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Letting the future in

Helping children and young people overcome the effects of sexual abuse

Letting the Future In helps children and young people aged 4-17 who have been sexually abused.

Sexual abuse can affect young people in all kinds of ways.

The service works with children to help them talk about their feelings about their experiences, and teaches them how to
keep safe.

Helping children to explore and express their feelings

Many children and young people have told us they feel confused and upset about what has happened to them. They have said that having the chance to talk about their feelings really helps.

We use a wide range of approaches to help the child express themselves. Some of these include talking, playing and creative activities such as painting, drawing or storytelling.

We meet with the child for three or four weekly sessions of about an hour, so we can get to know them and make an assessment of their needs. We also meet parents or carers separately to understand their needs.

After the sessions, the child and carer come in together to plan what happens next.

Melissa, Evelyn and Ralph's story*

Melissa was born into a violent relationship and was severely neglected as she was growing up.

She went to live with her grandparents, Evelyn and Ralph, when she was four years old.

They discovered Melissa had been sexually abused by a family friend.

Evelyn describes how the Letting the Future In programme helped their family:
"Our granddaughter Melissa came to live with us when she was four years old. She had been sexually abused over a period of time by a family friend whilst living with her mum.

"Melissa had trouble sleeping, would have nightmares and became quite scared. She didn't like sleeping alone and would share a bed with me or sleep on a camp bed in our room rather than be on her own.

"She found certain toys really scary to play with and wouldn't watch her old favourite programmes. She didn't understand what had happened but she knew it had scared her.

"Melissa became really secretive about her body and wouldn't let us wash her or clean her. I overheard her playing with her dolls one day where one doll was saying to the other 'open your legs I'm not going to hurt you'.

"Little by little she was describing the horrific things she'd been subjected to.

"We referred ourselves to Children's Services. We went on so many courses and tried so many different ways to help her heal but nothing worked.

"By the time she was nine years old life was becoming unbearable. We felt drained and Melissa was unhappy too. She didn't have any friends because she was too afraid to play and was struggling academically and emotionally at school.

"The NSPCC and their Letting the Future In programme was the first organisation that took a combined approach to dealing with Melissa's sexual abuse and did the work with us and Melissa in the same building but in different rooms. It's exactly what we needed.

"The change over the last few months has been incredible. Her teachers are remarking on the change in her, people at her dance classes have written us letters to say how much she's improved in her confidence and coordination recently.

"She's finally making friends and living a normal childhood. She's joined a local Brownie Guide group and is enjoying herself. She's doing things we couldn't even comprehend this time last year. The turnaround has been amazing.

"Doing the Letting the Future In programme was like a breakthrough moment. We'd done so many courses in the past to try and other programmes to breakthrough to Melissa and to get over the things that had happened to her when she was younger. There was always something missing.

"We've broken through to Melissa now and unlocked the little girl she was meant to be. She still has the memories of the abuse and neglect, but now we're replacing them with happy memories.

"If someone is reading this story and is going through the same things that we did I would say don't be afraid of the NSPCC and don't prejudge them.

"We understand the stigma and fear, but we learnt that the NSPCC are there to help you and just want the best for your child."

Caroline, a Letting the Future In practitioner, explains how she worked with Melissa and her family:

"When I first started working with Melissa she wouldn't give me any eye contact, she was constantly looking to her grandma for reassurance.

"She didn't know how to laugh, she was permanently scowling, fearful and nervous.

"In our first session together she played with miniature care bears and princess dolls by herself under a table and wouldn't play anywhere else.

"Melissa was acting a lot younger than she was. Melissa was unable to make or maintain friendships at school and was very reliant on the adults around her.

"I think the breakthrough came when I had some joint sessions with Ralph and Evelyn together with Melissa.

"Melissa wanted to play in the sand tray with some figures. She told a story through the figures about her old family who were dangerous and negative and her new family who were loving and safe.

"Through her play she showed that she was defending herself from her old family and protecting herself with her new family. It was very moving.

"Another time she had figures acting as her and her mum and played out a conversation where Melissa asked her mum to apologise for what had happened to her and she did.

"Since doing the Letting the Future In programme Melissa's social behaviour has become a lot more age appropriate, and although she still needs some adult support in lessons, she's understanding and learning a lot more than she has done in the past.

"She's grown up and feels ready play with children her own age and have fun. Now she laughs and is a happy child."

Influencing new ways of working

We are evaluating our work with these young people, so we can advise other organizations on the best ways to support and help children and young people affected by sexual abuse.

Find out more about our work in this area

Preventing young people from sexually harming other children

Reducing the risk of sexual abuse by working with adult offenders

Why physically abused children are a priority

Information for professionals about sexual abuse

Find out the services available in your area

* All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the family.

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