Sunday, 17 September 2017

CSE and CSA and the need to create portfolios of prevention

Like many of my fellow bloggers, I am intrigued by words and how words are used. I touched upon the relative importance of words in communicating emotions and attitudes in my blog post last week. I'm also interested in the etymology of words. Etymologies are not definitions of particular words, but can provide explanations of what our words meant and how they might have sounded from as far back as 2000 years ago.

Last week I was looking for the origins of the word ‘portfolio’ (it was a temporary distraction from actually constructing my research portfolio) – and the word ‘portfolio’ comes from the Italian portafogli, as in portare ‘carry’ and foglio ‘leaf’. What I didn’t know until I searched was that ‘portfolio’ was one of 60 words introduced into the English language in 1713. Here are a couple of sentences containing some of the others – Dr T was a self-devoted sparkler of a man, with a horselaugh and a fuzzy beard. He had built a machinelike clothespress thinking he was creating an orrery, which although a great piece of work would not be going into his portfolio!

However, I did come across 2 news items last week that absolutely sat within my research portfolio. The first of which was the research published by the Centre for Mental Health. This showed that mental health problems experienced by the UK workforce had cost employers some £35Bn last year. This equates to £1300 for every employee in the UK economy. At any one time 1 in 5 working people will have a mental health difficulty, but the issues are not straightforward as they might first seem. A large proportion of the £35Bn cost comes from the reduced productivity caused by people continuing to go to work when they are mentally unwell. Such behaviour costs businesses’ twice as much as paying for sickness absence arising from mental health problems.

Sadly some people will never get any help and some will lose their job because of mental health problems. For others, being at work can be an important part of their recovery journey. The good news is that many organisations are now taking the mental health and wellbeing of their employees seriously. In my University, we have long had in place support for our students who may be experiencing mental health problems, and over time have extended this focus to staff as well. From my own recent experience of mental health problems. I know the current approach is on prevention, promoting a healthy workplace as well as being appropriately supportive when such measures are not quite enough. However, whilst mental health issues are increasingly talked about more generally, there is still a degree of stigma attached to those experiencing a mental health problem. The result can be some individuals being reluctant to ask for help or speak about their experiences. The sound of silence can be very damaging.

Shattering the silence really encapsulates the issues in the 2nd portfolio item to capture my attention last week. Last Friday was #PurpleFriday, a day to raise awareness of both Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Although closely entwined, there is a difference. CSE involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationship where young people (or a 3rd person) receives something (money, alcohol, gifts, affection) as a consequence of them performing and/or another or others performing in them, sexual activities. CSA involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. Sexual abuse is not always perpetrated only by males, women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children and young people. 

The NSPCC recently reported a contemporaneous (and somewhat disturbing) evidence base of the prevalence of cases of CSE and CSA in the UK. Although comprehensive, it is an evidence base likely to be incomplete in terms of capturing and understating the prevalence of the both issues, because for example, the way in which cases get reported and the hidden nature of the abuse. Despite this lack of incomplete data, we do know that number of recorded sexual offences against under 16 years olds in 2015/16 was 37,778, a figure that has doubled over the last 10 years. It is not just sexual abuse or exploitation that should concern us. The impact on a child of emotional abuse or neglect is also likely to be significant. 

In the UK, there has been a rise of the number of children being on a child protection plan or register for emotional abuse, a rise from 23% in 2006 to 35% in 2016. As devastating as these statistics are, the increased number of children on such plans and register’s might also reflect an increased awareness of the importance of ‘breaking the silence’ and reporting concerns to professionals. The NSPCC report provides evidence that the wider public have a growing understanding of the ways in which abuse can be prevented. Their research showed that 56% of those asked believed that abuse and neglect could be prevented. The belief that abuse can be prevented is likely to be the critical first step to all of us taking action and saving a child from experiencing and living with abuse in any of its forms.