Currently out of print; due for revision in 2020

These guidelines have been developed for foster carers and their fostering support workers by the AIM Project and Carol Carson. The remit of AIM is to explore means of responding consistently and effectively to children and young people who have problems with their sexual behaviour and may be harmful to themselves and others. It ensures that all agencies working with these children and young people have a common understanding of the issues and a consistent and common framework for reporting, assessing and planning for the risk that they pose.


These guidelines are specifically about understanding and managing children and young people who display sexually problematic or harmful behaviours in foster care. They are based on the current information from research and practice; and have been developed through consultation and discussion with foster carers and fostering support workers in several different local authorities in the United Kingdom.

The guidelines are designed to:

  1. Give an overview of why children and young people may engage in these behaviours.
  2. Provide a checklist to evaluate sexual behaviours on a continuum of concern.
  3. Provide a framework for pattern mapping.
  4. Provide suggestions for the management of these behaviours.
  5. Provide suggestions for individual work


Problematic and Harmful Sexual Behaviours

There are many terms used to describe sexual behaviour that does not fall within the healthy range, and currently there is no real consensus among those who work in the field. Terms used are; sexually abusive, sexually offending, sexually worrying, sexually aggressive, sexualised behaviour and sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Throughout these guidelines we have used the terms problematic and harmful sexual behaviours to reflect a continuum of concern with problematic describing;

  1. Lower level behaviours, for example sexual language; some one off actions.
  2. Some serious behaviours which may be self directed eg persistent masturbation or focus on masturbatory activities.
  3. Behaviours directed at others such as touching other children, but where there are balancing factors like lack of intent to cause harm; or the level of understanding of the child/young person about the behaviours in which they are engaging; or there is acceptance of responsibility for the behaviour and some remorse shown.

Harmful sexual behaviours are those, which;

  1. Are serious and cause physical and emotional damage to self or others, and where there are little or no balancing factors, that is they are repetitive; planned; use of force; they are denied and no empathy or remorse are shown etc.
  2. Would fall within the definition of a sexual offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Fuller definitions of both these terms is given in Section Two: Definitions of Healthy, Problematic and Harmful Sexual Behaviours.


There is a section on useful resources for use in individual work at the end of the Individual work section. There is also a reference section at the end of the guidelines, which includes reading material for those who wish to read further.