While the number of sexually abused children in the general population is concerning, children in foster care have experienced disproportionately high rates of sexual abuse. While statistics regarding the general population show that one in three girls (about 33.3%) and one in ten boys (10%) experience childhood sexual abuse, as many as one out of every two children in foster care (50%) experience childhood sexual abuse. Some children were abused prior to entering foster care, while others suffer sexual abuse while in a foster care placement. Sexual abuse can have a particularly damaging effect on a child’s ability to learn, grow and develop healthy relationships, all of which can have devastating consequences later in life. These can include behavioral problems; learning disorders; difficulty forming healthy relationships; mental health issues such as depression, suicidality, and P.T.S.D.; vulnerability to revictimization and commercial sexual exploitation.
Once in foster care, sexually abused children are particularly vulnerable to repeated incidents of abuse. Many factors within the foster care system contribute to their increased risk, such as multiple transfers, rapid staff turnover, disruption of school and community safety nets, and lack of appropriate treatment and clinical services. To compound matters, many attorneys, child protective specialists, agency workers and foster parents do not have the information, skills or training necessary to respond to the needs of sexually abused children.
Lawyers For Children’s Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation Project provides sexually abused children in foster care with expert, interdisciplinary representation to address their particular needs. Our clients are interviewed with skill and sensitivity by an attorney and a social worker who are both specially trained in child sexual abuse issues.
CSAE Project staff approach clients with an understanding of their developmental needs and the ability to sensitively explore and evaluate complex issues. They develop trusting relationships with each child, providing a safe space where the experience of trauma and its ongoing effects are validated, thus empowering and giving our clients a voice throughout the legal process. Our specialized knowledge informs each step of our case strategy and development, from examining evidence to preparing our clients to testify in court.
The project also offers trauma-informed education, guidance and information to the individuals and systems that impact our client’s lives, including foster parents and family members, agency and child protective workers, and attorneys and judges. The project team maintains a list of available resources for these clients and provides resource information to other stakeholders when appropriate.
Each year, our project attorney and social worker also consult with LFC’s staff attorneys and social workers on behalf of hundreds of individual children who have been sexually abused.
By providing our clients with compassionate representation, the CSAE Project helps children who have experienced sexual abuse become settled in safe, loving and permanent homes that will help them heal and help prevent future victimization.