We know that due to their trauma and abuse histories, children in out-of-home care are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and are more at risk of being targeted by perpetrators. Contemporary evidence suggests a disproportionate 33 per cent of all child sexual abuse reports to statutory child protection relate to children and young people living in residential care.
The risk of harmful sexual behaviour, child exploitation and dating violence are significant issues for young people in care, and MacKillop is committed to addressing these issues through its Respectful Sexual Safety project*, delivered in partnership with the University of Melbourne.
This project aims to increase young people’s understanding about healthy relationships, sexual safety and strengthen their capacity to keep themselves safe.
The project has been designed in consultation with an expert advisory group of key researchers, policy makers and practitioners working in the field of child sexual abuse and has been informed by Dr McKibbin’s PhD research, which involved asking young people who had engaged in sexually harmful behaviour about what could have been different in their lives so that they did not develop these behaviours.
Research conducted through this project identified three prevention strategies that form the core of the program: whole-of-house respectful relationships and sexuality education; missing from home strategy; and sexual safety response.
The project reviewed prevention strategies used across the world and developed a program for residential care workers to engage with young people in MacKillop homes to raise their awareness of respectful relationships, grooming behaviour and sexual exploitation. Training and implementation are currently underway. The project is being evaluated and results will be shared across the sector.
The program has been implemented in four MacKillop pilot residential houses and will soon be implemented in 20 MacKillop foster care families. The program aims to support children and young people living in out-of-home care to have healthy and respectful relationships and live free from sexual abuse.
*MacKillop acknowledges the John T Reid Trusts for funding this research.
Gemma McKibbin (2017) ‘Preventing Harmful Sexual Behaviour and Child Sexual Exploitation for children & young people living in residential care: A scoping review in the Australian context’, Children and Youth Services Review, 82 (2017) 373–382.
Gemma McKibbin, Nick Halfpenny & Cathy Humphreys (2019) ‘Respecting Sexual Safety: A Program to Prevent Sexual Exploitation and Harmful Sexual Behaviour in Out-of-Home Care’, Australian Social Work, DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2019.1597910