Children’s perspectives on family members’ needs and support after child sexual abuse

Warrington, Camille, Beckett, Helen Louise, Allnock, Debra and Soares, Clare (2023) Children’s perspectives on family members’ needs and support after child sexual abuse. Children and Youth Services Review, 149 . ISSN 0190-7409

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Intra-familial child sexual abuse is acknowledged to have wide-reaching impacts within the family environment; impacts that can affect both non-abusing family members’ own wellbeing and their capacity to support the child who has been abused. Yet research also demonstrates the important role that can be played by family members,in the aftermath of the identification of abuse, when appropriately supported. This article builds on this existing evidence base (that is primarily drawn from research with parents/carers and professionals) through analysing a unique qualitative data set, developed using interviews and a creative ‘toolkit’ approach with 53 children and young people (aged 6–19 years), who had experienced sexual abuse in the family environment. The article explores their perspectives on the wider family impacts of identification of abuse, their perceptions of the
associated support needs of other family members and their understanding of how this relates to their own recovery. The findings firstly suggest the need to recognise children’s relationships with non-abusing family members as a fundamental and interdependent aspect of their recovery in the aftermath of sexual abuse in the
family environment. Secondly, they demonstrate the need to recognise the high levels of (self-perceived) responsibility that child victims experience for impacts on their non-abusing family members. Finally, they highlight how professional support to non-abusing family members is explicitly identified as an unmet need by
children themselves, and how crucial it is to alleviate what children describe as the ‘ripple effect’ of additional challenges and harms emanating after abuse is identified. The article concludes by considering the implications of these findings, further strengthening arguments around the importance of viewing children’s needs relationally and the unique and critical insights to be gained from involving children in research addressing child sexual abuse.

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