's happened frequently. So, a few characteristics there that tends to make me think that this is a concerning behaviour.

Clare: Okay. Great. So, we'll move on to harmful sexual behaviour. Help us understand the characteristics of behaviour that might lead us to assess it to be harmful.

Robbie: Yeah, sure thing. So, I think the difference here is that there could be some manipulation involved, there's likely to be a significant difference in the power and relationships between the students as well. It's likely there could be aggressive as well. There could be some coercion involved. There could be a difference in developmental age or capacity for that student as well. And this is definitely not behaviour that we would expect typically within the age group.

Clare: Okay. And let's look at an example then. So, Channing and his friends are age 17, they get naked photos of the girls they go to school with by telling them that they like them, and they want to go on dates with them. They promise they won't share the nudes with anyone else, but then they go and post these images on social media, and they rate the girls based on their looks and the girls are age 17 or younger. So, Robbie, what is it about Channing and his friends’ behaviour that's harmful here?

Robbie: Sure. I think the girls here sounded like they were entering into a conversation with some boys that they would share images with that one student and they didn't know that they would be shared on social media or they didn't know that their images would be shared widely amongst peers as well. So, and in context of that too, because there wasn't consent or knowledge of that, it's likely to have a significant impact on those girls involved. It's likely to be very distressing, which is one factor that we’d take into consideration. What we were saying before in the case scenario, it's there was manipulation involved, that they entered into an agreement, but that changed. Therefore, their consent wasn't given as well. And I think we're talking about students that are under the age of 18 and we're talking about naked images of students being shared, which is essentially child exploitation material as well. There's trickery, there's a whole range of factors here that makes me think that it's harmful.

Clare: Yeah. So that one's quite obviously harmful, isn't it? Yeah. Alright. So, let's move on to how schools, preschools and childcare settings respond to sexual behaviour. So, let's start with developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour. What might the response to that look like?

Robbie: Yeah, I think it's important to start off on what you were touching on before, Clare, in terms of any sexual behaviour can be challenging for adults to manage in terms of it can trigger our own responses and feelings about an event. But any behaviour that occurs, particularly developmentally appropriate behaviour needs a response. And when we're talking about a response in a developmentally appropriate context, we're talking about a teachable moment, which essentially is an opportunity for learning and a conversation with that young person about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour at school. It's important when we do see a developmentally appropriate behaviour, doesn't matter that we're recording those incidents, remembering what we were talking about before in terms of the frequency, so, a developmentally appropriate behaviour, if it occurs frequently, it could be concerning. So, really important that we're documenting those incidents. And at any level, and we'll touch on this a little bit later, that we're advising parents and carers about the incident, even if it's developmentally appropriate, so they can help and teach their child about appropriate behaviours as well in the home context.

Clare: Okay. So, what is it Robbie, that makes the response to concerning and harmful sexual behaviour different? Why do we need a different response to that versus our response to developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour?

Robbie: Sure. So, these types of incidents can be against the law and they can involve police as well. And other agencies. So, some other agencies like Department for Child Protection could be involved with these types of incidents, or sometimes even police. So, it's essentially about making sure that everyone's kept safe.

Clare: Okay. Yeah. So, I guess it's important for parents and carers to understand that even though this is harmful sexual behaviour or concerning sexual behaviour between children and young people, it could still be sexual abuse, and therefore the Department for Child Protection might need to be notified.

Robbie: Yeah, absolutely.

Clare: Okay. And talk to us, Robbie, about how parents and carers find out if their child was involved in concerning or harmful sexual behaviour.

Robbie: Yeah, sure. So, whenever an incident does occur, even if it's developmentally appropriate, parents and carers will be informed. However, if other agencies are involved, like the Department for Child Protection or South Australia Police, the school will seek advice from those agencies in terms of how and when to inform parents. And when parents are told and carers are told about the behaviour, they're also told about the incident and they're also told about the response that's been provided by the school as well about that incident in terms of how it's been managed.

Clare: Okay. So, it sounds like that would be very reassuring for parents and carers when they find out about an incident occurring that they also find out about what is it that the school or childcare setting is doing to support everyone and keep everyone safe. And what about parents and carers whose children are not directly involved in the incident or perhaps didn't see the incident, do they get to find out any information about what may have happened?

Robbie: Sure. I think what's important here, and I think the audience would understand that maintaining privacy and confidentiality is really important here, we're talking about a really sensitive topic. But where possible, we will inform parents and carers about an incident, but we want to inform parents and carers who are directly involved with an incident and keeping it contained within that group. And if they are informed, sometimes that could involve a letter that's sent to the parent group as well, and that might be sent to the home group or the year level, depending on the nature of the incident. They'll be informed about the incident and also told about who they can contact at the school if they've got any further questions.

Clare: Okay. So that's great that parents and carers know who they can get in contact with to find out more information or to get some reassurance about the school or the childcare setting following all the right steps. So, that brings us on to the issue of privacy and confidentiality. So obviously parents and carers will want to know information and have a need for information, but I imagine that there are some limits on what we can tell parents and carers. Can you help us understand that?

Robbie: Absolutely. So, we're guided by departmental process and procedures as well. There are also legislation that protects privacy and confidentiality of children and young people in schools too. You have a right to know about an incident, but we need to be mindful that we're not oversharing information about students’ details as well. It's important to note that this is a difficult time. People are likely to be concerned and likely to be sharing information. So, just a reminder about what we post on social media too. We know that misinformation can be quickly spread on social media platforms. So, really maintaining your contact with the school is really important here if you're wanting to find out more information about the incident that's occurred.

Clare: Yeah. So that's great advice, to go directly to the source, to your child's school, preschool or childcare setting, rather than taking what you see on social media as gospel. Because things can often get distorted when they're posted on social media. And I guess it's also really important to protect people's privacy and confidentiality during what's a really difficult time. I certainly wouldn't want to see things written about my children on social media. So, it's really important that we take care of people in that way.

Robbie: So, Clare, can you tell us a little bit more about suspension and exclusions in schools?

Clare: Sure. So, that's a really great question because, the way schools use suspension and exclusion today might be quite different from the way parents and carers might remember the use of suspension and exclusion when they were at school. So, the Department for Education has the behaviour support policy and a suspension exclusion and expulsion procedure. And they let schools know how they are allowed to use suspension and exclusion and the ways in which suspension and exclusion are not allowed to be used. So, schools can't use suspension and exclusion to punish a student. We know from the research that if a child or a young person does the wrong thing, then punishment does nothing to help them learn what is the right thing to do. So, sending a child home for a five-day suspension doesn't help them understand the behaviour expectations, what the rules are, and it also doesn't teach them the skills that they need to follow the behaviour rules.

Clare: Schools are also not allowed to use suspension and exclusion to send a message about the behaviour expectations. So, you can't send a student home on a five-day suspension to let everyone else in the class know that there was a violation of a behaviour expectation. If we are concerned about a group of students not understanding what the behaviour expectations are, the way we address that is to explicitly teach the behaviour expectations and give students the opportunity to practice the skills that they need to follow those behaviour expectations. Schools are also not allowed to use suspension and exclusion to demonstrate to parents and carers or the rest of the school community, that they have taken a strong response to a particular behaviour, or that a response has been put in place. That's not to say that suspension and exclusion don't have a place at all in our schools, they certainly do. So, if there's been an incident of harmful sexual behaviour, the school might need time to assess the level of risk in the school community as a result of that behaviour and put in place plans to keep everyone safe and make sure everyone has the right supports. So that brings us on to the topic of plans. So, Robbie, tell us about planning. Who's involved? How do plans get developed? How are they monitored and reviewed, et cetera.

Robbie: Yeah, sure. So, it's useful to think about plans as a conversational tool that occurs between parents and carers and the school. So, parents and carers can invite a support person in those conversations too. And it usually happens after an incident of sexual behaviour occurs, and there are different plans that schools can use. So, a behaviour support plan is used typically when a child is engaged in harmful or concerning sexual behaviour, versus a support and safety plan, which is used for students that have been affected by harmful sexual behaviour of another child. So, when a plan is done, again, parents and carers are invited into the school and a conversation occurs, usually with leadership team. And once a plan is completed, there's a review date and it's normally within a term. So, a date is set at the end of the term where a review occurs and at the review point it’s decided between mutually, between the school and parent, if any further updates need to done in the plan or that plan can cease. But it's a mutually agreed plan. And it's essentially the purpose of it is just to help make sure everyone feels safe and supported.

Clare: Okay. So, I guess that's really reassuring for parents and carers to understand that they'll be part of the planning process and that they're kept informed at every step along the way.

Robbie: Yes.

Clare: So that brings us on to the issue, Robbie, of what is it that schools preschools and childcare settings can do to help keep everyone safe and make sure everyone is supported in the best possible way?

Robbie: Yeah, sure. So, building on the conversation about plans, I think when a plan is completed, we talk about some modifications to some supervision arrangements after an incident has occurred. There might be some changes to the physical environment in the school setting as well. So maybe some changes in the classroom structure or learning, there could be some restrictions about where that young person can go or where they feel safe to go. And being really clear about where that young person can access support should they need it. It might be a conversation where a young person has a regular check-in arrangement with someone at the school too. And I think it's important to remember here too, I think this is what schools do really well in terms of teaching students and our young people about appropriate social behaviours in the school context as well.

Clare: Okay. So, and I guess that's part of the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum and the Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum, that teaching about behaviour expectations and social and emotional skills and child safety, that's all part of schools and childcare settings day-to-day business, isn't it?

Robbie: That’s right.

Clare: So, obviously if harmful sexual behaviour has occurred or concerning sexual behaviour has occurred, it can be a really difficult time for everyone involved. What advice do you have for parents and carers about how best they can support their child during what is a really tricky time for everyone?

Robbie: Yeah, and just to reiterate, this is a really difficult time for us all. We're talking about children's sexual behaviour here, and this could be challenging and potentially triggering for some of our parents and staff too. And when we're talking to children, it's important that we remain calm, we're aware of our own responses to a situation too. And essentially, we want to invite conversations with our children and young people about the behaviour too, and helping them to name how they're feeling. And, if we're concerned about an incident or a behaviour, inviting conversations with the school, keeping in contact regularly with the school about an incident and about how we can be safe and supportive.

Clare: So, keeping those lines of communication open with the school, preschool or childcare setting is really important.

Robbie: Yeah, absolutely.

Clare: Okay, well that's brought us to the end of our webinar for today. So, I'd like to really thank Robbie Thomas for joining me today and sharing his experience with us. We hope that this webinar has been helpful for you. If you have a need for further information about this topic, there is a web address on the screen there. If you have any questions about sexual behaviour in education and care settings that we haven't addressed in today's webinar, you can contact the Engagement and Wellbeing email address. If there are issues of sexual behaviour in schools, preschools or childcare settings, it's always best to try and resolve those issues with your child's school, preschool or childcare setting, as close to the issue as possible. But sometimes that's not always possible. So, the Department for Education has a central mechanism for making complaints and there's a web address on screen there where you can find out more information should you need to. So once again, thank you for your time in joining our webinar today, and thank you to Robbie. Thanks Clare.

End of transcript.

Catholic education and care settings

Sexual behaviour in children and young people – information for parents and carers

A hard copy brochure of ‘sexual behaviour in children and young people – information for parents and carers’ is also available. It tells parents and carers how education and care settings respond to children and young people’s sexual behaviour. Catholic sites can request brochures from intake@casa.catholic.edu.au.

Independent schools and early learning centres

Children and young people’s sexual behaviour in schools and early learning centres: a guide for parents and carers (PDF 158KB)

Resources for students in public schools

Engagement and Wellbeing Directorate

Phone: 8226 0859
Email: education.engagementandwellbeing [at] sa.gov.au