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Lucy Faithfull Foundation: supporting families after CSA arrests

Police Oracle spoke with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation about work they do with forces on how officers can support families of those arrested for CSA offences, but also how officers can take care of their own wellbeing.

Forces in England and Wales recorded 103,055 child sexual abuse offences in 2021/22 - an increase of 15% on the previous year. 

One third of those offences were classified under 'obscene publications' - primarily CSA images (35,307). 

It means that police officers are making CSA arrests more and more frequently and therefore coming across offenders' partners and families as they do so. 

Currently the families of offenders are legally not considered victims, meaning there is little support for them once an investigation has started or an arrest has been made.. 

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a UK wide child protection charity that  works to support entire families affected by sexual abuse offending - including adult sexual abusers, victims and other family members.

The organisation works closely with policing and encourages officers to signpost over to their services via their Stop It Now! helpline. They also provide training to officers directly both on dealing with cases but also on their own wellbeing. 

Between 2020 and 2023, they delivered 40 training courses for forces. These courses have included supervision training, resilience training, input on sex offenders, and child sexual exploitation with a focus on suicide prevention.

Training lasts for a minimum of half a day but can be adapted depending on the force’s needs. It’s given predominantly to officers working on the cases but also to supervisors.

“What we see coming across sometimes through the training is that there's often feelings of powerlessness among officers,” CEO Deborah Denis told Police Oracle. 

“The scale of this issue is [large]. There are between 800 and 900 arrests a month.

“When we look at the data of the volume of images online and the potential volume of offending you can feel quite powerless around that.”

Training for officers could include an overview of vicarious trauma – compassion, fatigue and burnout – as well as some of the barriers in recognising issues. It will also touch on leadership, supervision and normalising that the reality of this work is that it is tough.

“We talk a bit about how we manage our own helpline as our advisors are also hearing those stories,” Ms Denis continued.

“Checking in and checking out at the start of shift, having a duty manager available at all times, making sure we have sub-team meetings, ongoing training and one-to-one and peer supervision – those are the sort of things we advocate for.”

Just over 30 members of staff work on their helpline actively supporting those affected by this type of offending. 

Officers can signpost families to the charity and their helpline when they make the arrest. 

CEO Deborah Denis explained: “Having a loved one arrested for anything is difficult but [when you're talking about] child sex offending –  we had women saying things like 'I’d rather he was a murderer than a child sex offender, I could probably handle that easier.'

“There was an officer I was talking to in a POLIT team who goes into houses to make those arrests and he said it really helps him to know that he’s leaving the partner with something.

“The officers that do the job often feel that they’re basically letting off a bomb in the house- they walk in, they arrest Dad [typically], they take all the devices and the partner is left there to pick up the pieces and they're acutely aware of that.

“Having some signposting to us helps the officers to feel like they’ve done something.

“They have to make the arrest, the investigation to be had to be carried out - but [the aim is] to be able to do that in the best way possible.”

The support that the Lucy Faithfull organisation can provide for family members includes immediate advice and support following arrest- things like whether disclosure needs to happen in their own workplace and reassurance around the initial shock. It's followed by a five session group work programme aimed at equipping families for what might occur in the following six to 12 months –  court, if the case is picked up by the media and so on. 

Alongside this is an online forum for peer support – this is available as long as someone needs.

“I've had officers say, you know, we we've made arrests at the beginning of December and the Christmas tree is up, and there's kids around," Ms Denis said. 

“When children are present at the address, all efforts need to be made to prioritise family welfare. So that should be thinking about that warrant ahead of time, and what can be done to ease the impact of the arrest.”

Forces are also working to expand provision in this area. 

Around six years ago South Wales Police developed what is called the ‘Families Pack’ which the Lucy Faithfull Foundation advocated to be made a national resource – the NPCC has made it so in the last few months. It's an information document with sections on the law, social care and terminology. 

The organisation is now talking with the College of Policing around making it a College resource.

Lincolnshire is piloting an 'Indirect Victim Support Officer' whose sole role is to support families post-arrest. 

Other ongoing work includes the Thames Valley Partnership who are currently in the process of evaluation for a scheme where families have to opt out of support rather than opt in.

’Family Matters’ traditionally provided impartial and trauma informed support for families following a loved one being sent to prison.  It has since been channelled to help those affected by an arrest for online child pornography offences.

Officers will now give families a leaflet and tell them that someone from the project will be in touch within 24 hours. 

An evaluation by Anglia Ruskin University also identified a positive impact on officers. 

They're now in discussion with other forces. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland Lucy Faithfull are currently running a pilot specifically providing support for the children affected by an arrest. It has funding until next year.

It has been part of a three year project which was funded by the Robertson Trust. 

In 2022, Police Scotland identified over 100 children as being within the family home of somone suspected of being involved in accessing Illegal images of children, sexual communications with persons under the age of 18 or grooming of children. 

Lucy Faithfull provides direct and indirect (depending on age) support to improve the children's emotional resilience and confidence. It can be between 3-5 sessions covering how the child is feeling, social media, legal systems and changes in the family. 

As a result of the project, the team are pulling together a toolkit for practitioners in the future.  

"It's really important for agencies, both the police and children's services, to understand any potential risks to the children in the house, clearly. But, moreover, the children won't understand when uniformed officers come in the house and take away that iPad, they won't understand what's happening," Ms Denis said. 

"Any of those professionals involved - the police, the social workers, criminal justice, they all need to work together to think about the traumatic impact that's about to happen and how they can minimise it at any at any point."

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