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HSE failing today's child sex abuse victims with lack of counselling services

HSE counselling services for children specifically exclude child sexual abuse as it is not considered a mental health issue.

Image: Child's hands image via Shutterstock

THE HSE HAS been criticised  for its failure to protect today’s children, by an organisation providing therapy to those who have been victims of sexual abuse.

The CARI Foundation, which has been campaigning for specialised HSE counselling services for children who have been sexually assaulted, said it has now been forced to reduce its own offering across the country due to a reduction in funding.

TheJournal.ie has learned of one case of a child who was the victim of a sexual assault six months ago and has since tried to end her own life. Her family are still waiting for the HSE to assign a counsellor.

Mary Flaherty, CEO of CARI said this is not a rare example and described the lack of counselling facilities for sexual abuse victims as an “inexplicable scandal”.

“The simple fact is that there are no specialised services to deal with the huge issues the children are dealing with,” she said.

Flaherty said that the HSE’s child and adolescent mental health services do not take in sexual abuse victims as “child sex abuse is not considered a mental health issue”.

“If they attempt suicide, they’ll just get emergency counselling and then there’s no longterm care,” she said. “Most of the services specifically exclude sexual abuse because it’s not one of the catagories. It’s almost beyond belief that we will diagnose and confirm abuse, we’ll investigate it and then after it’s confirmed the children are just told ‘off you go’”.

Historic abuse

Flaherty said that the focus on addressing past abuse has led to the government ignoring children who are being abused today.

“Right now the government is concentrating on the historic abuse and this led to all of the investment going into adult services with national centres set up for adults who were victims as children etc.” she said.

When it comes to ourselves, we’re based in Dublin and Limerick having pulled out of Cork due to reduced funding. We have two children’s hospitals and there are some small localised services which are very minimal, so basically we have no equivalent to the adult counselling service.

She said that adults who were victims as children are often “horrifed” to hear that the state is not offering support services to children who are being abused today.

“We have had calls from women who were abused in childhood who would love to think that there is a service for children today and they would have presumed there was,” she said.

HSE services

When contacted by TheJournal.ie, the HSE said it receives an average of 2,500 reports of child sexual abuse each year and provides and funds services for children who have suffered sexual abuse and their families.

It said services are provided at four sexual abuse centres in two hospitals in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Cork.

A wide range of therapeutic and treatment services are also provided by the following: psychology services, mental health services, the ATHRU service in Galway, the COSC service in Donegal, the NIAP service in north Dublin and the SIAT service in south Dublin. The HSE also provides children’s residential care services in the South East.

However Flaherty said there are still whole areas around the country where these kinds of services – state-run or otherwise- simply don’t exist and the limited service available are stretched to their limit.

The CARI waiting list for counselling has gone from two or three months now up to 12 months with 29 people currently waiting for the service in Dublin and 19 in Limerick.

“Children are travelling down from Drogheda, Louth, lots of places that we used to do outreach services but as our resources declined we were losing time travelling and losing money renting additional premises,” Flaherty said.

Struggling with everyday life

“If the children don’t access counselling and it’s left untreated, they tend to struggle to deal with every day life,” she said. “Many of them self-harm, they struggle at school and some go on to develop problems with addiction. If they’re given a chance to process it, they can return to school with all of that confusion and anger processed and it gives them at least a chance to move on”.

The government has approved the Heads of the Child and Family Support Agency Bill which would include the establishment of a Child and Family Agency. In February this year CARI made a presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in which it appealed to the government to establish a national service.

Flaherty said that the current plan that a national service be put in place using existing resources within the HSE is “laughable”.

“The approach seems to be to try to spread current services around the country. We don’t see this as possible because the number of therapists with experience with adolescents who have been through this type of trauma is so small.”

Read: Dublin Rape Crisis Centre took almost 12,000 calls last year>
Read: Child protection reviews reveal 378 abuse allegations about 146 individuals>

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