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Children who have been raped or sexually assaulted face unacceptable waiting times for medical examinations and support

Children who have been raped or sexually assaulted face unacceptable waiting times for medical examinations and support, according to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ latest annual report.

The Commissioner’s main concerns relate to two areas:

  • children who have been raped or sexually assaulted cannot access a forensic medical examination quickly enough after the traumatic event they have experienced, due to shortages of suitably qualified and experienced medical staff, and often have to travel long distances; and
  • access to specialist counselling for children and young people affected by sexual abuse is not available when required in order for those children to begin the road to recovery.

Current situation

Counselling: According to New Pathways, the charity who run eight centres in Wales, including six Sexual Assault Referral Centres, there are more children than ever before coming forward for specialist support after sexual abuse, but there are long waiting lists in some areas. They said:

  • 150 counselling sessions are run each week for children and young people
  • 553 children and young people are waiting for a counselling appointment
  • Waiting times vary from 3 months to 3 years in certain areas of Wales.

Sexual Assault Referral Centres:

SARCs provide both immediate medical attention, delivered by suitably trained pediatricians and forensic medical examiners, to children who have been raped or sexually assaulted, and long-term counselling. Currently only centres in Cardiff and Colwyn Bay are able to provide medical examinations of children, due to the lack of suitably qualified and experienced medical staff.

As a result, children are often made to wait or travel long distances to receive specialist examination and treatment immediately after an assault because of a lack of provision in their area.

Funding for the 8 SARCs varies across Wales, with some funding being provided by the NHS and Police & Crime Commissioners. Service at the majority – 6 SARC centres – are delivered through the third sector provider, New Pathways.

Professor Sally Holland, the Children’s Commissioner, is calling on the Welsh Government to ensure that health boards provide children with 24/7 access to a rota of suitably trained pediatricians and forensic medical examiners, so that no child has to wait for many hours or even days for an examination, and that sufficient counselling and recovery services are available throughout Wales.

Professor Holland said:

“It is not right that we do not have enough specialist medical professionals to provide the right immediate care to children all over Wales, and the distances and waiting times faced by children for long-term help are unacceptable.

“I am hearing of horrifying situations where children have had to wait for days to be examined and having to travel late at night to see someone following a horrific ordeal. This cannot be right.

“In one case this led to a 4-year-old child from mid Wales having to travel to Cardiff late in the evening, and wait several hours for a Forensic Medical Examiner to arrive. By this time they were hungry, tired and less willing to be examined, making the whole process harder for the child and everyone else involved.

“I want all health boards to provide 24/7 access to suitably trained pediatricians and forensic medical examiners, so that no child has to wait for many hours or even days for an examination, and that sufficient counselling and recovery services for victims are available throughout Wales.”

Jackie Stamp, Chief Executive of New Pathways, added:

“When people suffer a traumatic event it is so important that they receive specialist help as soon as possible. This is particularly important for children and young people in order to stop them from adopting negative coping strategies that can have a significantly detrimental effect on their future well-being and prospects.

“Each year New Pathways provides counselling for approximately 600 children and young people in Wales, many of whom are highly traumatised. Unfortunately, ever increasing demand and limited resources means that in some areas there are very long waiting lists to access our services. To alleviate this problem there needs to be substantial investment in appropriate mental health services for children and young people, and better access to services for all children and young people in Wales regardless of where they live.”