What we've learnt from our service helping mothers protect children from sexual abuse
It can be difficult for mothers and carers to keep their children safe if their family has contact with a man who poses a risk of sexual harm. By increasing women’s knowledge of sexual abuse and helping them to understand the ongoing risks that the man poses to their family, Women as Protectors aims to improve their capacity to protect their children. It is based on Circles South East’s ‘Breaking the Cycle’ programme.
All women taking part in the service attend a 10-week group work programme, after which individual assessments are carried out and one-to-one mentoring support is offered to those who need it. The women’s children are also offered safety awareness sessions.
We evaluated the service to identify:
- what changes were experienced by the women and children who participated
- how to maximise its appeal and acceptability to service users and professionals
- whether there were any barriers associated with delivering the service effectively
- how it could be improved.
We’ve produced three reports sharing the findings from our evaluation of outcomes, a process evaluation, and a technical report giving more detail about how the evaluations were carried out.
Authors: Dr Eleni Romanou and Rachel Margolis
After completing the programme, women were in a stronger position to provide a safe environment for their children and mitigate the risk posed by an unsafe man.
Women’s mental and emotional wellbeing improved during the programme and they gained confidence in their parenting ability. They reported greater knowledge and understanding about sexual abuse and felt better able to talk to their children about it. Women also felt empowered to make decisions about the unsafe men in their lives.
Women engaged positively with the service and social care practitioners regarded it highly but there is scope for strengthening its appeal.
Women liked the programme, stuck with it and attributed some of the changes in their outlook and circumstances to having participated in it. But the genuine need for a preventative and educative service for non-abusive carers did not translate into a steady stream of referrals in some areas.
Women were less accepting of the mentoring element of the programme and the safety awareness sessions that were offered to their children. Practitioners felt the standardised offer of Protective Behaviours work was not always a proportionate response to the difficulties and complexities in many children’s lives.
Changes to the implementation of the service can improve the service and its delivery.
Delivering the programme in a group-work environment rather than to individuals was more resource-efficient, helpful for combatting depression and for increasing women’s willingness and ability to learn about parenting.
“It [group work] let me realise again that I’m a very valuable person, that I’ve achieved a lot in my life and that still I can do a lot in my life.”
Woman whose partner committed non-contact abuse
“Mum has now come through an amazing journey and has said to her daughter, ‘I believe you. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you before… Through my work with the NSPCC I understand now that daddy did sexually abuse you and I’m here to support you’.”
Romanou, E. and Margolis, R. (2019) ‘Women as Protectors’ outcomes evaluation. London: NSPCC
Romanou, E. and Margolis, R. (2019) ‘Women as Protectors’ process evaluation. London: NSPCC
Romanou, E. and Margolis, R. (2019) ‘Women as Protectors’ evaluation: technical report. London: NSPCC