Child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation has expanded the work it does with sex abusers and their victims in response to a growing number of referrals for its services. The charity’s integrated family team, which works with people convicted of or suspected of sexually abusing children, the victims and their families has expanded from six staff when it was set up in 1993 to 15 now.
The team also carries out training programmes for social workers, the police and probation service, and organisations including housing associations and women’s refuges. It runs courses on issues such as risk assessment in families, the management of internet offending cases, civil proceedings and the safe recruitment and management of staff in organisations where people are in charge of children, such as schools.
The team consists of specialist adult and children’s therapists with backgrounds in the probation service or child protection. Its expansion means it can now work with children as young as four and has the capacity to interview and treat couples together.
The team takes referrals from courts or local authorities which ask it to provide independent assessments of families where there are sexual abuse concerns.
In each case a team of therapists interviews the family and draws up a report recommending a course of action, which might include future interventions or therapy. The report can help a local authority make a decision about a family’s future or whether to start court proceedings, or it can be considered as independent expert evidence in cases which have already gone to court.
As well as the assessments the team can recommend and supply intervention and therapy packages to help rehabilitate abusers and support victims. The main hindrance to providing a complete follow-up service to families, however, is that local authorities seldom have the money to fund it.
Team manager Mike Sheath says: “Eighty per cent of our work ends at the door of the court. We suggest work which might be done with the family, either therapy or intervention, but the court won’t fund it, so it can’t enforce it. [The system] leaves certain things undone.”
More funding needed
Liz Bond, solicitor at Bowmans family law firm in Leeds, who has referred clients to the service, says: “It can often be frustrating because it can leave people feeling that in some way they are not much further forward. But it’s not a failure of the service, it’s a failure of integration [of the agencies].”
Securing alternative funding sources so it can offer these services free is the charity’s ultimate ambition. Chief executive Hilary Eldridge says: “Private donations are helping us to begin running groups for mothers of children who have been abused, but much more is needed.”
The effectiveness of the service is hard to measure because results are not immediate and the charity may have no further involvement in a case after it has made its report, but there is evidence to show it is well regarded among the lawyers and local authorities which refer cases.
Bond says: “The real benefit is it is one of the few agencies that offers a specialised assessment which will deal with all members of the family. It is simply not available elsewhere. The court usually accepts [what they say] partly because there’s very little with which you could challenge it.”
Eldridge adds: “Referrers like the way we put together teams of specialists to assess whole families. While recognising that the interests of children are paramount, we try to find positive ways forward for all the family members. The high number of repeat referrals shows how much our service is valued.”
This article appeared in the 20 March issue under the headline “A whole family approach2