Changing the Trajectory of Child Sexual Abuse Victims

Researchers report that a complex multimodal program delivered at a dedicated facility and with a primary therapeutic focus on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy appears to significantly reduce Child Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Scale (CPPS) scores over 4 weeks.

Researchers from the University of Alberta suggest that a complex multimodal program delivered at a dedicated facility and with a primary therapeutic focus on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy appears to significantly reduce Child Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Scale (CPPS) scores over 4 weeks.

Called the Little Warriors program, it is the first intensive program to demonstrate such a clinical impact, suggesting a breakthrough for the lasting mental health of child sexual abuse victims. Additionally, the study facility, the Be Brave Branch, is the first and only facility of its kind to offer intensive, dedicated, and multimodal treatment to child (aged 8 to 12) sexual abuse survivors. The program commissioned the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry under the lead of Peter Silverstone and Jacqui Linder, PhD, both professors in the Department of Psychiatry.

“People who have experienced child sexual abuse have much higher rates of problems that affect both their psychological and physical health for many years,” explained Silverstone. “If you look at the people who subsequently end up on the street or homeless, large numbers of them suffered abuse—physical, sexual and emotional—as children. For the past 20 to 30 years, the primary method has been intermittent treatment. A therapist will meet with a survivor every week or every two weeks—and the fact of the matter is that has been shown to not be the most effective. This study represents a paradigm shift in the way that we suggest children survivors should be treated. This comprehensive approach is making a difference. We are changing the trajectory of children’s lives.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Behaviour, the research team evaluated the novel treatment model—aimed at providing child survivors with the unique opportunity of accessing individual and group therapies in a residential environment—alongside peers who have experience similar trauma. Their results seem to confirm the success of the program, which achieved a 25% reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scores.

The number of children who were above the threshold for PTSD using the CPPS scale fell from 26 at baseline to 14 at the end of the 4-week intervention, suggesting that observed improvements are also highly clinically relevant. Significant decreases were also seen in depression and anxiety over the study period, as measured by the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale-Short Version scale, with scores decreasing from 23.8 at baseline to 20.6 at follow-up.

“The Be Brave Ranch offers the caliber of comprehensive treatment that child sexual abuse survivors need and deserve,” said Glori Meldrum, founder and chair of Little Warriors. “With peer support, various therapies to reach different personalities, and full program immersion, we have seen significant impacts and growth. Our clinical trial results confirm everything we have worked for, and we are excited to continue helping children grow into happy, healthy adults.”

The findings offer hope to the millions of children in the US who are affected by child sexual abuse—often suffering from multiple long-term psychiatric and physical outcomes—as well as their families and society as a whole, according to the researchers.

“Successful programs can not only reduce the suffering of child survivors, but can also significantly lower future health care costs by changing the health trajectory of children,” said Silverstone. “These initial results demonstrate that the application of multiple, intensive treatment methods can impact the individual and overarching outcomes of child sexual abuse. In layman’s terms, we have uncovered new hope for this horrific crime.”