Playing our part in Children’s Mental Health Week

This week is Place2B’s Children’s Mental Health Week with the theme this year being ‘building resilience’ and helping young people move forward from life’s challenges.

Sexual exploitation and sexual violence can have serious psychological consequences for the young people affected. The Department of Health’s 2013 report on Sexual Assault Services explains how these can include depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis, drug and substance misuse, self-harm and suicide. These are just some of the mental health issues that we see in young victims of sexual exploitation; however, the report also states that many only present in adulthood, emphasising the importance of effective early intervention when working with young victims of sexual exploitation and sexual violence.

We were selected to take part in the University of Bedfordshire’s Making Justice Work research project released in 2015, which looked at the experiences of criminal justice for children and young people affected by sexual exploitation as victims and witnesses. A number of young people we have previously worked with, along with their support workers at Safe and Sound, and those from similar services in the UK, were involved in the research which brought up the importance of appropriate support for young people involved in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) following sexual exploitation.

It was found that the anticipation of their court case often impacted on a young person’s general wellbeing and mental health, in some cases leading to ‘loss of appetite; feelings of fear, confusion, anxiety, loneliness or depression; physical sickness and a desire to self harm.’ The young people’s experiences often referred to the daunting and traumatic nature of the court process.

One young person said:

“I know with sentencing everybody’s sat out in the waiting area. Like criminals, families of victims, they’re all just sat in the same place…[The suspect] kept walking past me to go to the toilet and I had to have a police officer sat with me the whole time because of him walking past me. It shouldn’t be like that. It should be separated…The second time [different court case] I did have a room to go into. My ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Adviser) sorted that out for me; we had no idea that was available”

The provision of appropriate support is critical for young people, who are already potentially vulnerable as a result of their experience/s; both to enable them to contribute effectively through the trial, and to ensure they have emotional support and advocacy.

Our Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) helps provide practical and emotional support, independent from statutory organisations, to ensure victims are aware of their options, their rights and the services available to them following child sexual exploitation. All victims are entitled to the provision of this service and we would encourage professionals to be aware of this when working with a young person who is involved in a police investigation relating to child sexual exploitation and to consider ISVA support at the earliest opportunity, with potential progression to court proceedings.

It’s important to recognise that young people who have experienced child sexual exploitation are often affected into adulthood, both in terms of their mental health and ability to cope with what has happened to them, but also in terms of their engagement with positive activities which can help them to move forwards and live independent lives.

Our new Transitions Worker role has been funded by Comic Relief to help re-engage young survivors of CSE up to the age of 25, in education, training, employment and/or other positive activities and services that can help build their skills, knowledge, confidence and self-esteem.

For both of these roles, we take referrals from all those working with children, young people and vulnerable young adults in Derby and Derbyshire who are or have been at risk or victims of child sexual exploitation.

To find out more about the ISVA service and how to make a referral please contact our ISVA Sharon Jackson – sharon.jackson@safeandsoundgroup.org.uk.

To find out more about our Transitions service and how to make a referral, please contact our Transitions Worker Anna Roberts – anna.roberts@safeandsoundgroup.org.uk.

Please do not send sensitive details of a young person via these email addresses.

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