First volunteers ready to help victims of sexual assault

Volunteer child and family accompaniment officers are being recruited and trained for the Paediatric Forensic Medical Services to support child victims of sexual assault and their families.

The training has been provided by the Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Treatment Services, a project based in Galway and run by the voluntary organisation CARI, which provides a range of services for children affected by child sexual abuse.

Sixteen volunteers who have existing experience working with children and families and who are Garda vetted have been identified and trained so far this year. It is expected that the first volunteers to start working with the CASATS service will begin their duties before the end of this month.

The duties of the volunteers will include meeting families as a first point of contact for the service, offering support should the families so wish. The volunteers will also participate in an on-call rota joining children at the time of forensic medical evaluation to support and assist in co-ordinating psychological aftercare.

The initial six months of this pilot project was enabled through a start up grant of €19,000 provided by the Manuela Riedo Foundation Ireland, The Commission for Victims of Crime, and the eBay Foundation’s volunteer led GIVE team, with formal evaluation of its success and future plans to take place at the end of that period.

However an additional bonus of €12,000 from the Manuela Riedo Foundation Ireland in May has allowed the project to continue running for a further year.

Dr Joanne Nelson, consultant paediatrician and clinical director of CASATS, said: “This project is the first of its kind in Ireland, although already well established elsewhere in the UK and US. It is an honour to be supported by charitable organisations who have scrutinised our application through a competitive process, and chose to support us.

“Over the course of a full year we aim to offer support to between 60 and 70 families from first point of contact with forensic medical services. Additional funding makes a huge difference to the proposed service, which aims to enhance psychological and practical support to child victims and their families at a time of crisis, and ultimately to promote healing.”

The project will to some extent mirror existing work provided by rape crisis counsellors in Adult SATUs throughout Ireland already engaging with adolescent and adult victims of sexual violence from 14 years and up.

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