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.”
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.”