Manuela fund to help train child advocates to support sexually abused children

Money raised from a foundation set up in memory of a Swiss teenager who was murdered in the city in October 2007 will be used to fund an innovative project which will train volunteers to support children who have been sexually abused.

The children’s charity Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI ), which was awarded €19,000 from the Manuela Riedo Foundation Ireland and from the Commission for Victims of Crime, will fund the project which it is running in association with the Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Treatment Service (CASATS ) in Galway. It is the only unit in Ireland to provide 24 hour services for under 14s who have been harmed by sexual abuse, either recently or historically.

The pilot project, the first of its kind in Ireland, is recruiting volunteer child advocates to support young survivors of sexual abuse and their families when they attend forensic medical examinations and treatment.

Advocates are recognised to be an essential component of regional sexual assault referral centres. While men, women and teenagers over 14 years who have been raped or sexually assaulted are offered support from the time of first examination within the Sexual Assault Treatement Unit (SATU ) by trained rape crisis counsellors, no such immediate support has previously been available to younger victims.

Dr Joanne Nelson, a consultant paediatrician and the clinical director of CASATS, says the centre is very conscious of the inequity in support services for children compared to adults, especially the fact that under 14s do not have access to a trained advocate (crisis worker ) at a vulnerable time.

“This funding will help put in place crucial services for young people hurt by sexual violence at a time when they are most vulnerable and will complete the care package offering medical and forensic assessment, treatment, immediate psychological care and comprehensive aftercare.

“We are hugely grateful to have this funding and to be in a position over the next month to recruit volunteers with experience working with children and families.”

The Child Advocate Project will be modelled on existing work provided by rape crisis counsellors in Adult SATUs in Ireland who are already engaging with adolescent victims of sexual violence from 14 years and upwards.

Suitable volunteers, subject to Garda vetting procedures, will be offered training in supporting children and families where child sexual abuse is suspected. This specialised training will be delivered by CARI and supported by health professionals based at CASATS.

From the middle of 2014, the recruited volunteers will take part in an on-call rota for six months, joining children at the time of the forensic medical evaluation to support and assist in co-ordinating psychological aftercare. The pilot project will be evaluated at the end of that six-month period.

A dedicated CARI professional already working in the Court Accompaniment Support Service has been assigned to the project for one day per week funded by the charitable donations. Other professionals lend their expertise to the project at no cost.

The Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Treatment Services (CASATS ) Galway provides an integrated forensic medical service for children (under 14 ) both male and female, who are victims of rape or sexual assault or suspected child sexual abuse.

The service

also accommodates adolescents aged 14 to 18 years who make allegations of historical child sexual abuse (more than a week previously ). The service operates 24 hours a day/365 days a year for patients who report an assault to gardaí or social services.

The unit provides a confidential service for child and adolescent victims of rape and sexual assault or sexual abuse within the west and mid western regions. CASATS is temporarily located in a building at a discreet, private location which it shares with the Galway adult sexual assault treatment unit (SATU ) which is located in a dedicated building near the racecourse.

Those who come to the unit with Gardaí or social workers will have direct, private access to the building and will not wait in a public area.

The CARI Lo-Call and confidential national helpline is 1890 92 45 67


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