Child sexual abuse in Ireland is an ongoing crisis, with over 225 children as young as 3 years of age waiting for therapy services. That’s according to Children at Risk Ireland (CARI), the leading agency offering counselling and support to child victims of sexual abuse and their families.
“There has been a spate of media reports on child abuse, which often feature historic cases,” says Emer O’Neill, CARI’S Head of Therapy. “This can give the illusion that the problem may not be as bad today. But this is not so, and children and their families are crying out for urgent support.”
Ms O’Neill says CARI need more funding so they can increase their resources to meet current needs. “If a three-year-old victim of sexual abuse is forced to wait three, four or more years for therapy, the effects can be devastating for the child and their families. The child and their family can feel isolated, ashamed, and alone. They can feel that nobody understands what they are facing. If appropriate support is not in place for children and families, there is a huge impact on their mental struggle to maintain relationships.”
Media Shine Light on Child Sexual Abuse
But Ms O’ Neill said it was also important to welcome media reporting of child sexual abuse. “It shines a light on an horrific issue that requires constant vigilance. In some cases, this can prompt parents and caregivers to act on concerns they may have for their child, but were afraid to express or explore.”
“If you fear a child has been sexually abused, there are signs for parents and carers to look out for. For example, has there been a change in your child’s behaviour? Have they become aggressive, withdrawn, developed sleep issues or bed wetting or been clingy? Have there been issues in school, such as lack of concentration or dropping?”
“Have they developed any health issues, including soreness in their private areas, displayed sexually inappropriate behaviour and been using sexually explicit language? Has your child been afraid of a particular person, trying to avoid being alone with them? Your child may give clues by dropping hints and clues without saying what is happening.”
Emer says CARI is there to offer support and advice for any parent or caregiver who has concerns on 0818 924567, from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. “Anyone can call CARI with any concern about child sexual abuse and we will assist and guide them through the process of child protection.”
CARI Support for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse
“CARI is here to help these children, their families and non-abusing parent, who are all impacted by child sexual abuse. We are the leading charity providing child-centred, age appropriate, therapy for children and adolescents who have been affected by sexual abuse. CARI also provides therapy to children, up to (and including) age 12 who present with sexually harmful behaviours. We also work with parents, carers, and the wider community to help them support children and adolescents recovering from the trauma of child sexual abuse.”
“We provide a warm and safe environment so children in therapy can express and explore his/her feelings and make sense of experiences. Children use therapy in a variety of ways. Some talk and others use a range of media e.g., paint, clay, toys to explore their feelings and develop a healthy way of coping with them. Therapy goes at the child’s pace and the child can have as much or as little time as they need.”
Emer says the CARI Helpline – 0818 924567 – also offers information, signposting and support to families impacted by child sexual abuse. “Our Helpline responds to calls from professionals seeking referral advice, parents who need advice on recent disclosures and parents who are concerned about their child’s sexually harmful behaviour.
Ms O’Neill appealed for wider public and Government support to fund their work with child victims of sexual abuse and their families. “With your help, we have managed to reduce our waiting lists below 5 years for the first time since Covid. But it’s still too long. Children should not have to wait years for such essential therapy. So please support our Christmas Appeal here at www.Cari.ie/donate/ .”