By Emma Harewood. For more, follow this link to her LinkedIn post on Beyond Therapy.
On 19th May Bluestar hosted ‘Beyond Therapy’, the first ever festival of activism for child sexual abuse in Bristol dedicated to re-imagining our society’s response to child sexual abuse through research, creativity and connection. Emma Harewood hosted a panel with experts from The Lighthouse, Bristol SARC, NHS England commissioner and Claire Bethel of RedQuadrant, to talk about ‘Shaping the system around children and families – encouraging professionals to work in partnership to create whole system change.’
What does it mean to work in a true partnership?
The Lighthouse team explained it takes more than just co-location, although that certainly enables sharing of knowledge and expertise across agencies. Creating an understanding of each other roles, culture and priorities means you can influence others to keep the child central. They described working with police to slow down the process at the start of investigation so the child feels in control. As well as providing expert consultation to support social workers and teachers in the community, allowing the service to reach a wider group of children and embed good practice. And understanding the restorative value of the doctor’s examination.
Partnerships take time to create, and the team advised others to invest enough time in developing agreed ways of working before they open the door to children. They encouraged commissioners and policy makers to ensure there are enough sessions provided to create safe spaces for children to share and for supporting parents with the skills to be there for their child.
What are the benefits for children and young people when we work in a partnership?
The young people said they really valued all services being under one roof and the holistic service. Their persuasive voices gave support to recommission the full service offer after the pilot and convinced the judiciary to allow pre-record cross examinations in the Lighthouse.
We heard how the children felt welcome and ‘almost loved’ at the Lighthouse, only having to tell their story once in a safe place. They had choice and control over who they talked to and when. For the first time, the professionals had been organised around them, rather than the child fitting in with the professional’s ways of working. Young people in Bristol, Jersey and London have all said that being able to access something as simple as a sexual health follow-up in the safe place they first met the doctor after sexual abuse, is better than travelling to an adult focused GUM clinic where they felt judged. The Bridge in Bristol are looking for young people’s voices to amplify the need for this partnership service in their local SARC right now. Other young people in the AYPH study, remind us how important holistic support is to help re-establish friendships, school and family life.
Why is it so hard to achieve partnership working?
Ultimately the financial resources needed to create joined up partnership services are considerable and seen by some as gold standard. As well as the time it takes to really invest in the relationships and understanding needed to create true partnership. Add into the mix the logistical nightmare of all partners, commissioners and policy makers aligning their shared vision and commitment at the same time as contracts end! And finally, the need for sacrifices to be made in organisational culture and ‘the way we do things round here’ to find a middle way.
Creating new partnership and whole system change need passionate, relentless and creative leaders – but the difference the change can make to children, families and adult survivors is priceless. The external Lighthouse evaluation and final annual report have shown that investing in holistic, long-term support in a multi-agency partnership improves the experience and outcomes for children and families. With less victim withdrawals and more cases making it as far as the CPS, the Lighthouse partnership is starting to turn the tide towards a more child friendly experience of the justice system against the backdrop of a shocking all-time low in the conviction rates in the UK for child sexual abuse.
You can read more about the Lighthouse and setting up your own version of a Child House model partnership in the Child House Toolkit and the Home Office Child House Partnership Guidance.
With thanks to the panel members:
Emma Harewood (chair) – Co-founder of the Lighthouse – the first UK Barnahus for children that experience sexual abuse, the Child House model and CSA hub model.
Marian Moore, NSPCC service manager at the Lighthouse
Eimear Timmons, Practice Development Manager at the Lighthouse
Dr Michelle Cutland, Clinical Director at The Bridge and CSA Centre for Expertise
Claire Bethel, RedQuadrant. Policy expert in sexual violence and author of Child House Toolkit
Becks Marsh – NHS England Commissioner in the South West