The Children’s Society has set up a programme, funded by the Home Office, where children who are victims of sexual abuse will be offered one to one support within six weeks of reporting the abuse.
Many children and young people are currently left without help immediately after reporting abuse, which can be a particularly difficult time. They may face a lengthy wait of 6-12 months before they can access long-term support from children’s mental health services to address the trauma they have faced.
The Support Rethought programme will be trialled in Devon, Nottinghamshire and Newcastle. Children will be offered support alongside their parents, where the parent has not been involved in the abuse. Project workers will provide emotional support and suggest coping strategies and tools the child and their parent or carer can use together. They will also assess the child’s needs and any risks they may face, acting as advocates to make sure their wishes and feelings are known and trying to organise future support.
The intervention will be provided for up to two months while longer term help is sought. It will be possible for police, social services, GPs, and parents and children themselves to make referrals to the programme.
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.”
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.”
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 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.
As well as supporting children and young people, Support Rethought will also bring together experts from across the country to share insights about the abuse children are experiencing and to discuss improvements to the ways in which agencies work together to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation and help victims.