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The impacts of abuse and trauma and the need for intervention and support is unique for each child, family and community. When considering whether intervention strategies are suitable for a particular family, be mindful of the impact that domestic and family violence, mental health, alcohol and other drugs use, and intergenerational trauma can have on a family’s ability and willingness to work with people and services.
In order to further understand what interventions for a child or family may be appropriate to create safety, review previous investigations and assessments, safety assessments, risk assessments and child and parental strengths and needs assessments. These tools and pieces of information provide direction as to areas of vulnerability for the child and family, where interventions should be targeted, and what strengths to build upon.
For example, information identifies a father has a longstanding problem with alcohol use and that previous incidences of him sexually abusing his child have always occurred when he is under the influence of alcohol. Interventions that only address his abusive behaviour without addressing the alcohol use are unlikely to result in longer term positive changes. A successful intervention would be to address his abusive behaviour, his alcohol use and the underlying factors as to why and how he developed a problem with alcohol.
Refer to the practice guide Assess harm and risk of harm to further support your risk assessment skills in assessing harm and risk of harm.
Some children and families may also have specific characteristics or experiences that need to be considered when planning appropriate interventions including disability and culture.
Children with a disability and their families
Children with disability (physical, intellectual, neurological, sensory) are at greater risk of all types of abuse and are more likely to have been sexually abused than children without a disability. Researchers believe that the sexual abuse of children with disability is underreported due to:
- fewer supports to help them to speak out about their abuse
- fear they will not be believed
- a lack of words or language to understand or name the abuse
- a dependency on the abuser to meet their daily needs
- limited information about their safety
- limited knowledge and skills to escape unsafe situations
- lack of understanding of what is normal behaviour
- parents and others not wanting to pursue criminal justice proceedings
- children with disability being regarded as unreliable witnesses
- disability and other care staff being unaware of or overlooking incidents that constitute sexual abuse.
Because the sexual abuse of children with disability may be overlooked, minimized or even silenced, the impact of the abuse is still wide reaching and pervasive. Consider a child and family’s needs holistically and aim to address not only the harm caused by the abuse of the child with disability, but the damage that is done to the family system, relationships and family identity.
While there is often an absence of specific services for children and young people with disability at risk of sexual abuse, or who have been sexually abused, researchers and advocates recommend that children with disability should be included in all child-focused prevention and intervention approaches, including learning about sexual abuse and being taught protective behaviours to help keep themselves safe from abuse. (Llewellyn et al, 2016)
Practitioners need to ensure the voices of children with disability are present in all matters affecting their lives. In supporting children with communication difficulties, it is recommended that practitioners have someone present who knows the child well and who understands the child’s communication needs. Do not rely on information from a person who is responsible for harm to a child as they may purposefully misinterpret or misidentify a child’s communication needs to conceal their abuse or prevent a child from disclosing abuse.
The Speak up and be safe from abuse website has a number of resources for people with communication difficulties to assist individuals to identify and report abuse. (Refer to the practice kit Disability.)
WWILD is a sexual violence prevention service based in Brisbane that provides support to people with intellectual or learning disabilities, aged 12 years and over, who have experienced sexual abuse or have been victims of crime. They provide information, counselling support, training and resources.
For children and adults with a disability who demonstrate sexually abusive behaviours, their ability to understand the concerns and enact safety plans may be impacted. Specialist support should be sought to understand a person’s needs and the impact the disability has on their capacity to understand the concerns and address the risk they may pose to themselves or others.
Refer to the practice kit Disability Engage with a child with disability for further information on communicating and working with children with disability.
WWILD has easy read and accessible resources to assist carers, disability workers and practitioners:
- You Deserve To Be Safe: an easyread booklet about sexual assault
- What to do if someone hurts you: an easy read booklet about abuse that uses digital technology.
Specialist Services and the Specialist Practice team can provide information and support about access to counselling services in your area, for children and young people with disability who have been sexually abused or are at risk of being sexually abused.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families
To understand the needs of families who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, consider that each family has a unique connection to their culture and community and that an understanding of what this means for the family needs to form part of the assessment and intervention.
Safe cultural connections and relationships with safe family members are protective and healing for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse. Consult with culturally appropriate services and people when considering interventions for children and families who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Support the family to understand the options available to them for support regarding child sexual abuse, and listen to the family’s views and wishes.
Understanding cultural protocols is important when discussing matters of a sexual nature with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Ask Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families about any protocols that need to be followed. For example, only people of the same gender are able to talk about certain subjects such as sexual abuse. It may be considered ‘shame’ for a female or male young person to talk to practitioners of the opposite gender about topics of a sexual nature.
If a conversation needs to go ahead, it is appropriate to check with the child or parents to see if there is someone who is trusted and of the same gender as the child, to support them through the process (such as a relative, Elder or worker from a community service known to the child). Listen to the child as to who they feel safe with and who is best to support them.
Refer to the practice kit Safe care and connection to understand cultural protocolswhen discussing matters with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
Culturally and linguistically diverse children and their families
Children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can have different perspectives of what constitutes child sexual abuse, what is the culture of the family and what may be required for a child to assist in their recovery. Take the time to understand a child and family’s cultural heritage and how their culture can support ongoing safety planning and healing for a child who has experienced abuse. There may be sensitivities practitioners need to be aware of when responding to the sexual abuse of a child from a particular culture. To be culturally responsive and to understand the family’s culture, ask the family, and seek appropriate support and advice from cultural elders, government and community organisations.
Refer to Understanding indicators of child sexual abuse and barriers to disclosure to further understand the barriers children and families from culturally diverse backgrounds face when it comes to child sexual abuse.
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