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NSPCC: Working together to improve the support available for children who have been sexually abused

Hayley Clark, the acting head of development and impact at the NSPCC, talks about the significant gap in support services for children who have been sexually abused and the Home Office’s new framework for commissioners.

The complex and fragmented commissioning landscape for child sexual abuse support services has resulted in a significant national gap in service provision, which means many children are not getting the support they need to recover from abuse. Recognising this, the Home Office has recently published a commissioning framework that aims to help commissioners in England work more closely and effectively with other commissioning bodies to improve provision of these services.

One of the reasons for gaps in provision and complications in commissioning services is that responsibility for these services cuts across several commissioning bodies, including local authorities, police and crime commissioners, NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups.

At the NSPCC, we’ve long recognised the gap in provision of services both to help children and young people recover after abuse, and to prevent abuse happening in the first place. That’s why it’s been encouraging to see the Home Office have recognised the work we are doing in this area by referencing in the framework three of the NSPCC’s services and approaches that are making a difference to children and young people, and the professionals that work with them.

Hayley Clark 2

Hayley Clark, the acting head of development and impact at the NSPCC

We can only reach a finite number of children ourselves, so we’re helping others to deliver our evidence-based services themselves and use our approaches to improve provision for children in their local area. This work is led by the NSPCC’s Scale-up Unit, which I managed before taking up my current role. It’s a team of individuals dedicated to helping others to successfully implement and deliver our services. Our implementation managers provide training and consultancy to our licenced sites and stick with them on their journey through their first few years of delivering the service or using our approaches to make sure things run smoothly.

The ‘Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework’ is one of these approaches. It’s the first step a local area can take to establish where gaps in provision might be around responding to and supporting children who display unhealthy sexual behaviours and peer-to-peer sexual abuse. We’re working with groups of multi-agency partners across the UK to help them undertake comprehensive audits to understand where they’re doing well and where they have gaps in provision. We’re seeing fantastic examples of joint-working between social care, education, police and health, and an improvement in local area responses. We’ve identified where additional support might be needed and developed resources, such as face-to-face and online training for those working in other sectors.

‘Letting the Future In’ is one of the NSPCC’s main services, delivered by the charity in 18 locations around the UK for children aged four to 17 who have suffered sexual abuse. The programme begins with three or four weekly sessions, held in play-therapy rooms, for practitioners to assess the child’s needs and then select appropriate interventions. They work with each child for about a year, supporting them to recover from the impact of the abuse and work on strengthening the important relationship between the child and their carers. As well as delivering it themselves the NSPCC is always looking to scale-up the service, encouraging local authorities and the health sector to commission providers to deliver the service themselves and apply the learning and expertise gained by the charity to help young people living in their areas.

The success of ‘Letting the Future In’ inspired the NSPCC to be one of the driving forces behind the creation of the UK’s first Child House. Located in Camden ‘The Lighthouse’, which opened in October 2018, has been created for young people living in five London boroughs who have suffered sexual abuse. It is a pioneering project based on the Icelandic Barnahus model, housing all the services and support children and teenagers needs as they navigate the judicial process and work towards a full and lasting recovery from their experiences. ‘The Lighthouse’ is funded by the Home Office, the Mayor’s Office, NHS England and the Department for Education. NHS England has also commissioned the health and wellbeing services, which are provided by University College London Hospitals (UCLH), The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trusts, and the NSPCC.

At the NSPCC we really welcomed the Home Office framework. We hope it supports and encourages more commissioners to seek out services and solutions for children who deserve support to recover from their experiences of sexual abuse and to commission more services such as Letting the Future In.

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