NSPCC Conference 2016
How safe are our children?
The UK could be severely under-estimating child abuse levels according to US actor and director David Schwimmer, best known for his role as Ross Geller in the TV series Friends.
Speaking at a recent NSPCC national conference in London, he said US estimates show severe abuse impacts on one-in-four young people, as opposed to the figure of one in six 11-17-year-olds cited in the NSPCC’s 2016 review How Safe Are Our Children?
The star was supporting an innovative Nordic-style intervention for young victims of sexual abuse about to be trialled in London and Durham by the Home Office.
Modelled on an Icelandic concept, the scheme uses specially designed “child houses” where victims receive medical and forensic examination, counselling and psychological support all at the same time as they cope with the police interview process.
In the Icelandic model, the child is interviewed only once by a psychologist in a homely environment viewed through a one-way screen by police, the prosecution and defence lawyers and the judge hearing the case. The judge can ask questions via the interviewing psychologist and the process is filmed for later court use, meaning the victim is interviewed only once and can then receive treatment immediately.
The system is widely used in Scandinavia and at Stuart House, the Rape Foundation’s specialist treatment centre in Santa Monica, of which Schwimmer has been a director for 12 years. He told the conference the thinking behind the approach was to minimise the impact on victims of child sexual abuse by avoiding having children repeatedly questioned by different professional agencies as part of the legal process before therapy and emotional support could be provided.
The three UK homes – two in London and one in Durham – are expected to open next year after the NHS backed plans drawn up by the NSPCC. The Home Office has provided £10million funding for the initiative. The approach will differ slightly from the Scandinavian model because of the UK legal structure but the goal is to provide less risk of re-traumatisation and quicker access to treatment for young sexual abuse victims.
Ron Harper, a Senior Counselling Psychologist with the Bryn Melyn Care Clinical Team, attended the two-day conference at the Royal College of Physicians, which also featured keynote speeches from film director and campaigner Baroness Kidron; Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk and Police National Child Protection Lead; and Clinical Psychologist, author and broadcaster Oliver James.
Some key statistics from the NSPCC report for 2016 include:
- Police recorded child sexual offences up 76 per cent in the UK between 2010 and 2015 – 80 per cent in England, 48 per cent in Wales
- Police recorded cruelty and neglect offences up 26 per cent in the same period – 46 per cent in England, 48 per cent in Wales
- Children becoming subject to a child protection plan up 24 per cent
- Children becoming Looked After Children because of abuse or neglect up 16 per cent – 17 per cent in England and 11 per cent in Wales
- The number of children dying due to homicide or assault is in long-term decline
- Five-year average suicide rates for 15-19-year-olds are rising in England after ten years in decline
- Counselling sessions about sexting for children have increased by 15 per cent since last year
- There has been a 24 per cent increase in the number of children in the child protection system in the UK over the past five years
- In England and Wales neglect is the most common reason for children becoming subject to a child protection plan or being put on the child protection register
- More than 60 per cent of children in care in England and Wales are looked after due to abuse or neglect
- Between six and ten per cent of Looked After Children have three or more placements in a year
- The National Crime Agency estimates there were 732 children trafficked in 2014
Debating forums and workshops during the conference covered key issues including:
- The risks to young people of online profiles and sexting
- Building resilience in young people and carers
- Improving approaches to sex and relationships education in schools
- Working with perpetrators to prevent child sexual abuse
- Responding to peer-to-peer abuse and preventing sexual abuse in schools
- Identifying best practice models for helping abused and neglected children
- Responding effectively to abuse trauma through mental health support services.
Participants in these debates included Johnny Gwynne, Director of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP); Katie O’Donovan, Public Policy and Government Relations Manager for Google; Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of Internet Watch Foundation; Will Gardner, Chief Executive of Childnet; Sue North, Education and Social Care Advisor for NHS England; Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s’ Network UK; Matthew McVarish, actor and campaigner for Road to Change; Mike Sheath, Manager of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation; Professor Tanya Byron, psychologist and writer; and Sarah Constable, Partnership and Planning Officer, Telford and Wrekin Council.