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

The Safer Young Lives Research Centre 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’. It has been running since March 2017 and, now in its final stages, will be completed in 2021. The research has been delivered with support from 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 is focused 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 set out 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.

Methodology

The project employed a mixed methods approach. Data collected with young people is centrally situated in the project and we have worked in partnership with 30 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 professionals and parents/carers has enriched the work, along with the findings of a literature review.

Key elements of the project:

  1. A literature review to ensure the research draws from, and builds upon, existing knowledge and theory of key concepts.
  2. Participatory research workshops (stage 1) with young people who had experienced sexual abuse in adolescence. Workshops engaged young people in critical dialogue and reflection about the mental health and wellbeing impacts of the abuse; how these were identified and responded to; and how young people abused in adolescence could be better supported.
  3. Focus groups with professionals
  4. Focus groups with parents/ carers
  5. In-depth individual interviews with young people engaged with services and those supporting them
  6. Participatory research workshops (stage 2) with young people not previously engaged in the project but who had experienced sexual abuse in adolescence. These workshops engaged young people in critical dialogue and reflection using learning from stage 1 workshops and supported the project’s analysis process.
  7. Stakeholder engagement activities with young people and professionals to explore emerging findings and support the development of outputs/resources.

Outputs


March 2021 - briefing

March 2019 - briefings published


A series of outputs are currently being developed from this work. Outputs will include research reports for different audiences, tools for use in practice and academic articles that share learning about what we found.


Further information

For further information, please contact Dr Helen Beckett, Director of the SYLRC at helen.beckett@beds.ac.uk

address

Safer Young Lives Research Centre
University of Bedfordshire
University Square
Luton
Bedfordshire
UK
LU1 3JU

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