Skip to main content

Children: Abuse

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to fund and develop therapeutic services for abused children.

My Lords, the Government are committed to improving child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—including therapeutic services, in line with the vision set out in the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services. We have invested more than £400 million over the past four years to develop services. Evidence-based national service guidelines on therapeutic and preventive interventions with child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation are scheduled for publication by the Department of Health in the spring of 2008.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but if a child broke a leg, would it not be remiss if the NHS failed to follow up with appropriate therapy? Are not children who suffer abuse, particularly sexual abuse, also deserving of appropriate therapeutic services to make sure that they have a proper and happy life in the future? In view of that, will my noble friend urgently consult the NSPCC about its pilot studies establishing the scope of the problem and the financial needs to deal with it?

Yes, my Lords, children who suffer the horrors of sexual abuse deserve proper therapy, over a long period, if that is what is needed. This issue is being explored in the context of the victims of violence and abuse prevention programme—guidelines which are being developed to help universal services to identify and respond to the needs of abused children.

We have just received information about the NSPCC pilot programme. It is being assessed by the department and we will decide what to do in the light of that assessment.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the services required for abused children are much wider than simply mental health services, important as they are? Does she agree that services such as those provided by Childline, where children can come forward and talk about their abuse when they would not do so otherwise, and Stop It Now!, which provides an educational programme so that other young people can come forward, should also be within the programme?

My Lords, Stop It Now! and Childline are extremely important programmes. In fact, my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Care Services met Mary Marsh, the NSPCC chief executive, in October to discuss them and my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced that the Government will provide additional resources to the NSPCC to help support an extension of the very important listening services that it provides.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that some children who are abused will not talk openly about it but may develop eating disorders, an increase of which in very young children has been reported today in the press? Will she make sure that people know that eating disorders may not be just eating disorders but may be an underlying cause of abuse which needs to be investigated?

My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Countess. One of the purposes of the guidelines is to increase awareness of sexual abuse and the things which can point to it in children, such as eating disorders. When people see that a child has an eating disorder, they can look to see what lies behind it. In that way, we can treat those children so that they do not suffer in later life.

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend has said about the extent to which the Government will make provision. However, have they evaluated the extent of the problem inasmuch as they know the number of children they will have to cater for?

My Lords, the figures are quite staggering—they are shameful. Apparently, about 10 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls have been sexually abused. Those figures are quite disgraceful, but they show us the extent of the problem that we have to deal with. The problems have existed over many years but in the past we have not been able to talk about them. Now we can, and we must take action.

My Lords, given that 72 per cent of people jailed for a grave offence had been abused when they were children, does the health department plan to make the services of CAMHS specialists available to crime prevention charities, which often find children being disruptive and naughty at an early stage?

My Lords, I believe that an interim steering group is looking carefully at this matter to see how best we can deal with these important issues.

My Lords, despite the horrendous statistic of 10 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls being sexually abused, does the Minister accept that while child sexual abuse and mental health problems continue deeply to stigmatise all communities, they remain very difficult issues in minority communities in particular? Is she satisfied that government departments have ensured that enough attention is paid to those vulnerable children?

My Lords, the stigma of sexual abuse is a huge problem throughout society, but I accept that it is probably much worse in minority communities. We must focus on it more when we look at issues relating to minority communities.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for publicising these terrible figures, of which I have been aware for some time. When 42 ladies in their 40s, all with eating disorders, recently met and discussed their problem, it emerged that all of them had been sexually abused as children. Will she comment on that?

My Lords, statistics present us with a grim picture. All of us in this Chamber must redouble our efforts to deal with these problems.

My Lords, in consulting the NSPCC and Childline, among other established charities, will the Minister consult also groups such as SACCS, which has 20 years’ experience in dealing with these problems?

Yes, my Lords, we wish to consult all NGOs that do such invaluable work on these problems with these children.

My Lords, the effectiveness of child and adolescent mental health services is often seriously diluted if a child inpatient is placed on an adult mental health ward, where they can be subjected to abuse of various kinds. What are the Government doing to ensure that children who need mental health treatment are treated in an age-appropriate setting?

My Lords, as noble Lords will have gathered from recent discussions in this House on the Mental Health Bill, we are doing everything to ensure that age-appropriate treatment is available to children whenever possible. We recognise that there will be a very few circumstances where a child is admitted for urgent treatment and might have to go to a ward where there are adults. However, we are determined to ensure that, wherever possible, a child will receive age-appropriate treatment.