Social services “very poor” when working with child sexual abuse survivors, survey finds

Survey author Noel Smith said both children's and adult's social care need to improve support

Photo: Cultura/REX Shuttershock (posed by model)

Both children’s and adults’ social care need to improve their support to survivors of child sexual abuse, according to the author of research which found social services provide a “very poor” service in half of cases.

University Campus Suffolk and Survivors in Transition surveyed more than 400 survivors of child sexual abuse, and 50% who had accessed social services said the service they received was “very poor”. Respondents in the survey had accessed support services between 1975 and 2015, and the average time between the start of abuse and accessing support was 20 years.

‘Up the game’

Noel Smith, head of the Department for Psychology, Sociology and Social Work at University Campus Suffolk, said the burden of support was on both adults’ and children’s teams.

“It’s very important for children and family social work teams to up the game in tackling abuse… [But] I think it is really important to highlight it’s not just the responsibility of children and family services. When you’re talking about this abuse you’re talking about supporting survivors as well and that’s very much in hand with adults’ services.”

A whole family and relationship-based approach is needed to help improve the service social workers give in preventing abuse, and supporting survivors, Smith added.

Heard, believed and respected

Less than a fifth of total respondents had used social services, which were rated as the worst of all support services in how well they heard, believed and respected survivors. Accident & Emergency and the police were also rated poorly.

“Alarmingly, over 30 percent of those who had continued to be abused after making disclosures had disclosed to a statutory service such as a GP, social worker, doctor, or teacher,” the report said.

The survey also found only 19% of survivors disclose because they are asked, and it called for services to be more proactive in asking service users about abuses.

“Statutory services were no more likely to proactively discover abuse by asking direct questions than, say, survivors’ friends and family. The onus falls on survivors to speak out about their abuse and many can find this in itself traumatic,” the report said.

The report concluded: “It is clear from the survey that voluntary and independent sector services are leading the way, over statutory sector services, in providing the support which survivors find most helpful.

“Recognising that successful practice is currently concentrated in the voluntary and independent sector should mean that this sector is tasked and resourced to take the leading role in the future development of work in this area in the UK.”

Consistent findings

Smith said the findings continued to be relevant even though some respondents had accessed services as far back as 1975 and the research covered a 40-year period.

He said the quality of services remained consistent throughout that period of time. “One thing we were expecting in the survey was to see a step change in people’s experiences of services, but when we looked there were some small nuanced changes of services, like satisfaction rates for police and hospitals, but quite nuanced things, which are quite difficult to be confident about. What we certainly didn’t see, and it surprised us, was a step change.”

He added: “If there had been a real shift and services were dramatically better from a survivor perspective, I think we would have seen that.”

3 Responses to Social services “very poor” when working with child sexual abuse survivors, survey finds

  1. FosterCarer1964 November 2, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    I believe this to be true. I have worked with several seriously abused children over ten years of Fostering. There seems to be little support or knowledge about their likely behaviour based on their experiences and worryingly a tradition amongst some to hide sexualised behaviour and abuse to get a placement. Keeping vital Safe Care information back until the placement starts even when other children are put at risk..
    I have experienced a serious sexual assault by one sibling to the other which when reported the reply dumbfounded us, – “maybe the children are bored in the summer holidays.” At the time we were mortified and pressed very hard for more to be done (which resulted in us being the bad guys).
    I do think though that better understanding and procedure to support the families who dare take (or end up with) the risk is needed to encourage Foster Carers to take the more challenging cases..
    One of the other things we find is children are often encouraged to speak about sad things when they are taken to one side by any of the many people in their lives but get no attention when things are okay. Feeding misery as I call it creates problems by encouraging the child to say things to get more attention. Some children will make up stories about other children or adults to get out of class or get a happy meal.
    After a malicious allegations was made against me, the full weight of “procedure” fell on me for 9 months leaving me and my family too scared to take any more sexually abused children. The child gets the wrong support and the Foster Carer gets left to get on with it without support or understanding (by other agencies) of Looked After Children with complex needs..

  2. Sheva Burton November 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    I filled in this survey, and have recieved poor treatment, but it is worse than just being unsupported, many adult survivors of CSA are losing their children to ‘care;, under the ‘at risk of emotional harm’ label. Condemned, and in fact i often found the very treatment recieved was triggering, psych reports condemning, with no compassion and no help offered, instead even tho i sourced support and my child returned, saving hundreds of pounds per week in costs, i could not be funded to get the therapy, i knew i still needed. I too, have been more than disappointed with the lack of a step change, having campaigned in the early 90’s for survivors to be heard and helped, more. There are ‘experts’, like Norma Howes who regularly condemned parents in court, yet also gave therapy to child rapists and also trained social workers through the Survivors Trust, so why was there no improvement, and so many children needlessly taken into care, and if you can imagine how that would feel to a parent, that was abused in care, then obviously they might display alot of anguish, anger, that is then used against them, too.

  3. sunny monday November 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    In my experience service responses to victims of abuse has been unbelievably bad. I also firmly believe that is is not just the experiences that are important, but what happens next to somebody is key. If they are well supported by professionals, family and friends then the damage is minimised, on the other hand, if they are dismissed the multitude of negative feelings are intensified and impact hugely on the rest of life. Suicide attempts, medicating with drugs/alcohol, further abusive relationships, mental health problems, children in care, etc, etc. The cost to the individual and to us all cannot be underestimated. Time for more compassion please.