There is clear evidence linking childhood sexual abuse to a wide range of subsequent psychological and mental health problems (see Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Lifelong Consequences of Trauma, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998).
Young people affected by sexual harm can need a range of services; services should be able to provide consultation, signposting, individual psychological interventions or group therapy as needed, to reduce the chances of long-term mental health problems.
Sexual abuse and exploitation can happen at any point in childhood, but it may not be until a young person is older before they feel ready to talk through their experiences.
Young people who have experienced sexual harm are often given labels of ‘personality disorder’ when they are over 18 years old (or even ‘emerging personality disorder’ when they are under 18) when it may be that they don’t have a ‘diagnosable’ difficulty.
However, it is more helpful to understand a young person’s difficulties in the context of trauma and sexual abuse.
Services can often ignore such experiences or never ask about them, but it is crucial that services take a trauma-informed approach and that there is a systemic and cross-agency perspective when working with people who have had a history of sexual harm.
The way services are set up, transitions are often difficult. The threshold for adult mental health services are often much higher than those for CAMHS, which can mean young people who have suffered sexual harm can be lost to help.
That being the case, it is good to see that this conference also focuses on children and young people from 0-25 years old, as extending CAMHS services into young adulthood helps avoid the abrupt transition to adult services in this sensitive period of development.
It is also in line with the World Health Organisation, which recommends extending youth services beyond 18 years.
The workshop promises to be a valuable opportunity for professionals working with young people to develop their skills in helping those who have suffered sexual harm.
For more information on the workshop next week, please click here.