Inclusion and Children Who Sexually Harm Other Children

Stuart Allardyce, National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland, describes his experience of working with children who display harmful sexual behaviour and discusses why appropriate responses, that assess the risks and respect children’s rights, must be found.

The last year has seen increasing public attention around sexual harassment, violence and abuse perpetrated by children in school. The Young Women Lead Committee recently completed a report on this difficult subject that was debated in the Scottish Parliament. It confirmed what many of us have known for some time: the issue is widespread and serious in schools across Scotland, we don’t have the right kinds of measures in place to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, and we often don’t respond to it effectively after it comes to light.

Most UK and international surveys looking at maltreatment in childhood find that around one-third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by children and young people themselves. In my 15 years of working with children and young people who display harmful and problematic sexual behaviour, I’ve seen many young people who have abused others in schools, as well as in family contexts and other situations. Sometimes the victims are peers, sometimes much younger children, and sometimes even adults. Some children who abuse have intellectual impairments, while others would be described as high performing members of the school community. There is no one type of adolescent who abuses; it’s a strikingly varied group.

I’ve learnt a few key things in those 15 years. Firstly, these are children, not mini-adult sex offenders. The vast majority don’t persist with such behaviours into adulthood, but grow out of it with the right support. Few children abuse because of issues around sexual deviance. Some have had negative childhood experiences themselves, or are influenced by peers or online experiences. Many are opportunistic, immature, or curious, lacking in inhibition and empathy, and misunderstanding what is acceptable, age-appropriate behaviour.

In my experience, the vast majority are temporarily or permanently excluded from school because of their behaviour. Sometimes that’s the right decision. But sometimes it’s disproportionate, and not linked to an assessment of risk. I once worked with a young person who abused small children in the community and was immediately excluded from high school when he was charged. There was no evidence he presented a risk to peers, but with both parents working, he was left unsupervised in the community where he did pose a risk.

Clearly, when the abuse is of a pupil in the school, difficult decisions must be made and the safety and views of the victim are paramount. But often for adolescents charged with sexual offences, the abuse will be of a younger child not at their school – a family member or child in the community. Most young people I have worked with in this situation are struggling with peers and often have difficulties with social interactions. Removing them from the routine of school and labeling them as a sex offender can go against the support we need to offer.

We must recognise that these perpetrators are also children first and foremost, who have a right to protection, nurture, learning, and peer interaction. Clearly, they need the right support and restrictions to ensure that these rights are realised in a safe way; keeping a child in school where possible and appropriate can be of huge benefit.

Sexually abusive behaviour perpetrated by children is an emotive and difficult subject. We urgently need more training for teachers and school staff so that they understand how education and school life can contribute to prevention. But most of all, if we are to get things right for everyone after abuse has happened, we need decisions about inclusion to be made by schools in partnership with social workers, health colleagues, police and other relevant organisations.

Stuart Allardyce is National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland. He is the co-author of ‘Working with Children and Young People who have Displayed Harmful Sexual Behaviour’ (Dunedin Press) and is a member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Amongst Children and Young People. 

Twitter: @StopItNowScot

Young Women Lead Committee 2018 report on Sexual Harassment in Schools can be accessed here:


Love in Early Learning and Childcare

Jane Malcolm, a final-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Edinburgh, explains why love is central to her study and professional practice. Here she talks about her research into ‘love-led practice’.

It’s without doubt that the idea of love is very complex. Having tried to conceptualise and define love in early years in my doctoral study, I finally got to a point where I reluctantly admitted it was too complicated. However, analysing the language used by the participants in my study revealed that love is already there in practice. What needs to catch up is the language used in the policies and practice guidance that support the management of love. From my research, I have developed a framework that represents what I have called “love-led practice”. The framework defines what makes up love in practice and supports detailed reflection of how love is delivered.

Personal experiences of love also impacted upon practitioners understanding and feelings around delivering practice underpinned by love. It can be hard to turn the spotlight on yourself. However, we know love is hugely important to the child’s development, therefore practitioners must take the time to reflect upon their own experiences and understanding in order to ensure they are delivering practice which has love embedded within it.

My research showed that practitioners are reticent to admit to delivering love-led practice. Getting to the heart of the reasons for this became the core of my research study. Examination of key documents in early learning and childcare in Scotland shows that, whilst love was in evidence, there was much more emphasis put on safer words such as “nurturing” and “attachment”. This needs to change for lead professionals to be free to deliver love-led practice with professionalism and integrity.

Within Scotland there has, however, been a significant shift in thinking, with the current government’s 2018-19 programme stating that: “We want all our children to grow up in a supportive environment where we invest significantly in their future – not just financially – but also with time, energy and love”.

Now is the time to capitalise on this shift in thinking and really push to embed love, not in a tokenistic way but really get it at the heart of our early learning and childcare policy in Scotland.

Jane Malcolm blogs and tweets @JaneMalcolm7

Gender matters in disability: Why Engender is researching disabled women’s experiences of parenting and reproductive services

Gender matters in disability: “There is a clear and urgent need for vastly improved training for professionals who are responsible for the delivery of RSHP health, social care and education services to disabled women and girls”

Catriona Kirkpatrick, Development Manager at Engender Scotland, talks about their research on disabled women’s experience of parenting and reproductive services, and the findings so far.

Engender has been working on a project with disabled women to learn more about their experiences of reproductive and parenting services. In the past, disabled women have told us that their experiences can be quite different from those of non-disabled women in these areas. We wanted to speak to more disabled women to learn about their experiences and get a better understanding of the situation in Scotland today.

After receiving funding for the project from the Government’s Tampon Tax Fund last year, we held two consultation events and ran an online survey (and will soon be running a series of focus groups). The events and survey provided a forum for disabled women to tell us about their experiences, good and bad, parenting and reproductive services. Through a series of roundtable discussions. we also spoke to the professionals who work with disabled women and girls.

Although our information gathering is not yet complete, we can already see a number of common issues that are regularly raised as concerns. One of these is a presumption that disabled women and girls will not be sexually active, this often results in disabled girls not getting appropriate relationship, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education. Consequently, disabled women and girls are not equipped to make informed decisions about their bodies, health and lives, and are therefore vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy, harm and abuse. There is a clear and urgent need for vastly improved training for professionals who are responsible for the delivery of RSHP health, social care and education services to disabled women and girls, as well as access to information and support for unpaid carers in the community.

This issue and others will be addressed in our end-of-project report, which we will share with policy and decision-makers, who can make changes to service delivery in order to improve the experiences for disabled women, at our conference ‘Disabled Women, Our Bodies, Our Rights’ on November 6th. The report will make clear recommendations and policy “asks”, highlight areas of good practice and areas where improvement needs have been identified. Ultimately, we want recognition of the challenges faced by disabled women and a commitment to make positive change.

To find out more about Engender’s work with disabled women, Our Gender Matters in Disability briefing is available to read here, and in easy read format here. You can also listen to our Gender Matters in Disability episode from our #OntheEngender podcast, featuring interviews with disabled women from disabled people’s organisations and politics.

To book a place at ‘Disabled Women; Our Bodies, Our Rights’ on November 6th at COSLA Conference Centre in Edinburgh click here.

Twitter: @DisabledWomenSc, 

When you are young and disabled, you need to know your rights.

Chris Purnell from Lead Scotland shares his personal experience and wants to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university, know about their rights and where they can get support.

I began working for Lead Scotland as an intern after completing my counselling diploma. Lead Scotland provides information and advice to disabled people in relation to post-16 learning opportunities in Scotland – whether education, training or employment programmes. In passing, I told my manager, Rebecca, what I had been going through at my university when I was on a placement.

During the final year of my course, I was doing a placement at a counselling organisation and the manager said she wasn’t happy with anyone pushing me in my wheelchair up the ramp into the building, as the organisation did not want to be liable for any injury if I fell. I asked if it would be possible to install a different ramp that wouldn’t require someone to push me up, however she refused, saying it would be too expensive.

Despite arguing my case and making reference to ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the Equality Act, the manager would not change her mind. I felt disempowered and depressed about the situation I was being forced into and I was worried that I would have to drop out. In the end, I asked if it was ok if someone, not connected with the organisation, pushed me up the ramp, to which she agreed. I found a taxi firm willing to do it for £60 a month. In total it cost me £480 to access the building for the remainder of my course.

Rebecca advised me that both the university and the placement provider had a duty to provide me with reasonable adjustments. This means that if a ramp was not deemed to be a suitable option, then it would have been reasonable to expect the placement provider or the university to pay the £480, because extra costs incurred as a result of an impairment cannot be passed on to a disabled person. She asked me if I had applied for Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA), as potentially I could have had those expenses reimbursed by the Student’s Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). It hadn’t occurred to me to apply for DSA as I didn’t know it could be used for travel costs. I wish someone had told me about this option at the time that I was having the issue, but it was never mentioned.

What I know now is that DSA helps disabled students, not only with extra travel expenses relating to an impairment but also funding towards items of specialist equipment you might need in order to participate in a course, like adaptive technology, specialist furniture and non-medical personal helpers like sign language interpreters.

I wish I had known about Lead Scotland and DSA when I was at university, however, I want to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university know about their rights and where they can get support.

The Lead Scotland helpline can be reached on 0800 999 2568 Monday, Wednesday & Thursday 2pm-4pm and Tuesday & Friday 10am-12pm. Or you can email at any time, or you can visit

Chris Purnell
Lead Scotland


Relationships are everything

Kathy Allan from Adoption UK explains how an attachment awareness programme in East Lothian is helping looked-after and adopted children have a better experience of school.

I’ve been involved with Adoption UK, as both a member and volunteer, for a few years now. So when Fiona Aitken, our Director of Development in Scotland, asked if I’d be interested in working on a project to help children with attachment issues in school, I jumped at the chance as I know how care-experienced children can struggle to get through the school day. As an adoptive parent, freelance researcher and trainer, I had recently conducted some research into post-adoption support needs in East Lothian, and what really struck me was the sheer number of families with major concerns about their children’s experiences in school. In some ways, this came as no surprise, given the difficult start our children have had in life. But we also know that this shouldn’t have to be the case: if we can improve understanding of attachment and the reasons behind challenging behaviours, we can help staff to respond in constructive and supportive ways.

A Pilot Project
Our initial research led to a pilot ‘Attachment Ambassadors’ project in 6 East Lothian schools, with the focus on giving all care-experienced children a happier, less stressful and more rewarding experience, so they feel safe, supported and ready to learn.  We were funded by an initial grant from the Scottish Attainment Challenge Innovation Fund, and more recently by the North Berwick Coastal Area Partnership.

Why Attachment Ambassadors?
Relationships are everything – especially for children whose relationships have broken down during their early months and years. To quote David Howe, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of East Anglia, “If relationships are where things developmental can go wrong, then relationships are where they are most likely to be put right”. It’s therefore crucial for a child’s wellbeing that they have safe and secure relationships with adults.

All children who have been separated from their birth parents have experienced an attachment disruption, which can impact hugely on their emotional development. Adoptive parents consistently tell us that what their children need most at school is a ‘go-to’ person or substitute attachment figure who will support and advocate for them throughout their time at school. And so, the concept of the Attachment Ambassador was born.

The key role of the Attachment Ambassador – who can be a teacher or a member of support staff – is to facilitate a close ‘attachment-style’ relationship between the child and an appropriate member of staff. This key adult should check in with the child regularly and must also be ready to listen to parents and build positive home-school relationships. In this way, a culture of ‘attachment-awareness’ is created throughout the school.

Termly meetings between Attachment Ambassador, parent(s) and class teacher (with the pupil present when appropriate) are diarised as a matter of course to review progress and plan ongoing support for the pupil. A key focus is the creation of a digital ‘All About Me’ folder, which should be ‘owned’ by the child and their family, so creativity in its design is encouraged.

So how has it worked in practice?
As well as inducting the Attachment Ambassadors, we invited all school staff and adoptive/foster parents to Adoption UK’s ‘Life in the Classroom’ attachment training. These sessions covered attachment theory and developmental trauma, as well as approaches to supporting children, including Dan Hughes’ PACE model (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy). We also held two evening workshops, hosted by invited experts on child development, including Professor Colwyn Trevarthen. Feedback has been tremendous, with one participant describing our training as the “most relevant and succinct I have ever attended”.

In the weeks and months following the training, staff were asked to report back on their attachment work with children, following a ‘practitioner enquiry’ model of continuous professional development. Their commitment has been impressive, as some of their comments reveal:

“I feel completely engaged about this subject and am hopeful that we can see it being discussed more in our schools. It is vital we see the value it has for the children and families involved. The benefits to the schools of being better informed are also important.”

“What was particularly helpful was understanding that children may exhibit toddler-like behaviour and that this is to be dealt with as such, on an emotional level, rather than trying to reason with them. In my role, being caring, constant and non-judgemental of children’s behaviour, although firm to acceptable levels of conduct, is important.”

“I have found the training useful. I have tweaked some of the ways in which I work with certain children and am happy with the results. Time is a huge issue and this is possibly the most important factor for me, time to listen, explain etc. These children need you to be patient, to support them and be the confidante that at certain times they need.”

What next?
We are only at the start of our journey and there is much work to be done. For example, we need to work more closely with secondary schools to adapt the model for older children; so far we have focussed largely on primary children – though actually the core message, that relationships are the key, is the same whatever the age group. As one secondary teacher put it:

“Despite being teenagers (I had thought perhaps this approach might be better suited to the younger years), having a playful approach to low-level classroom disruption has had a positive impact and has strengthened my relationship greatly with one particular child – he responds much better to my light- hearted joking than to threats of detention/referrals etc..!” 

Parental engagement is more difficult in secondary schools though – and we also need to educate the wider parent forum about attachment. Sheer lack of time is another issue – teachers are under so much pressure that they barely have time to go to the bathroom, never mind arrange meetings with parents and each other to discuss cases and offer peer support!

“We need human resources; these children need time with a trusted adult out-with the classroom”.

However, it’s clear to me that the Attachment Ambassadors themselves are the key to the long-term success of this project. We need to ensure that they are properly supported after initial funding runs out for, as one parent put it, “the issues around attachment – the awareness has definitely been raised and I think it would be a shame for it to get lost. There’s a danger of that, if it goes off the boil.”

Sustainability is clearly dependent on the Attachment Ambassadors’ continuing ability to build relationships, cascade their learning and promote attachment awareness throughout their school communities, so we now need to engage with education officials from the top down, in order to get that ‘buy-in’ which will allow staff to prioritise attachment work in core school time.

Kathy Allan
Adoption UK

If you’d like further information about the project – or how Adoption UK can help your school with attachment awareness training – please contact Kathy at or call Adoption UK’s Scotland office on 0131 201 2488.

An earlier version of this article was published in REACH, the online magazine of CELCIS (the Centre of Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland). You can follow the link below to the original blog:

Who is accountable? And when will we see some real progress?

The general election has stolen the focus from the local elections and we need to ask ourselves, do any of our local administrations really care?

I can’t help to think every politician in the country must hold some sense of relief that we are not yet at the end of the referendum and election merry-go round. I keep returning to an image in my head of a magician using distraction and sleight of hand to keep our focus from what is really going on. The general election has stolen the focus from the local elections and we need to ask ourselves, do any of our local administrations really care? I suspect not as it keeps the focus away from what really matters.

Whether it is housing, policing, health care or education, every local authority across the country should be concerned about, and held accountable for, their part in the worrying statistics that appear nationally. In 2016, 170,329 pupils in Scotland’s schools (publically funded primary, secondary and special) were identified with an additional support need (ASN), representing just under a quarter of all pupils (24.9%). While this is an increase of 44% since 2012, we have seen an 11% per pupil reduction in funding over the same period.

Over recent months I have witnessed the repetitive back-and-forth argument of the Scottish Government pointing to local authorities’ obligations and local authorities insisting they can’t meet these obligations without more funding. At the same time I am meeting increasing numbers of parents desperately concerned about the education and wellbeing of their children.

Local authorities are accountable, in law, and they play a key role in meeting the additional support needs of children and young people.

It is crucial we move beyond this cyclical blame and counter blame. Local authorities are accountable, in law, and they play a key role in meeting the additional support needs of children and young people. We need them to use their budgets to help children and young people in their communities get the best possible start in life and realise their full potential.

At the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) we have long campaigned on behalf of vulnerable children and young people. In our manifesto for the local authority elections, we asked incoming administrations to take a number of steps in order to create some real, positive progress for children and young people with ASN. These include increased investment in additional support for learning and early years’ services; early assessment and intervention; greater support and staffing in mainstream schools; increased specialist provision; better training of mainstream teachers, health professionals and other practitioners, and; greater partnership working between the public and independent and third sectors.

Now that we enter the final few weeks of election fever in the run up to June 8th, we must look beyond the smoke and mirrors and call on our new council administrations to put children and young people with ASN first so that they too can reach their full potential. 

Kenny Graham
Kenny Graham is Head of Education at Falkland House School, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition


Twitter: @FalklandHouse / @the_scsc