Children’s voices for positive change after sexual abuse
This study examined children’s experiences of help-seeking and support after child sexual abuse in the family environment. Commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England, it was carried out in 2015/16 by staff from the International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking, in partnership with the NSPCC.
The research is thought to represents data from the largest sample of children and young people in a qualitative study on this issue. The research comprised 53 in-depth qualitative interviews with children aged 6 to 19 who were receiving support for experiences of child sexual abuse in the family environment. All interviewees were accessed through one of 15 third-sector therapeutic services from across England. This data was supplemented with focus groups (30 participants) and survey data (75 respondents) with more generic cohorts of young people exploring possible barriers to disclosure and service access.
The research aims were to improve understanding of participants’ experiences of:
- recognition, identi cation and disclosure of child sexual abuse in the family environment
- help-seeking and support
- contact with services as a result of reporting/identi cation of child sexual abuse
- care systems, and
- criminal justice procedures and to ascertain children and young people’s views on how such processes could be improved.
For some children identification of child sexual abuse in the family environment had resulted in them being removed from their family homes. A focused look at the particular experiences of these children is covered in sections 4.5 ‘Children’s involvement with care systems’ and 4.6 ‘Summary: recognising support to families and carers as critical’.
Evidence from young people interviewed in this small qualitative study demonstrated that foster care has potential to provide positive supportive care, which some children welcome.
However, the physical safety afforded to children by removal from birth family also involved significant losses in relation to their family relationships, home lives and histories – regardless of the nature of risk from perpetrators.
In addition the study highlights particular shortcomings in provision for 16 and 17 year olds where a ‘willingness or opportunities to move them into foster care may be limited and care proceedings unlikely’. This study showed that provision fell ‘significantly short’ of meeting their needs:
[…] safeguarding responses for children aged 16 or 17 often fail to meet the standards of care provided for younger children, and demonstrate how older children’s vulnerabilities may often be overlooked or misinterpreted (Raws, 2016). For those children who have experienced familial sexual abuse (and sometimes other forms of maltreatment) these shortcomings hold far-reaching impacts for health and wellbeing and coincide with other difficult transitions such as those to adult services.
This study demonstrates that many children and young people, irrespective of age, are likely to require specialist interventions and skilled, professionally supported carers to respond to the specific vulnerabilities they have as a result of child sexual abuse and as arising from other losses related to their close relationships.
Effective support to children and young people requires direct specialist support to non-abusing family members and carers. Supporting and responding to victims of child sexual abuse in the family environment should always involve direct support to non-abusing family members and carers.
Read the full report: Making Noise: Children’s voices for positive change after sexual abuse