Mapping therapeutic services for sexual abuse in the UK in 2015 Investigating the availability of UK services for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse or exploitation

Child playing with toysWe asked the University of Bedfordshire to map UK specialist and non-specialist therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse, including sexual exploitation.

We commissioned the mapping exercise to find out about the availability of services for children and young people after sexual abuse or exploitation. It investigated the gap between met and unmet need, services' experiences of funding and commissioning and the nature of services provided to children and young people.

Authors: Debbie Allnock, Helga Sneddon and Elizabeth Ackerley
Published: 2016

Commissioning and funding services

  • Four-fifths of services did not have 'indefinite' funding. The vast majority were operating to short-term and insecure cycles of funding. Commissioning arrangements are complex and confusing.
  • Short-term funding is at odds with the nature of provision needed to support children who have suffered child sexual abuse (CSA) or child sexual exploitation (CSE).
  • Providers expend time and energy chasing new funding streams and this diverts their energy away from delivering quality services to children and young people.
  • There is a perception that greater awareness of CSE has resulted in more funding for services in this area at the expense of other forms of CSA.

Current service use and pathways into services

  • Obtaining full and accurate data on current service use proved complex and difficult. This made it very hard to evidence whether provision is meeting demand.
  • Social workers are the most common source of referral. Only 50% of services are seeing or accepting referrals from the police.
  • On average, services estimated waiting lists of three months. Some services have waiting lists of up to and over a year.
  • Providers view Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) as very difficult to access.
  • There is a greater supply of services for older children and adolescents. Services for younger children are scarce.
  • White British girls without disabilities comprise the largest group receiving services.

The nature of service provision

  • Services are typically delivered Monday to Friday during '9 to 5' office hours. Services which support children outside of these hours are scarce.
  • The majority of specialist providers offer longer-term service, more than 12 weeks, to children who need it.
  • Creative therapies are most common, followed by counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Services also place emphasis on the therapeutic relationship.
  • Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) provide streamlined support for victims of sexual violence, although this mapping exercise identified a lack of emotional support for children receiving these services.

The gap between demand for services and availability

  • The referral data from this mapping exercise shows a current gap of 12% and a projected gap of 17% in provision of services to children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • Some children may be referred to other services, but it is likely some will not receive timely help and some will not receive any help at all.


  • The government must establish good, robust data on referrals for child sexual abuse. This could take the form of a central repository and would lead to a better understanding of need and demand for services in relation to actual provision.
  • The government has recognised CSA/CSE as a 'national threat' and there is clear evidence of an increase in reporting. The government must ensure adequate provision of therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced sexual violence.
  • The government must provide more secure funding for services. The commissioning and funding process should be less complex and more transparent.

Next steps

  • Further research is needed into the experiences of non-specialist services in identifying and supporting children and young people.
  • Health, education and the police need to develop better links with local support services.
  • More research is needed to understand why some service user groups are under-represented in referrals and amongst those receiving services.
Acknowledgements 5
Executive summary 6
Introduction, background and context 12
Methodology 23
Funding and commissioning services 34
Current service use and pathways into services 46
What kind of provision do children receive following acceptance into the service? 61
Met and unmet need 70
Conclusion and recommendations 77
Bibliography 83
Appendix A – additional detail on the response rate 89
Annexed tables 90

Please cite as: Allnock, D, Sneddon, H. and Ackerley, E. (2015) Mapping therapeutic services for sexual abuse in the UK in 2015. Luton: The International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Trafficking and Violence, the University of Bedfordshire.

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