Supporting the child
There are a number of therapeutic models and interventions for supporting children and young people who have been sexually abused. Individual counselling may be directive or non-directive. Counselling has been found to be most helpful when it can support a child or young person to understand that the abuse was not their fault. Research has also found more successful outcomes for children who are supported throughout their counselling by their non-abusing parent and network (Cohen & Mannarino, 2000). Consult with your supervisor to find out about appropriate counselling services that may be available in your area, or contact the Practice Advice and Support team by email.
Life story work
Life story work is something that happens routinely for children who are able to grow up with their kin and community. For these children, their stories of who they are, such as who they resemble within their family, when they first started walking and spoke their first words, are often routinely spoken about or easily answered when a child asks about their early life. For children who have been involved with the child protection system and have grown up away from their parents, siblings, extended family and community, a lot of information about who they are is lost.
Life story work aims to support a child’s identity development and understanding of their experiences, including trauma or grief and loss, by pulling together the stories about their life. Life story work can be therapeutic and can be a healing tool to introduce the past as markers of the present (how their history has been negatively impacting their present) and as this is understood, the child is supported in considering how to move on to make positive life changes. It is also an appropriate intervention to use with children and young people from various cultural backgrounds and with various capabilities.
Staff can participate in and promote life story work with children and young people by:
- Uploading every day and special photos and memories to a child or young person’s kicbox.
- When appropriate, creating an immediate story for a child to help them understand departmental interventions.
- Taking photos on home visits and collating photos and stories from biological families to provide to the child and upload to kicbox.
- Talking with carers about the importance of life story work, and discussing how carers support a child’s life story during placement agreements and home visits.
- Partnering with carers and families to create paper based or electronic memories for a child.
- Connecting with a child’s family for the purpose of having conversations about the child’s early years, then documenting these memories and providing them to the child.
- Requesting the family and network bring along at least one memory or photo of the child to the family group meeting or case plan review meeting to contribute to the child’s kicbox / life story book / electronic record.
- Talking within the CSSC about experienced practitioners external to the department who can complete targeted life story work with a child.
There are books, resources and life story work templates located at ‘Life story works’ to support practitioners and carers to develop life stories for children and young people.
Rose, R (2017), Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work, Developing trauma informed practice for working with children, adolescents and young adults. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. UK.
Schools and child care
A child’s school or childcare centre can be an important part of a child’s safety and support network. School and child cares play a role in increasing safety through sex education programs, supporting children and young people to understand pro-social behaviours and interactions, and through safety planning and safety and support networks. (Refer to 'Contextual safeguarding' in Case work and engagement approaches).
Child Safety has a resource Calmer classrooms: A guide to working with traumatised children for teachers to support them to understand abuse, neglect and trauma and how teachers and school can support children and families.
Further information on student safety and wellbeing can be found on the Students page of the Department of Education website.
Psychoeducation is about providing children who are at risk or who have experienced child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) with information about their bodies, sex and sexual development, personal boundaries and some basic ideas about what they can do if someone crosses their boundaries or they feel unsafe. When considering why sexual abuse happens and why it continues, one of the probabilities is that a child may not know the behaviour is wrong or may not know that people are interested in knowing about the abuse. Psychoeducation increases a child’s understanding of their body and its functions and aims to provide a child with an understanding of boundaries and what is and is not normal and acceptable behaviour. It can also increase the chances of a child disclosing abuse if they need to (Finkelhor, 2007). Talk to your supervisor or the Practice Advice and Support team about community based psychoeducation programs or private practitioners that deliver psycho education within your catchment.
Scripting helps people have a plan about what to say on certain topics. It is useful to help people be prepared for difficult conversations and can also build resilience in children and young people by helping them say what they need to say.
The topic of sex and sexuality can be confronting at times and is not often openly discussed. However, conversations and psychoeducation about sex, sexual health, bodies, boundaries and what is and is not normal acceptable behaviour, held at appropriate times with children and young people are essential to promote their safety and wellbeing. Children who have a good understanding of their bodies and safe boundaries are less likely to be sexually abused and more likely to tell someone if something does happen.
Working with a family where sexual abuse is a concern raises sensitive topics that can be hard for family members to think and talk about. Use scripting with families and their safety and support networks to convey information, address behaviours, and give family and network members the confidence to have conversations about sex and sexuality with children and young people.
|Practice considerations||Conversation ideas|
Parents may minimise or deny the concerns.“Why do you have to be involved, (child name) is a liar- nothing happened”.
Scripting can be used to keep case work focused on creating safety.
“Child Safety believe that [child] is telling the truth. We want to make sure that [child] is safe from further abuse and that everybody in the home knows the safety rules”.
|Children and young people may face questions about why they have a safety plan at home, in their placement or at school.||
For the child or young person to use:
“We have a plan in our home to make sure everyone is safe”.
“Something not nice happened to me, so we have a plan at home and school to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
|To support safe adults to talk to children and young people about sex and sexual health.||
For safe adults when talking to children:
“Is there a good time for you and I to have a chat about safe relationships? There are some really important things for you to know about your body and personal safety.”
“Talking about keeping our bodies safe and understanding more about sex can seem embarrassing but is really important”.
“I found a great resource for you the other day. Have a read, and let’s make time later to talk and I can answer your questions”.
Activities that require total concentration and aim to reduce stress can be healing for the body and mind. There is a growing body of research that confirms that things like swimming, drumming, dancing, singing, caring for others (animals and plants) and meditation or mindfulness are healing for our central nervous system and can support a reduction in trauma-related symptoms and promote healing (Hwan Kim, Schnieder, et al, 2013). It is important that the child’s primary therapeutic professionals be consulted to discuss whether alternative, trauma-sensitive interventions are appropriate for each individual child. What works for one child may be more or less useful for another child.
Victim Assist Queensland and National Redress Scheme
Children and young people may be referred to Victim Assist Queensland to access therapeutic or financial support. Some children and young people who have experienced institutional sexual abuse may also be eligible to apply for redress through the National Redress Scheme.
The Victim Assist Queensland website outlines eligibility for financial assistance and other supports, and things to consider if a child or young person is a victim of crime.
The National Redress Scheme was established as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and provides support to people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse. The Scheme:
- acknowledges that many children were sexually abused in Australian institutions
- holds institutions accountable for this abuse, and
- helps people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse gain access to counselling, a direct personal response, and a Redress payment.
The scheme will remain open until 30 June 2027.
For information about when a person can apply to the National Redress Scheme refer to Procedure 5 When a child is sexually abused while in care.
Supporting the alleged abuser
Support for the alleged abuser can be very challenging. There are many reasons why a person would not want to admit their abusive behaviours and accepting help may be seen by an abuser as admitting wrongdoing.
Formal assessments conducted by a Forensic Psychologist can be helpful under some circumstances to add credibility to child protection concerns and to get an idea about clear therapeutic and relapse prevention goals. Individual or group therapeutic intervention to address offending or abusive behaviour has been found to have positive outcomes, however engaging alleged abusers in this process can be challenging. Refer to Working with the alleged abuser for further information.
Counselling and support for parents and families
Parents may experience significant distress following a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse. They may also be called upon to support the alleged abusive parent if they remain in the relationship. Refer to Working with parents for further information on working with parents whose child has been sexually abused.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has a range of resources appropriate to support parents, including:
- the Resources and research section on their website
- Understanding child sexual abuse A guide for protective parents/guardians.
Responding to the risk of child sexual abuseNext
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Removal of reference to ‘Time In Care Information Access Service’ (TICIAS).
Minor edits including linking to Victim Assist Queensland website.