NI Children Have No Access to Free Centralised Counselling for Sexual Abuse
15th December 2023: Nexus, Northern Ireland’s leading organisation providing specialist support for people impacted by sexual abuse and abusive relationships, can no longer offer support to 4–7-year-olds and has been forced to pause support for over 60 young people aged 8 – 16.
From 1st Dec 22 – 1st Dec 23, Nexus supported 8 children and young people aged 4-7 and 98 aged 8-16. Current waiting time is 8 months +.
Joanne Barnes, CEO of Nexus, said:
“Unlike resource for adults impacted by sexual abuse, specific, ring-fenced, central government funding to provide specialist trauma-informed support for children impacted by sexual abuse has never been available in Northern Ireland. So, this is not a lack of government issue. Simply put, children who have experienced the most heinous abuse have never had access to centralised government funded support in NI.
“Up until now, we have been able to respond to this need, in a limited capacity, through successful applications to grant making trusts and we are aware of ad-hoc support through individual Health and Social Care Trusts.
“However, the fact remains that our children are not given the same access to services and support as adults. Many adults come to us for abuse they experienced in childhood with over 50% of our adult clients experiencing childhood sexual abuse and living with its effects for decades”
Without the right support, sexual abuse can have a devastating impact on the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of children and young people. The effects often ripple throughout their lives, leading to long-term consequences such as complex trauma, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
Mary (not her real name), a mother of a child who has been able to avail of counselling support, said “Nexus has been a lifeline for us, helping me to support my child through the trauma they experienced at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust most in the world.
“I feel so lucky that Nexus can look after me and my baby and that we can come out the other end prepared for the road ahead.
“But this support should not be down to luck, any family should be able to access this where and when they need it. Expecting parents, and more importantly children, to live in the community, having experienced such trauma without any support is not only unfair, but also morally wrong.”
Joanne Continued, “Our government has come a long way in recognising and addressing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In its proposals for the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy, it is welcomed that plans are in place to support children who have witnessed abusive relationships in the home, but no such therapeutic support is planned for children who directly experience sexual abuse.
“The same is true for the most recent Review of Children’s Social Care Services. The ‘gold standard’ for children who have experienced sexual abuse is the Barnahus Model where all safeguarding, investigatory, court and therapeutic services and processes are contained in a holistic, child friendly setting which is proven to provide better support for child victims of sexual abuse.
“There is a distinct lack of a mention of this in the review recommendations.”
The latest Quarterly Child Protection Services Stats for July-Sep’23i showed there were almost 250 children on the Protection Register for sexual abuse, some (133) were also experiencing physical abuse and/or neglect.
Joanne concluded, “Children on the child protection register represent a very small percentage of our young people who experience sexual abuse. With 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 20 boys estimated to have experienced sexual abuseii there are many more who won’t be on this register but who need specialist support to deal with their trauma.
“Our children and young people deserve the utmost care and support. By investing in specialist services, we can offer a lifeline to those who need it most, helping them heal and rebuild their lives following sexual abuse.
“So is this another funding call? Unfortunately, it is! and this one is for children who have lost access to specialised support after experiencing sexual abuse.
“I urge the Department of Health to prioritise the allocation of specific funding for these specialist services for children and their families.”
Notes to Editors
- For further information or to bid for an interview please contact the Nexus Communications Team on 07738983590, 07566789933 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Nexus is Northern Ireland’s leading charity supporting people impacted by sexual abuse and abusive relationships. If you need advice or support, call the 24hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline on 0808 802 1414, it is available 24/7 for any individual impacted by domestic or sexual abuse, either directly or indirectly. Webchat and email services are also available on dsahelpline.org and email@example.com. The DSA Helpline is hosted by Nexus on behalf of the Departments of Communities, Health and Justice.