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University of Bedfordshire
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Learning from the experts

Illustration by Julianna JagielskaIllustration by Julianna Jagielska

Learning from the experts: young people’s perspectives on how we can support healthy child development after sexual abuse

The International Centre has received funding to undertake a participatory study on supporting mental health and wellbeing after sexual abuse in adolescence.

The work has been funded by the NSPCC and ESRC Research Call on ‘Helping children get back on track after abuse and neglect’ and will run from March 2017 to November 2019. The research will be delivered with support from colleagues from the Institute of Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire and the youth health charity, the Association for Youth People’s Health (AYPH).

Project rationale

We know that an experience of sexual abuse impacts a young person’s mental health and well-being. We are less clear about what should be done, and when, to try and address these impacts. This research seeks to address this gap in knowledge.

The research is based on hearing young people's experiences and perspectives. It will focus particularly on young people whose experience of sexual abuse occurred during adolescence as their needs are particularly under researched. We recognise that we cannot assume that what works for someone who experiences sexual abuse as a younger child will work for someone who experiences it at an older age.

Aims and objectives

The research seeks to:

  • Create safe and meaningful mechanisms through which young people who have experienced sexual abuse in adolescence can share their knowledge and views.
  • Map the mental health and wellbeing support needs of young people who experience sexual abuse in adolescence, and consider contextual factors within this.
  • Learn how we can better support identification of, and responses to, health and wellbeing needs after abuse, and find out how we can build and support young people’s resilience.
  • Increase understanding about how young people experience concepts of mental health, wellbeing and resilience after abuse, and develop a young people-centred theoretical framework for consideration of these issues.
  • Demonstrate that, if done right, it is both safe and appropriate to involve young people in discussions about these issues and create a template that others can use to do this.
  • Create practical resources for young people, parents/ carers and professionals that will contribute to better responses to this issue in the future.


We will work in partnership with young people who have experienced sexual abuse in adolescence to map their mental health and wellbeing needs after abuse and explore how these can be best supported in practice.

Complementary participatory work with carers and professionals will enrich the work, as will the findings of a literature review and case studies.

This will be delivered via a five phase process:

  1. A literature review will be carried out at project inception to ensure the research draws from, and builds upon, existing knowledge and theory of key concepts.
  2. The research will work in partnership with 30-40 young people over a two year period to collaboratively explore concepts of mental health, well-being and resilience after abuse and find out how young people can be best supported. This will be facilitated through proactive preparatory work, a series of small group creative workshops and subsequent work bringing the groups together to sense check and consider the implications of the findings. See our participatory action research summary - PDF 254.9 KB for more information about this strand of the research.
  3. Group workshops will also be undertaken with safe carers and relevant professionals, to supplement young people’s contributions with knowledge that may be unknown or hidden from young people and to understand key challenges facing these stakeholders in terms of identification, assessment and support.
  4. These more systemic issues will also be explored through an in-depth review of 10-15 cases, utilising both case file review and interview methodology, bringing together the perspectives of young people, carers and professionals. This element of the work will provide insight into young people’s ‘journeys’, the wider context of their lives, and professional decision making processes and contexts.
  5. A final set of workshops will bring together representatives from the young people’s, safe carers’ and professionals’ groups in small group settings. These event(s) will enable different stakeholder groups to sense check and explore key findings from different elements of the research. They will also form the basis for testing the revised theoretical framework developed from analysis of findings from the others strands of work.


Outputs from the work will include research reports for different audiences, tools for use in practice and academic articles that share learning about what we find and how we did this with other researchers.

Further information

For further information, please contact Dr Helen Beckett, Director of the IC at

Bedfordshire University

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