Help and support for children who have been sexually abused
Children who have experienced sexual abuse can and do heal if they get support and psychological help.
Support can come from family and professionals.
Family support for children who have been sexually abused
There are things you can do in your everyday family life at home to support and help your child or the child you’re caring for.
- Stick with regular routines for mealtimes, bedtimes, and school, kindergarten or preschool.
- Share meals together regularly as a family. Talk about the things you’d normally talk about, like what people have been doing during the day.
- Spend time together as a family and with people your child likes and trusts. For example, play family board games, go for walks, watch TV together and so on.
- Make time to talk with your child one to one – for example, while you’re reading a book together before bed or driving to a sports game.
- Help your child to set small, achievable goals – for example, trying a new hobby or going to sports training every week.
Relationships and feelings
- Tell your child that you love them and will always be there for them, no matter what.
- Show affection in the way that your child prefers. For example, your child might prefer a high five or fist bump rather than a hug or kiss.
- Be patient if your child seems angry or frustrated. When your child is sad, distressed or worried, comfort and reassure them.
- Encourage your child to tell you how they feel and label these feelings together. You could say, ‘How are you feeling this morning? You’re smiling – it looks like you’re feeling happy.’
- If your child is young, try using ‘feelings’ pictures or cards to help your child express feelings. Picture books about feelings can also help.
- If your child has trouble talking about feelings, suggest a diary or journal. Sometimes it’s easier to write things down or draw them than say them aloud.
Talking and listening
- Tell your child that what has happened is not their fault.
- Let your child know that you’re there to listen and talk about anything whenever your child is ready. Nothing is so awful that your child can’t talk about it.
- Talk about being safe and feeling safe. For example, you could talk about people your child can go to for help.
- Talk about the professional support that your child will be getting, so your child knows that you’ll work through it together.
There will be good and bad days. Keep giving your child as much support as you can, even on the bad days. If you’re not sure how to support your child, check in with your child’s psychologist or your counsellor. Together you can work out how to respond.
Professional support for children who have been sexually abused
Children who have experienced sexual abuse need professional help to heal.
The first step is to visit your GP to ask for a referral to a psychologist for your child or the child you’re caring for. It’s a good idea to book a longer consultation time.
You can ask your GP for help to find the right psychologist for your child. You might want to look for someone who:
- specialises in working with children
- has experience in working with children who have experienced child sexual abuse
- is the gender your child prefers.
You might be able to arrange a trial appointment to see whether the psychologist is a good fit for you and your child.
You can also check with the GP on whether the psychologist is registered with the Australian Psychological Society, and what you need to do get Medicare benefits.
Working with a psychologist to recover from child sexual abuse
The best way for the psychologist to work with your child or the child you’re caring for is in individual sessions. It can also be a good idea to have sessions that include the whole family, or specific family members, but not the person who has abused your child if this person is a family member.
Your child is likely to have 10-20 hour-long sessions.
When you visit the psychologist, you could ask:
- What will a typical session be like?
- Will there be opportunities for other family members to be involved in some sessions?
- How will you report back to me on my child’s progress?
There are services that can help children who have experienced sexual abuse, including Kids Helpline. The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service can give you advice and refer you to other professionals. You can call its 24-hour phone line on 1800RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
Looking after yourself
If your child or the child you’re caring for has experienced sexual abuse, you might experience a range of feelings. You might feel stressed, pressured, confused, angry, horrified, disgusted, sad, betrayed, guilty or grief-stricken. Your family and your friends might feel this way too.
It’s important to remind yourselves that you’re not to blame.
It’s also important to look after yourself. Looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally will help you meet your child’s needs.
And it’s OK to ask for help. You can talk with friends and family whom you trust. Or talk with your GP, who can refer you to a counsellor. Your child’s psychologist might also be able to recommend someone experienced in working with parents and carers.