Relationships and Physical Contact with Children


The Protection of Children Standard

The Children’s Views, Wishes and Feelings Standard


This chapter informs staff on how appropriate physical contact has a part to play in all aspects of care for children and young people.


Care and Control Policy

Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy


This chapter was updated in May 2018 and should be re-read.


  1. Early Experience and Compensatory Care
  2. Matching the Relationship
  3. Living Away from Home
  4. Placement Information Records
  5. Saying 'No' and Making Judgements
  6. Spending Prolonged One - One Contact with Children
  7. Supervision and Consultation
  8. Bathing and Hygiene
  9. Intimate Searches
  10. Summary

1. Early Experience and Compensatory Care

Children who have experienced Neglect and deprivation of affection need help to learn how physical touch can be part of appropriate and affectionate relationships. Children who have suffered Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse and Sexual Abuse are often confused about the link between physical touch, aggression, sex and affection, so need the opportunity to learn how to give and receive affection appropriately.

Also see: Sexual Health and Relationships Procedure.

2. Matching the Relationship

It is essential that when supporting children with appropriate forms of physical touch that a clear discussion and assessment is undertaken by the team at the home as to the meaning any type of physical touch will have for the child. The key/link worker with the clinical team need to understand and record in the child’s Placement Plan what are judged to be the most appropriate and safe ways in which physical contact is initiated and accepted with each individual child. The principle must always be that all forms of physical touch should be conducted within the context of the relationship with the person with whom it takes place. For example, it may be acceptable for a key/link worker to give or receive a hug from a child to provide comfort than a new member of staff with whom the child has an early form of relationship.

3. Living Away from Home

Childhood First offers predominately long term treatment for children and often the Childhood First community is the child's main place of residence. Therefore the staff provide for the daily needs of the children / young people which includes that of physical touch. It is for this reason that staff will often be required to meet a child’s need for physical touch, whether it be a reassuring touch on the arm, holding a hand when crossing the road, a hug if the child is upset or has fallen over etc. The principles and safeguards described in this policy must always be followed to ensure that staff are themselves protected whilst also providing the child with the need for comfort.

4. Placement Information Records

Also see the following chapters:

Where children have particular difficulty with physical touch Placement Information Records and risk assessments will outline exactly how staff should approach this area.

5. Saying 'NO' and Making Judgements

Also see: Key/Link worker Guidance.

The most important guideline for staff is that physical gestures of affection - for example a comfortable hug - must be a reflection of a meaningful relationship which has taken time to develop. So although it may be in some sense gratifying that a child 'likes' or seems to take to you instantly, wanting to cuddle or sit on your lap, it is the responsibility of the staff member to help the child learn to regulate becoming too familiar too quickly - this tendency can pose real risks to them in life. So it is incumbent on the adult to be able to clearly find a way to communicate when a child gets too close - and there may be many occasions during a day! Doing this without rejecting a child who may have learnt that offering sexualised touch is a way of giving and receiving love is clearly sensitive and group consultation must be used to help.

6. Spending Prolonged One - One Contact with Children

Also see: Spending One to One time with Children Procedure.

All staff, but particularly new staff are vulnerable to children's misinterpretation and allegation and everyone must take care to protect each other. This means that staff and new staff in particular must not be left on their own, isolated in prolonged one-one contact with a child.

7. Supervision and Consultation

The supervision process, both group and individual, offers constant opportunity to reflect upon direct work with the children. For this reason the Childhood First methodology consists of a network of interlinking individual and group forums and very frequent opportunity to talk through the details of the work. Consultant child psychotherapists are skilled in connecting the child's experience with that of the staff. See Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy, Open Forums.

8. Bathing and Hygiene

The experience of bathing which includes warmth, fun and the developing ability towards adequate and age appropriate self-care is an integral part of each child's routine.

Adolescent children should on the whole be expected to manage their own bathing and washing although they may need lots of support and encouragement to do so. Generally, for younger children a trusted member of staff will be available to each child during the process of bathing. All children need to receive appropriate supervision and company. See Care and Placement Plans Guidance.

The Childhood First methodology encourages staff to talk about the awkwardness inherent in situations where children have not learnt to dress and bathe themselves or where doctors or dentists remind them of physical or sexual intrusions. Integrated Systemic Therapy Policy helps staff to find ways of caring for children with warmth and affection, ensuring their bodies are well looked after and helping children to relate well to their own bodies and health in general. Children need also to learn what is private and many may have become confused about this because of their early experience and may be used to offering themselves for the gratification of others. All these situations need sensitive handling and there are few rules which apply to every child in every situation.

9. Intimate Searches

It is highly unlikely that an intimate search would ever be required for a child using Childhood First facilities. If it was needed for any reason, medical advice should be sought. A medical practitioner or a Police Officer should only carry it out in line with their guidance and procedures. Also see: Searching Children/Bedrooms Procedure.

10. Summary

Every child and situation is different, so staff members need to use consultation and supervision and general meetings to talk through complex situations. However here are some general guidelines about physical touch. If in any doubt discuss with your direct line manager.

  • It is always the responsibility of the adults to ensure that any physical contact they are involved in with a child is safe, positive and healthy;
  • Affectionate physical contact should predominately be initiated by the child. Any contact initiated by an adult must be aimed to help and support the child by giving care comfort or positive;
  • It must never be given or sought by adults for their own comfort or needs;
  • It is useful to use words to accompany physical touch to make clear to the child what the worker is trying to convey with the touch;
  • Physical touch should not proceed if it arouses sexual feelings in the adult or the child. All aspects of physical care should be safe enjoyable and relaxed and a child's right to say no must always be respected;
  • When children need hugs or cuddles staff should make sure children are dressed appropriately, and try to stand to the side of the child hereby reducing any unintentional introduction of a sexual element to the contact;
  • Contact should come from a position of respect for the child and should be experienced as respectful by the child;
  • Physical Intervention and control through touch must comply with Care and Control Policy;
  • Any physical response whether 'hugs' or 'physical intervention' should happen in the presence of others where possible;
  • At bedtimes it can be appropriate for an adult to sit on a child's bed and read or talk through the events of the day or a child's concerns. This should not be for a prolonged time and shift leaders and other staff should be aware of where each member of the team is and monitor these situations; Any planned time alone with a child/young person at bedtime must form part of their placement plan and be risk assessed;
  • On those occasions when a kiss goodbye or goodnight is appropriate within the context of a relationship it should be a peck on the cheek or forehead. A kiss to a teddy may often effectively achieve the intended aim;
  • Placement Plans must be consulted. Adults need to establish the significance of touch for each particular child, so that they can make good judgments;
  • Staff members should not engage in prolonged one-one touching relationships such as massage with children;
  • Staff members should avoid becoming isolated with any individual child - let others know where you are, leave doors open where possible;
  • Staff members must always find a way of talking through any situations involving physical touch which have made them feel uncomfortable - this should include observations of colleagues. This should include talking to the child and using supervision and consultation to talk through with adults;
  • Staff members have a responsibility to help children discuss how they feel about touch in general including any instances of physical touch which have made the children feel uncomfortable;
  • Staff members should sensitively support children through experiences such as dentists or doctors where it may be necessary for them to be touched;
  • Staff members should not touch children directly when they are undressed, except where younger children need help with hair-washing or drying feet or backs with a towel or applying cream to the back;
  • It is always wrong for any adult to touch any child's genital area, and even young children can be helped to wash and dry themselves in these areas without an adult needing to touch them. Young children can be talked through drying their fronts themselves and should be encouraged not to display their fronts or bottoms to others;
  • If there is a need to administer creams and lotions directly to the child do so in the presence of another colleague where possible. This should be recorded as part of the child's/young persons health records;
  • No child should be offered access to adult sleeping in rooms;
  • Input at bedtime must be carefully considered. See Sleeping in and Night Security Procedures;
  • Exclusive or sexual relationships between professional colleagues responsible for the moral guidance of our children's group are generally discouraged. Displays of physical affection between staff should be kept to a minimum and only shown where it would be positively beneficial for a child to witness - for instance a comforting arm round the shoulder if someone is upset. Displays of more intimate affection between staff are not to be shown. Staff members must recognise the importance of their own physical presentation and the nature of their interactions with colleagues. Each worker is expected to take responsibility for the impact of their own behaviour upon the dynamic functioning of the community. The meaning for the children must be the paramount consideration;
  • Members of Staff are expected to share all information with the staff group about their relationships with every child. See Confidentiality Policy.