Exploring implications and benefits of holistic working with young people who have sexually harmed others.




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Over the past twenty years there has been growing recognition that young people who have sexually harmed should not simply be treated as younger versions of adult sex offenders. Changes in terminology and recommended treatment reflect the fact that these young people are still developing and have a range of strengths and needs including harmful sexual behaviour. In acknowledging the harm caused by sexual abuse to victims it is also important to see that many young perpetrators have also been victims of abuse, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.

Practitioners and Government reports have asserted that work with these young people should be holistic, but this word ‘holistic’ is used with a range of meanings and emphases. This study identifies broadly accepted meanings of working holistically with young people who have sexually harmed and presents associated benefits, challenges and implications for practice.

The study used a mixed methods approach, utilising an initial breadth survey of practitioners across England and Wales before focusing in on a depth study based in one city Youth Offending Team. Key themes from the breadth survey were tested during the fieldwork placement with observations and interviews with professionals within the team and external therapists, social workers and residential staff. Additional interviews included contributions from volunteer panel members, young people and a parent.

Grounded theory analysis led to the identification of four main themes of holistic work: seeing the whole young person; working with wider family and peers; working in a multiagency way and using a range of creative methods. Findings are discussed in relation to ‘what works’ and ‘evidence based practice’. Each of these areas contributes benefits and challenges to the work and leads to implications for practice. The study concludes with recommendations for practitioners and policy-makers to make work more holistic and effective.



young people, adolescents, sexual harm, offenders, holistic, sex offences, family, multi-agency, creative, grounded theory, mixed methods



Research Institute