Tuesday, 16 April 2024
Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Silence around childhood abuse is breaking, but change requires further investment

Childline has published statistics revealing that it delivered 15,515 counselling sessions to children in 2022, of which 2,267 involved first-time disclosures of abuse. Compared to 2021, it saw a 20% increase in the number of children under 11 being counselled for sexual abuse and a 45% increase in boys disclosing online sexual abuse.

Although it is a difficult and sobering truth to face, this uptick in disclosures of abuse is encouraging on two fronts. 

The first is that the earlier a person discloses, the quicker they can begin the process of recovery. NAPAC’s data shows that on average the time it takes to disclose from the moment the abuse stops is a staggering 22 years, the more children who have the support to disclose in childhood, the more this number will drop. In reality, this means that a greater number of survivors will have the chance to manage trauma at an earlier age, leading to a better quality of life further down the road.  

Secondly, it gives us the information to improve safeguarding. When we listen to survivors and support them, we also learn how to better support children and protect them from abusers. NAPAC’s support service benefits from this model, by collating anonymous feedback from survivors we can tailor our approach and resources to the needs of survivors on an ongoing basis.

Sadly, only one in eight abused children are known to authorities when the abuse is occurring, or shortly after it has happened, meaning that around 88% instances of abuse are not reported until much later in adulthood. So few children are able to speak out, and whilst safeguarding is improving the most uncomfortable truth we have to live with is that children were abused, are still being abused, and the majority will not disclose until adulthood. 

This is why it is vital that there is sufficient support for adult survivors of childhood abuse, support should not stop once the survivor turns eighteen. The ramifications of the abuse a survivor endures do not just go away, they will change throughout their life which is why diversity of support is imperative. A survivor’s needs when first disclosing at sixteen will be very different to someone in their forties who is experiencing a flashback or a panic attack. 

Outside of physical or sexual abuse, it is extremely difficult for survivors of emotional abuse, ritual abuse and neglect to access appropriate support, and there is a general lack of expertise in trauma-informed practice amongst medical professionals and frontline staff. In order to enact meaningful change for survivors, we have a responsibility to ensure that appropriate support is available at the time of disclosure and throughout childhood and adulthood, regardless of the type of abuse. 

This means investment in widespread trauma-informed training across public health services and further support options for the overlooked areas of abuse such as neglect, emotional abuse and ritual or organised abuse. The effects of the different types of childhood abuse are so numerous that there is no ‘silver bullet’ or wholesale approach, and we must be mindful of this in our approach to support and safeguarding as we move forward. 

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