Child sex abuse: Therapy seen as key to prevent re-offending

The need for sex offenders to have access to appropriate treatment services is recognised by Children First, the national guideline for the protection and welfare of children.

One of those is the Building Better Lives (BBL) sex offender programme delivered in Arbour Hill prison by a team of psychologists. It has three components: exploring, practising, and maintaining better lives.

The Exploring Better Lives (EBL) programme is carried out over two months, after which the six-month Practicing Better Lives (PBL) programme is taken. The final four-month Maintaining Better Lives (MBL) programme is taken a minimum of one year after completion of the PBL.

The focus of the Building Better Lives programme is to develop motivation and confidence about positive change. The PBL component focuses on obtaining a more detailed understanding of past offending and developing positive offence-free self-management plans for the future. The MBL component includes a care plan to help with the transition from prison to community based support.

The programmes are not compulsory .

According to Andrew Kelly, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, there were 401 sex offenders within the Irish Prison Service (IPS) as of August 6. Confirming that the BBL programme has been running in Irish prisons since 2009 he says: “The IPS has a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the range and availability of therapeutic interventions for sex offenders in prison and at increasing the participation rates in same.”

Mr Kelly describes the BBL programme as a “therapeutic programme based on international best practice that takes place at individual and group level, for men who acknowledge that they have committed a sexual offence”.

Acknowledging that at present the group programme only operates at Arbour Hill, he says that individual intervention takes place in other prisons.

Typically offenders participating in the BBL programmes undergo six to eight hours of risk assessment. They then engage in 18 sessions aimed at enhancing their motivation and identification of their treatment targets. After that, there is approximately 60 to 70 sessions of in-depth therapeutic and risk relevant work.

Throughout, the prisoners’ progress and level of engagement is reviewed. To remain in the programme, participants must be deemed to be engaging to the required level. Meetings with key supports and family are also undertaken. On average, participating offenders undergo approximately 220 hours of assessment, treatment, support, and planning for resettlement.

At its core, according to Mr Kelly, the BBL entails a very comprehensive and intensive offence-focused intervention that feeds into detailed risk and resettlement planning.

Acknowledging there is an “extensive waiting list” Mr Kelly says there are “between 40 and 50” offenders availing of it.

The Probation Service facilitates the third stand of the programme, focusing on maintenance of risk related change and resettlement issues. It also works with the IPS to ensure assessment intervention and risk management is provided to “the largest number of sex offenders”.

Outside of prison, One In Four runs the Phoenix Programme — a therapeutic intervention programme for child sex offenders.

Executive director Maeve Lewis said: “The aim is to keep children safe. So far we have worked with 119 offenders, and to the best of our knowledge, a total of four of those have subsequently re-offended.”

The programme involves group talk-therapy over a two year period, followed by 18 months attendance at an after-care group. “All the men attending have sexually abused children and all are aware that both Tusla [the child and family agency] and the gardaí are made aware of the identities of those who attend,” Ms Lewis said.

While many of those who have or are attending have never been convicted of a crime, Ms Lewis said: “Very few sex offenders ever face a Garda investigation because most sexually abused victims — while they want the abuse to stop — don’t necessarily want a brother, father or other family member to go to prison.”


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