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Dublin: 6°C Wednesday 1 December 2021

Children can recover from sex abuse - but not if they've to wait 6 months for therapy

Children’s charities have been critical of the lack of access to services for children who have been sexually abused, as the HSE does not have the specialist staff to treat them.

Image: child image via Shutterstock

TWO CHILDREN’S CHARITIES have spoken out about the lack of progress in addressing the need for the State to improve specialised therapy services for children who are victims of sexual abuse.

On Monday we reported that the HSE admitted that more than 50 vacancies in mental health services for children still have not been filled, despite the fact that the investment for them was allocated two years ago.

Mary Flaherty, of the CARI Foundation, which provides therapy to children who are victims of sexual abuse, pointed out that the children her organisation works with are not even covered by HSE services because they do not have the specialist personnel. This is despite the fact that there are up to 4,000 new allegations of child sex abuse each year.

“They specifically exclude child sex abuse,” said. “And for specialist services for victims of sex abuse, due to funding cuts, our own services have reduced further”.

For the children availing of the services of this voluntary organisation, there is at least a six month wait and those living outside of Dublin fare worst. Flaherty said the focus needs to shift from historic abuse by the Catholic Church to the new young victims who are suffering now and who need the support of specialist professionals and not to be added to a seemingly endless waiting list.

Tess Noonan, services manager at the ISPCC, which works closely with the CARI Foundation, said it is “vital to have the specialist services” because of the legal side of issues, if the abuse has been reported to the guards.

“People can’t just say “I work with children so I can do it”, especially if they’re trying to provide treatment for the child who has been abused,” she said. ”We would refer people to CARI because we wouldn’t want to cause any harm to the child because we don’t specialise in it.”

Last year, the HSE said it had four sexual abuse centres that offered services to children – two in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Cork and Noonan said children often have to travel long distances just to reach services, once they’ve climbed the waiting list.

The real difficulty is the waiting times and if you’re living in Cork the closest service might be in Limerick. Children who have been sexually abused can recover and come out the other side and that’s great – it points to the resilience of childhood.

“But they need to be believed, they need to be listened to, they need the specialist services,” she added. “People require services at the point of reference – not six months later.”

Related: HSE admits 54 child mental health vacancies are still not filled>

Read: Abuse, violence, mental health: Children in Ireland called for help 664,000 times last year>

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