It didn’t take long for our team to vote Dr Peter Yates’ workshop as the most interesting, thought-provoking and well-delivered presentation we attended at the Nota 2016 conference.   Entitled “It’s just the abuse that needs to stop”: Social worker decision-making regarding sibling living and contact arrangements in cases involving sibling sexual behaviour’, the presentation is based on Peter’s PhD research and presented an overview of the current literature on sibling sexual abuse relevant to these decisions, social workers’ accounts of their decision making in such cases and recommendations for practice. He used the diagram below to capture his findings on a social worker practice mindset, ‘siblings as better together’, which encourages decision making in practice to maintain the sibling relationship:

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What was highlighted is how practitioners can:

  • Doubt that the behaviour happened – require a second incident
  • Be influenced by whether or not the child expresses remorse
  • Lose focus on the child victim experience
  • See parents’ good intentions as the same as their ability to protect

While the numbers are small the study found that in 8 out of 9 cases where parent (7 cases) or foster carer (2 cases) were deemed ‘on board’ and a decision made to keep siblings together, there was a further incident of problematic sexual behaviour involving a sibling or other close family member.

Separating siblings following concerns about problematic behaviour is an emotive and complex issue. Peter highlighted how professionals are sometimes reluctant to label the behaviour as abusive. While this is understandable at many levels, it nonetheless raises the question ‘are we best serving the interests of all the children by such an approach?’ Do all the children, and indeed the parents/carers, receive the necessary care, safeguarding and intervention if the lens through which we view such behaviour renders it less serious than it might be? It is clear that the temptation to view such incidents as a ‘one off’ or easily resolved – even with the best of intentions – can have serious consequences.

For more information on this topic please contact Dr. Yates at p.yates@napier.ac.uk or via https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter_Yates5 .

Please also find related articles listed below:

Yates, P. (2016). Sibling sexual abuse: why don’t we talk about it?. Journal of clinical nursing.

Allardyce, S., & Yates, P. M. (2013). Assessing risk of victim crossover with children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviours. Child abuse review, 22(4), 255-267.

Yates, P., Allardyce, S., & MacQueen, S. (2012). Children who display harmful sexual behaviour: Assessing the risks of boys abusing at home, in the community or across both settings. Journal of sexual aggression, 18(1), 23-35.

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