Understandably, when we think about sexual abuse, we often think about the impact of the abuse on the individual child. However, it is important to remember that sexual abuse of a child affects the whole family and for parents and carers they are likely to feel overwhelmed by shock, anger, confusion and disbelief.
By supporting them professionals are not only helping the whole family recover, but also increasing the likelihood of the best possible outcome for the child. In fact, parents and carers have a significant influence on how a child will understand and respond to what has happened to them. Research shows that one of the most significant factors in affecting the longer-term impacts of sexual abuse is the support the child receives from their main caregivers and wider family.
Supporting parents and carers: A guide for those working with families affected by child sexual abuse
Sadly, it is not uncommon for parents and carers to feel judged by professionals who sometimes assume they knew about the abuse or appear to see them as failing to protect their child. These feelings can be particularly difficult for a parent if the abuse was carried out by their partner or another of their children. As such, how professionals react and engage with parents and carers is vital – they need respectful, open and honest relationships with the professionals supporting them.
This guide is designed to help professionals understand more about how child sexual abuse affects parents and their children, so that they can support them effectively. It includes situations where the child has been sexually abused by an adult or adults or experienced another child’s harmful sexual behaviour, whether this has taken place inside or outside their family environment. It explores the impact of child sexual abuse carried out in different contexts, and how such abuse can affect families differently. It explains why parents need to receive a supportive response from professionals, and what this involves, and it provides lists of resources and sources of support for professionals to support their work and share with the parents they are working with.
Please note, this guide relates to cases where sexual abuse has already been reported or concerns have already been raised. It does not cover safeguarding actions or what to do when it is suspected that a parent is complicit in the abuse of a child.