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4.21 Sexual Health and Relationships


This Guidance should be read in conjunction with, Teenage Pregnancy and Sexual Health Guidance, a document issued by the Teenage Pregnancy Unit and reproduced in this Handbook and the Confidentiality and Young People Tool kit developed by the Royal College of General Practitioners.


If there are concerns regarding possible child protection issues, please see the following London Child Protection Procedures, Safeguarding Children Practice Guidance:

Safeguarding Sexually Active Children Procedure

Safeguarding Children from Sexual Exploitation Procedure

Safeguarding Trafficked and Exploited Children Procedure


  1. Principles of the Guidance           
  2. Working with Looked After Children
  3. Child Protection and Safeguarding
  4. Sexual Activity
  5. Sex and Relationship Education 

1. Principles of the Guidance

All sexual health and relationship work with Looked After Children must be child-centred and support the child’s right to appropriate knowledge, information and informed choice.

Staff/carers working with Looked After children must work in line with the London Child Protection Procedures.

Staff/carers should work in partnership with parents providing it does not conflict with the overriding principle that the welfare of the child is paramount.

Staff/carers must maintain professional boundaries with the child at all times. 

Staff/carers must carry out this procedure is in such a way as to respect the child’s race and culture.

Staff/carers must explain to the child about the principles of confidentiality under which they work. The detail of how information is recorded, shared, stored and used, and for what period of time must be made clear, preferably both verbally and in writing, to all people involved and must be in line with the London Child Protection Procedures and Children's Policy, Values and Underlying Principles of Recording, Confidentiality and Consultation

2. Working with Looked After Children

The aim of any work on sexuality and personal relationships should be to encourage discussion and debate. 

Staff/carers need to be aware that Looked After Children are more likely to be at a different stage of emotional development from their chronological age. 

Staff/carers need to ensure that the Looked After Child has access to resources and information that are age appropriate and gender specific on a full range of sexual health and relationship issues. Some disabled children may require these to be in specific formats e.g. Braille, large print, tapes etc. 

The emotional side of sex and relationships must be addressed as well as the informational aspects. 

The child’s cultural and religious background must be central to planning and carrying out sexual health and relationship work. However, the child should not be denied the benefits of information and support on sexual health and personal relationship issues because of religious and cultural values. 

Disabled children must be regarded like any other child and should have access to resources and information about sexual health, relationships and sexuality. 

Staff/carers need to be aware of the influences of alcohol, drug and substance use and its effect on sexual activity. 

Young parents and expectant parents must be offered guidance and sensitive support to enable them to make informed choices about their future and their child’s future.

Young fathers need to be supported with the level of involvement with their child or children

Staff/carers should not make assumptions about a child’s sexuality and need to support all children to develop a positive sense of their sexuality. 

Staff/carers should not allow their own sexual attitudes to affect their professional work.

Looked after children should be supported to make their own informed choices about their sexuality according to their age and maturity, as well as being encouraged to reflect on its importance for later life.

Looked after children must be provided with an environment where stigma and harassment are not tolerated. 

3. Child Protection and Safeguarding

Any allegation, suspicion or concern relating to Sexual Abuse or exploitation of a Looked After Child must be followed up immediately in accordance with the London Child Protection Procedures.

Individual work for Looked After children who have been sexually abused may be required and will need to be integrated into the child’s Care Plan.

Staff/carers responsible for children who commit sexual offences need to actively lay down boundaries showing what behaviour is/is not acceptable. 

Staff/carers need to assess the risk to other children in the household when considering appropriate placements for children who have abused others. These children may require therapeutic intervention. Such treatment should form an integral part of the Care Plan.

4. Sexual Activity

Staff/carers need to be pro-active in providing the child with information and support in areas of sexual and emotional development, and to work with the child as identified within their Care Plans.

Sexual activity involving children within foster homes and residential homes is not permitted. 

All children will begin to make their own choices in adolescence. In general, staff/carers should discourage, in a non-judgmental way, sexual relationships, particularly for those under 16 years of age. 

All children, whatever their age, can access condoms, contraception and emergency contraception.

Staff/carers should engage in an open discussion with any child who is considering becoming sexually active. The child needs to be prepared for the emotional impact of a sexual relationship; he or she needs to be able to identify abusive relationships and be able to access help in dealing with them.

The child should be made aware of safer alternatives to engaging in sexual intercourse. They should also know about the criminal law relating to sexual offending. The age of consent for sexual intercourse in heterosexual and homosexual relationships is 16 years. It is a criminal offence for an adult to have intercourse of any kind or sexual contact with a girl or boy who is under 16 years.

If it is known that a child is sexually active then, through discussion and case planning, the child should be encouraged to receive sexual health screening at appropriate intervals.

Masturbation should be regarded as part of a child’s normal development which must be carried out in private.

Pornography is not allowed in foster home or residential care. However, if a child is known to have pornography, it may used to open discussion on sexual and relationship issues.

5. Sex and Relationship Education

Sex and relationship education (SRE) should support the child in coping with adolescence and enable them to prepare for relationships in adult life. 

Any SRE provided to children in residential or foster care should complement what is taught at school. It must be age and developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive.