Despite the horror of child sex abuse depicted in the Ferns, Murphy, Ryan and Cloyne reports, the HSE still does not have a national network of specialised counsellors available to help children in the aftermath of disclosing their abuse.
A HSE assessment structure is in place to confirm abuse but after that, vulnerable children are just sent home, unless they can travel to Dublin or Limerick for specialised therapy or afford private counselling in their region.
Astonishingly, child and adolescent mental health services are not open to the victims of child sexual abuse as the service “do not view sexual abuse as appropriate to their services as it is not a mental illness”, according to voluntary organisation, Cari (Children at Risk in Ireland). CAMHS will offer emergency therapy if a child has exhibited suicidal thoughts.
Cari, which receives HSE funding, is providing therapy to children and their parents in Dublin and Limerick but due to budgetary cutbacks, has shut its services in Cork, Naas and Wicklow clinics in recent years. It also slashed its number of therapists by a third.
There are now 30 families in Dublin and 19 in Limerick on waiting lists, with many not getting counselling until six to 12 months after the abuse is initially confirmed.
ISPCC director of services Caroline O’Sullivan said therapy is vital if children are to overcome the long-term effects of sexual abuse. “If they can get therapy as children, they can go on to live happy, contented lives. If not, simply, they won’t have that same opportunity”.
International research shows that child sex abuse can lead to mental illness, suicide, addiction, poor social skills and criminality.
The HSE only provides assessment and specialised therapy for the country’s children at two units at Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin, and at Temple Street Children’s Hospital.
The HSE defended its funding for child sexual abuse therapy, saying it provides services for children at sexual abuse centres in Dublin, Waterford and Cork. However, Cari has said the Waterford and Cork services are assessment only.
“A wide range of therapeutic and treatment services are also provided by the following: psychology services, mental health services, the ATHRU service in Galway, the COSC service in Donegal, the NIAP service in north Dublin and the SIAT service in south Dublin. The HSE also provides children’s residential care services in the south east,” a spokesman said.
Cari said the bulk of these services are aimed at children who have offended themselves.