“The project adapts to each young person and supports them in whatever decisions that young person makes.”
The Young Researchers’ Advisory Panel (YRAP) is a group consisting of young people with various backgrounds who all share a passion for raising awareness against sexual exploitation and violence. We work with the International Centre: Researching child sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking (The International Centre) at the University of Bedfordshire. We advise and develop key areas of work whilst making sure that young people’s views remain at the heart of what we do. Since the International Centre values our opinions and interests so highly, this means that sometimes it can facilitate and set up ideas that have originally stemmed from us.
Towards the end of last year, one of us went on a guided tour of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC) in the USA. This is a large campus housing the investigation, prosecution and healing services provided to victims of child abuse in Dallas County, Texas. The DCAC espouses the Child Advocacy Centre model, ensuring that, for children who have experienced abuse, most of the services they need to heal and be afforded justice, are all in one place. We at the YRAP know that children and young people too often must repeat their story to many services over and over again. The YRAP feel so much admiration and respect for this model and others like it because they go a long way to eliminate this problem. Soon after the visit to the DCAC, we learned of The Lighthouse in North London. The Lighthouse is a multi-agency service piloting the Child House model – similar in approach to the Child Advocacy Centre model in the USA. The YRAP were very keen to meet with the team at The Lighthouse and tour the building and soon after establishing contact, we visited them earlier this year.
Upon arrival at The Lighthouse, we had a discussion with some key staff there, including Emma, the Service Manager and Rob, one of the Clinical Leads. We also met with staff working on the front line supporting young people. Of all the staff we met, we were struck by their understanding of the difficulties faced by children and young people when trying to access support following experiences of sexual abuse, which was both perceptive and professionally sound. We really got the impression that the team possess an unassuming, caring and inclusive nature, and felt confident this would reassure young people who may harbour mistrust of professionals by virtue of prior negative experiences. We felt the senior staff in particular had a spirited and perseverant commitment to the desired outcomes of the project, even though continued funding had then been uncertain.
In our meeting with staff at The Lighthouse, we were interested in the processes related to how the project is funded, organised and accessed, as these can all impact on how services are experienced by young people. We noted that there had been fewer self-referrals to The Lighthouse than expected and we hope to get the word out there about it so that more young people access the support that they offer. What was particularly impressive was the number of agencies involved in building up the service. This included support from the NHS, voluntary sector and government at national, local and regional levels. We hope that this means The Lighthouse and the Child House model will continue to be supported well into the future. The professionals working with young people at The Lighthouse are employed by University College London Hospitals and Tavistock and Portman NHS Trusts, the NSPCC, Solace Women’s Aid, the Metropolitan Police Service or Camden local authority. The Lighthouse is in an NSPCC building which also houses other NSPCC services.
One of the first things we noticed when entering The Lighthouse building was the general vibe it had. The design and layout of the project is modern and colourful, but professional too. We all instantly felt very welcome and at ease. This was quite different to other buildings in this nature of work, which can feel quite intimidating and too clinical. For example, the reception area had numerous chairs to choose from: single comfy chairs, stools, sofas and even a suspended hanging chair! As well as this, one of the first decorations we were intrigued and impressed by was a kinetic art table (Sisyphus Table) which uses magnets to move a marble through sand and create endless patterns. It may not seem important to some professionals but a lot of young people entering services such as the Lighthouse may feel extremely anxious and nervous so by having something like this to distract and focus your mind upon can have a massive positive impact on that young person. We were given a tour of the whole building including some of the counselling rooms and the ABE interview suite. Each counselling room had a different theme/layout which again is a brilliant idea because it gives the young person choice – they can choose which room they want depending on how they are feeling that day. The ABE interview room was completely different to any police interview rooms we have seen before – these tend to be intimidating, dull and less child friendly. Whilst the ABE room at The Lighthouse still looked professional in terms of the layout and cameras, it was more colourful and again gave off a welcoming vibe. On top of this, lots of the artwork featured on the walls inside were made by the young people The Lighthouse work with, which again shows how much the project cares about young people.
We met with a young person who had been using the service, along with the member of staff coordinating their care. They seemed to have a strong level of rapport and trust between them. The young person we met was full of praise about The Lighthouse. We noted the flexibility of the care and support provided to them and the respect for their choices about what care they wanted and where they wanted to access it. What the YRAP liked about the Lighthouse is that all their staff were friendly and approachable. If you walked past a member of staff, they smiled and said hello instead of looking busy and uninterested. This made it clear to us how much the staff care about the young people accessing their services. The most important thing that we liked however, was how much the different professionals (including police, counsellors, doctors) worked together as a team instead of sticking to their independent jobs. The different professionals sit together at work in the Lighthouse building, which means information is shared more easily and a better relationship between professions can be formed, all of which will benefit the service users. For example, it is helpful to hear and work with other professional opinions and ask advice. Additionally, a young person could ask advice from a police officer without having to report anything. Another important thing to note is how flexible the Lighthouse project is. It didn’t matter if a young person was already receiving support elsewhere, they would not be forced to exclusively use The Lighthouse services; instead the project adapts to each young person and supports them in whatever decisions that young person makes.
Something that surprised us was discovering that in certain cases, a trained psychologist can conduct ABE interviews, in partnership with the police. This is to ensure that the best evidence is achieved whilst keeping the process sensitive and victim focussed. Some young people may feel intimidated having to be interviewed by a police officer, especially if that officer may not have much experience with young people. Therefore, the opportunity of having a trained specialist psychologist to conduct the ABE interviews can help to reduce this issue.
The YRAP are grateful to The Lighthouse for meeting with us and giving us the opportunity to see first-hand how much difference the Child House model is making to the lives of children and young people. It is a pleasure for us to count this experience of touring The Lighthouse as one that has genuinely enriched our understanding of what the best care and support looks like for those affected by child sexual abuse. Our hope is that more places like The Lighthouse will open across the UK that share the same passion and enthusiasm for fitting services around children and young people as opposed to traditional organisational boundaries. We want there to soon be a time where every child and young person in the UK can have their varied care and support needs met by one team of professionals, in one place.