Tusla, the Child and Family Agency confirmed plans to introduce the Sexually Harmful Behaviour services (SHBS). Currently, support for underage sex offenders has been fragmented with large parts of rural Ireland having no access to a public service.
A national programme for young abusers was first proposed in 2005 following the publication of the Ferns Report. Preparations were finalised by a HSE steering committee in 2013. Gardaí, the HSE, the Children’s Hospital Group, the Probation Service and CARI, a therapy service for child victims of sexual abuse, will be involved.
“Sexually Harmful Behaviour Services provide a range of services to young people and families, including advice and consultation to families, comprehensive assessments, treatment planning, psychometric testing, individual and group therapy with young people and parents, parental support and aftercare,” said Tusla spokeswoman.
“The priority of the national service will be the safeguarding of children,” Tusla said, indicating the service will be integrated with child protection and criminal justice agencies on a national and local level.
The service will involve bringing existing services in Leinster and Connacht under central control “to ensure a consistent national service approach”. A new service will be introduced in the southern region. Two people have already being appointed to the national service including a principal psychologist. Tusla, seeking two further staff, estimate the service will cost €350,000 to set up.
Dublin’s Northside Interagency Project (NIAP) will act as the model for the new service, Tusla said. NIAP was set up in 1992. It has since assisted over 250 young sex offenders and their families.
Its aims are to prevent further sexual offending through early intervention and treatment of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 years, and involves group therapy with the offender’s families and carers. Most of the offenders NIAP deal with have not been reported to gardaí or have been dealt with outside of the courts through warnings and garda diversion programmes. Around a quarter of sexual abuse cases involve offenders under the age of 18 according to the SAVI report.
The national service will deal with both male and females. Reported sexual abuse by girls remains a small minority but has increased in recent years. In the past two years NIAP has worked with three girls compared to just one in the previous 22 years.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said the service would be a “win-win” for victims and offenders. “We can stop these children from going on to becoming adult sexual abusers and we can stop others being victimised by them,” said a spokeswoman. “We know that intervening early with children who have behaved in a harmful way sexually can be very effective.