Perceptions of children's sexualised behaviour

Mason, Emily (2020). Perceptions of children's sexualised behaviour. University of Birmingham. Foren.Clin.Psy.D.

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Systematic Literature Review

Introduction: Research has shown that Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) in children and young people (CYP) can have ranging impacts and collateral consequences for caregivers, whether these be biological, kinship, step, foster and/or adoptive caregivers. This review explored research on the experience of caregivers, drawing on studies that used a range of different research methodologies. It aimed to synthesise and summarise findings in order to further our understanding of caregivers’ lived experiences in the aftermath of a child’s HSB.
Method: A systematic literature search of seven electronic databases using a combination of search terms and restrictions identified 15 papers exploring the experience of caregivers either as their primary or secondary focus. A narrative synthesis was conducted and results were thematically explored.
Results: Three overarching themes were identified which were felt to reflect the experience of caregivers: ‘The Psychological Impact’, ‘Collateral Consequences’ and ‘Adjustment’. A central theme was the dynamic process of such experiences, occurring along a shifting continuum as opposed to a linear trajectory.
Discussion: This review adds to our understanding of caregiver experience and has highlighted the need to see the ‘bigger picture’. The research discussed has used lived experiences to highlight key factors of consideration when providing caregivers with support and when involving them in CYP interventions. It contributes towards support for approaches which seek to address the needs and resiliency of the whole system within a broader social and relational based context. Practice implications are considered.

Empirical Research Paper

Introduction: Although rarely discussed, sexual behaviour is a normal part of child development, with research showing that it occurs in varying forms and across contexts. Specific tools have been developed to aid understanding of what constitutes ‘normal’ and healthy sexual behaviour. However, little is known about people’s general ability to distinguish developmentally ‘normal’ from ‘abnormal’ (or what might be considered ‘Harmful Sexual Behaviour’). This is extremely important from the point of view of safeguarding, child protection and timely intervention and support.
Method: An online survey platform hosted eight vignettes which depicted both developmentally normal and abnormal sexual behaviours across four developmental age groups. Four hundred and forty-seven participants answered questions about perceived behaviour normality, their concern and likely action.
Results: Both the age of the child depicted within vignettes and the normality of the behaviour effected the overall accuracy (74.6%) of responses. Considering between-subject factors, accuracy increased with participant age, those with religious identification were more likely to identify age appropriate sexual behaviour as abnormal, and prior experience with 0-4 year olds increased accuracy for this group. Overall, perhaps unsurprisingly, abnormal behaviours elicited higher levels of concern, with concern increasing alongside the age of the child. A positive correlation was found between levels of concern and degree to which participants would take action, with specific course of action, falling into 7 broad themes.
Discussion: Taken together, this research alongside the evidence base has implications for the understanding of HSB perception within the inter-related contexts around children and young people.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Foren.Clin.Psy.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Foren.Clin.Psy.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Psychology, Centre for Applied Psychology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology


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