Therapeutic services for sexually abused children and young people: scoping the evidence base Research into the effectiveness of therapeutic support

Girl stood in the rain with arms outstretchedResearch suggests that a large minority of children and young people under the age of 18 may experience sexual abuse. Sexual abuse has different consequences for different people but many would benefit from therapeutic support to help them build resilience to the short and longer-term impacts of abuse. 

This report looks at the evidence on the effectiveness of different therapeutic approaches for sexually abused children and young people. It looks at the impact of abuse, factors that can help build resilience, and what young people say about therapy. It identifies key issues to be considered when developing a therapeutic service for sexually abused children. 

It builds upon the evidence gathered by our mapping study, published in 2 earlier reports, which looked at what therapeutic services are available to children in the UK and Northern Ireland specifically. 

The findings from this research have fed into a guide for therapeutic practitioners being used and evaluated by our Letting the Future In service.

Authors: Debra Allnock and Patricia Hynes
Published: 2012

  • Research shows that sexual abuse can affect children and young people in many different ways.
  • There is limited hard evidence on the effectiveness of different therapeutic approaches.
  • Therapy in general has been found to be beneficial for some sexually abused children and young people.
  • Evidence suggests that what is important is:
    • a high quality assessment to help practitioners to develop appropriate and targeted treatment plans for each child
    • a child-centric and integrative approach, focused on the child’s needs and preferences
    • a strong therapeutic alliance between the child and the therapist
    • the involvement of the non-abusing parent
    • culturally-aware and tailored services that meet the cultural context and world view of children from different communities.
Executive summary 5
1. Introduction and background 8
2. The impacts of sexual abuse 11
3. Resilience factors 21
4. Therapeutic interventions 25
5. What children and young people say about therapy 37
6. Conclusions 40
Bibliography 46

Please cite as: Allnock, D. and Hynes, P. (2012) Therapeutic services for sexually abused children and young people: scoping the evidence base: summary report. London: NSPCC.

Looking for something in particular?

Our Information Service can help you find the latest policy, practice and research in child protection.

Call 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk for more information.

Submit an enquiry

Related resources

Sexual abuse and therapeutic services for children and young people: the gap between provision and need

Research report mapping availability and accessibility of services for sexually abused children across the UK.
Find out more

Sexual abuse and therapeutic services for children in Northern Ireland: the gap between provision and need

Research report mapping availability and accessibility of services for sexually abused children and young people in Northern Ireland
Find out more

Estimating the costs of child sexual abuse in the UK

Report using research literature to estimate the overall costs of child sexual abuse in the UK at £3.2bn in 2012.
Find out more

Sexual abuse: a public health challenge

Review of the evidence looks at what we know about the causes, prevalence and consequences of sexual abuse.
Find out more

Letting the Future In

Letting the Future In helps children who have been sexually abused.
Letting the Future In service

Turn the Page

We protect children from the most common type of contact sexual abuse.
Turn the Page service

Protect and Respect

For young people who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation or who have been sexually exploited.
Protect and Respect service

National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCATS)

Treating young high risk people who show the most serious kinds of harmful sexual behaviour.
National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCATS)

Services for children, families and professionals

We work face to face with children, young people and families who need our help across the UK.
View our services

Sexual abuse

A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn't have to be physical contact, and it can happen online.
Read more about sexual abuse

Harmful sexual behaviour

Children and young people who develop harmful sexual behaviour harm themselves and others.
Read more about harmful sexual behaviour

Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
Read more about child sexual exploitation

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence hub

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Get expert training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to NSPCC Knowledge and Information Services to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)