Charity’s forced suspension of support for children who have experienced abuse is alarming

The Irish News view: There should be parity in how child and adult victims of abuse are supported

A sad lonely boy at home
Nexus says it can no longer offer support to four to seven-year-olds who have experienced abuse (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The sexual abuse of children is a heinous crime with which we in Ireland have become distressingly familiar, largely through the scandals involving the Catholic Church and paedophile priests.

One of the consequences is that organisations including Churches, sports clubs, schools and anywhere else that adults interact with children have had to put in place structures that firmly prioritise the safeguarding and protection of the young and vulnerable.

Tragically, despite all the safety measures and heightened awareness of the warning signs, abuse still occurs, whether in family settings or elsewhere.

That’s why services to support those who have been abused are absolutely vital. The Department of Health and the health trusts provide and fund many of these services, including - along with the PSNI - the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Antrim.

This is highly specialised and complex work. Anyone serving in this uniquely demanding area deserves our sincere gratitude.

As in all parts of health and social care, these services are stretched. One important area facing particular pressures relates to the specialist support for children and young people affected by abuse.

Nexus, which works with people impacted by sexual abuse, says funding difficulties mean it can no longer carry out counselling with children aged between four and seven years old. It has also had to pause its support for more than 60 children aged between eight and 16. Nor can it take any new referrals for anyone aged under 16.

This is an alarming development. Nexus chief executive Joanne Barnes has called on the Department of Health to urgently fill the funding gap. It is worrying that, as Ms Barnes points out, “ring-fenced central government funding to provide specialist trauma-informed support for children impacted by sexual abuse has never been available in Northern Ireland”, though it is for adults.

That is an unsustainable position. It is difficult to understand how a situation has been allowed to develop where children who have experienced abuse don’t have access to some specialist government-funded services but adults do.

Enabling work of the specific sort that Nexus carries out with young people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse is vital. It is different from, if complementary to, the interventions offered by health trusts’ Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

As such, it should be resourced properly by the department so there is parity in the support offered to adults and children in need.