A Wollongong clinic is being set up to stop the alarming number of children sexually abusing children.
Expected to be operational by the end of the year, it’s part of the statewide roll-out of NSW Health’s New Street Service which works with kids who have demonstrated sexually harmful behaviours.
Clinical advisor Dale Tolliday said more than 800 children aged 10 to 17 were identified in NSW each year as causing serious sexual harm.
The average age of New Street clients is 13, and most of them abuse younger children. Many of them have been sexually abused themselves or have experienced family violence, and the majority have been exposed to violent online pornography.
‘’Around half the kids who are referred to our service have sexually harmed a sibling,’’ Mr Tolliday said.
‘’There’s more and more young people in out-of-home care being identified displaying these behaviours. It’s also happening in schools and other settings.’’
The distressing issue was highlighted in the Mercury this week, after an Illawarra mum launched legal action against the NSW Department of Education amid allegations her six-year-old disabled daughter was sexually abused by four older students at an Illawarra primary school in 2013.
Mr Tolliday said incidents were often downplayed as kids being ‘’experimental’’, while many parents were also loathe to report their children to authorities.
‘’There’s a deep sense of shame but we don’t want parents to freak out, we want them to know they can do something,’’ he said.
‘’Harmful sexual behaviour is anything outside the normal developmental range for young people. It’s done without consent or under some form of coercion – either physical or cognitive.
‘’Two-thirds of referrals to New Street involve instances of sexual penetration. And it’s not all boys – seven per cent of cases involve girls.’’
New Street operates in Sydney, Newcastle, Tamworth and Dubbo; the Illawarra is next in line.
‘’Only a minority of children who engage in harmful sexual behaviour towards others ever reach the stage of being charged ... so NSW Health recognised the need to respond to this as a health and well-being and child protection issue,’’ he said.
‘’The service is being rolled out across the state, and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District has been identified as the next area of greatest need.’’
ISLHD spokeswoman Helen Freeland said clinical staff were being recruited for the early intervention and prevention service, to be set up in Wollongong and Nowra.
Mr Tolliday said the local service would work with around 40 to 60 families and young people at a time.
‘’New Street works with young people to assist them to acknowledge and take responsibility for the sexually abusive behaviour,’’ he said.
‘’We can only work with young people where the families or carers are actively involved in the process as research shows that is critical for success.’’
Mr Tolliday said as well with working with families, the service worked closely with a range of organisations – schools and out-of-home care organisations in particular – to train staff to be aware of warning signs.
He also warned parents to be aware of their children’s online activities, with increased accessibility to explicit sexual material a major contributing factor to these behaviours.
‘’Parents need to develop a relationship with their children where they can talk about sexual development, and how you negotiate normal consensual relationships,’’ he said.
Mr Tolliday said a useful tool for parents to determine if their child’s behaviour was part of safe and healthy sexual development – or not – could be found at www.brook.org.uk/our-work/the-sexual-behaviours-traffic-light-tool
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.