Children and young people who sexually abuse : a study of a decade of growing recognition and uncertain development
Children and young people who sexually abuse others have emerged as a problem since the early 1990s in the UK. This thesis attempts to provide a reflexive account and analysis of developments in policy, procedures and services in England during the past decade. It is based on empirical research undertaken primarily during the period 1994-1996 but complemented by analysis of available information drawn from the early 1990s and post 1996. Based on the premise that the problem of children and young people who sexually abuse is both a `real' and a socially constructed phenomenon, my research strategy was exploratory and descriptive in nature. The research began with the analysis of documents which, in the early 1990s, comprised the only official and semi-official guidance for welfare professionals on how to respond to children and young people who sexually abuse others. In the context of this guidance developments in policy, procedures and services in 106 local Area Child Protection Committee areas (ACPCs) in England, in respect of young sexual abusers, were then researched using a variety of data collections methods. These included documentary analysis of ACPC annual reports and inter-agency guidance, telephone and face-to-face interviews with individual professionals and welfare agency representatives, and a national survey by questionnaire of professionals involved in this area of work. The findings from the research indicate that the problem of children and young people who sexually abuse is characterised by much complexity and continuing uncertainty, with uneven, varying and often minimal developments in policy, procedure and services across ACPC areas. A child protection discourse about the nature of the problem and how young sexual abusers should be managed and responded to, which was identified during the research, emerges as contested and problematic, with professionals and agencies struggling with both lacks in resources and more fundamental philosophical, conceptual and procedural dilemmas. It is argued in the thesis that this complexity and uncertainty can be more fully understood only when reference is made to wider theoretical debates about the nature of childhood and childhood sexuality and with reference to shifting policies and legislation in respect of child welfare and youth crime. The thesis concludes by assessing the strengths and limitations of the study and suggesting directions for future research. In addition, some final reflection is offered on how, over time, my role as researcher became somewhat modified as a result of the work I undertook. Specifically, having conducted research into an aspect of study in relation to young sexual abusers hitherto virtually unexplored in England, I found that I was being called on to make various contributions to the shaping of future policy and procedure.