Pilot project – the impact of support interventions on families of individuals suspected of online facilitated child sexual abuse offences, and the police officers involved in the investigation

This pilot will explore the impact of a new referral model and support intervention for the families of individuals suspected of online child sexual abuse (CSA) offences.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Theresa Redmond
Police region
Eastern
Collaboration and partnership

Professor Rachel Armitage, University of Huddersfield.

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

At present, families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences are unable to access support, be that therapeutic or advocacy, unless the parent is sentenced to a custodial sentence, or the children have been victimised as part of the offending.

What little research there is suggests that the period from the execution of the warrant to conviction is extremely traumatic for families, particularly for partners and ex-partners who co-parent with the suspect.

Partners have to deal with:

  • the practical implications of the suspect being bailed to an alternative address

  • supervising any access permitted to the children

  • a loss of income (the offender’s and in some cases their own where changes in childcare prohibit working)

  • the isolation of being advised not to disclose to family and friends

  • the fear of community judgements should the case be reported in the media

As a result, a vacuum is created which results in families being unsupported from the very start of the process, throughout the criminal justice system to the point of trial and conviction.

Furthermore, at present, the non-offending partner is positioned largely as a protective factor within this situation, assigned a role in preventing re-offending and minimising the risk of offender/suspect suicide, yet little support has been directed towards their needs, irrespective of their role as a tool or resource (Wager and Wager, 2015).

Police officers involved in these investigations

There is a relatively small body of research that highlights the negative impacts of policing more generally (for example, MacEachern, Dennis, Jackson, and Jindal Snape, 2018), and some has focused more on the impacts of policing sexual offences, particularly CSA investigations (Tapson, Doyle, Karagiannopoulos, and Lee, 2021; Parkes, Graham-Kevan and Bryce, 2018).

A further unique aspect of this research is the focus on addressing the lack of knowledge and understanding about the effect of executing the search warrant in these investigations on the police officers involved, which may be exacerbated by knowingly having to leave families with little or no support afterwards.

Research methodology

The Pilot

The Thames Valley Partnership (the Partnership) is a collaboration between a charity that supports the families of people who have been sent to prison and Thames Valley Police (TVP) POLIT. Where the TVP POLIT have commenced an investigation into individuals suspected of online CSA offences, the charity has offered to extend its usual support to include families who have been referred to them by TVP POLIT. Families refers to a partner, children, or other family members.

To receive support from the Partnership, families must:

  • not be suspected of being involved in any offences themselves
  • live with the suspect and/or co-parent with the suspect as a current or ex-partner

Aim and objectives

The purpose of the pilot is to investigate the impact of a new referral model and support intervention for the families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences, and on the POLIT officers involved in these investigations, to improve the wellbeing and practice of those involved.

A unique feature of this intervention is that the partnership will use a proactive referral model designed to increase support for these families from the execution of the search warrant, for as long as the family wants, within the timeframe of the pilot.

This is a service that is not normally available to families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences because at this stage the potential offender is still a suspect as opposed to a convicted offender.

The Evaluation of the Pilot

Aim

To evaluate the impacts of the Partnership’s new referral model (outlined above) on:

  • families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences

  • POLIT officers who execute the warrant and are involved in the investigation

To help improve the wellbeing of those involved (personally and professionally) and the support provision offered in investigations into cases of suspected of online CSA offences.

Objectives

This will be done by analysing anonymised case notes of interactions and interviews with families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences; and interviews with other stakeholders (see below) to:

  • identify the extent to which the Partnership referral model benefits families of individuals suspected of online CSA offences

  • identify the extent to which the Partnership referral model benefits POLIT officers involved in the execution of the warrant and subsequent investigations

  • identify any challenges to achieving the aims of the Partnership intervention, gaps in, and barriers to accessing service provision, which results in the needs of partners not being met

  • identify any ways in which the Partnership intervention could be improved to benefit families and POLIT officers

Evaluation Methods

A mixed-methods approach will be taken for this process and outcome evaluation, with the collection of qualitative and quantitative data, to understand the impact of the Partnership referral model of support on partners of suspects and the POLIT officers involved in these investigations.

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