Note from Community Family Care: This article suggests that helping young people who sexually harm means taking account of their early experiences, their values and what may have led them to have issues around this type of behaviour. Those working with them need to see the child, rather than the behaviour and to involve the family in the work.
“I’ve worked at Branas Isaf for 12 and a half years now, working with boys aged 10 to 19 who display harmful sexual behaviour. It is the only work Branas has ever specialised in.
"Working with these young people isn’t just a case of focusing on the behaviour. We work around the young person’s early childhood experiences and where their values have come from; their identity and what may have led them to have issues around harmful sexual behaviour.
"A lot of the children have experienced extreme trauma, which has impacted upon their development. You have to be non-judgmental and able to see the individual person, the child, rather than the behaviour. You also have to be able to recognise your own feelings when dealing with disclosures. I think if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t work with this client group.
"It’s about seeing the person underneath, and it’s important to remember that, provided they get the treatment and support they need, a lot of children with harmful sexual behaviours do not become adult sex offenders - much of the time it is learnt behaviour or a lack of knowledge or understanding.
"Our approach has shifted a lot since I started. A few years ago it was all about managing risk, but research has found controlling risky situations doesn't prepare young people for when these controls are no longer in place. You need to take some manageable risk if young people are going to develop, and support them to develop skills to manage risks better for themselves.
Managing risk effectively
"To do this we've developed a Risk Matrix model. It evidences why the team made a decision and what support measures are required. If you just shut young people off from the world just to manage the risk they don’t develop and that means when they leave here or need to live independently they lack those skills.
"Work around peer relationships is very important too. We encourage young people to join local clubs and groups, such as football teams, and do work experience depending on what is appropriate for that young person and their circumstances.
Integrated care and moving on
"It’s also important that there's consistency in the messages young people get when they're here. Our integrated team of care, education and therapy work closely on a day-to-day basis and we also work very closely with external agencies, such as youth offending team workers, and invite them to meetings so we can make sure we’re all giving the same messages.
"Preparing young people for independence is a big deal. We complete a detailed discharge report for each young person, which details the work undertaken with them and recommendations for ongoing support, as well as their strengths and potential for future risk.
Unresolved family issues
"We've also learnt you need to involve the family in the work. There may be issues about what has happened that need to be resolved, and while a young person might have moved on during their time with us, the family might still be stuck at the time when the young person left.
"So we do family therapy too - there’s no point doing all this work with the young person only to put them back into an environment where issues are unresolved."