CHILD victims of sexual abuse are to be offered support within six weeks of first reporting the abuse rather than wait months, thanks to a pilot project from the Children’s Society.
The aim of the new project is to ensure that every child who reports abuse is offered support as quickly as possible in dealing with the trauma that they have suffered. At the moment, owing to pressure on child mental-health services, children and young people who have been sexually abused can face a wait of six to 12 months for support.
But the Support Rethought programme, funded by the Home Office, will provide one-to-one support within six weeks. The project is being trialled in Devon, Nottinghamshire, and Newcastle.
Children will be offered support alongside their parents, where that parent has not been involved in the abuse. Parents will be taught skills to help them to support their child. The one-to-one intervention will be provided for up to two months, while longer-term help is sought. Project workers will also act as advocates for the child, and help to organise future support.
The national manager for the programme, Becky Fedia, said that the project would “fill the gap in very difficult weeks while longer-term support is found for the child or young person.
“The project will work to improve communication between parents or carers and the young person, and help them to understand feelings which can, at times, be overwhelming. We hope it will ensure that young people are able to get the support they need almost immediately.”
Assessments of children referred to social care in England identified more than 30,460 instances of child sexual abuse and more than 18,700 cases of child sexual exploitation in 2019-20. This is believed to be an underestimate, however, as most cases of sexual abuse and exploitation are never reported to the authorities. The Child Sexual Abuse Centre estimates that at least 15 per cent of girls and five per cent of boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 16.
Suzie, a teenager from Devon, was referred to the Children’s Society after she was sexually abused by an older male who is now in prison. She said: “I’d hit rock bottom and was feeling depressed, anxious, and quite suicidal. I was having panic attacks, and it was such a struggle to even get out of bed.
“I just wanted to feel normal again, but I didn’t want any help at first. I wanted to be alone and to deal with it by myself, but my project worker at the Children’s Society made it easy.
“After a few sessions, I realised I was processing everything that happened, and she offered advice on coping techniques. By the end, I was so glad I’d accepted the help: it saved my life. I do still have days when I feel low or emotional, but that’s normal, and I’m much better now.”
It will be possible for police, social services, GPs, and parents and children themselves to make referrals to the programme.