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Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program Plans Major Expansion

Talking for Change has confirmed a five-year grant to sustain, expand its work.

Key points

  • A program launched in 2021 with an anonymous national helpline and non-anonymous psychotherapy program.
  • The program is for people distressed about their attraction to children or worried they might offend.
  • New funding will allow the program to expand its client base and step up program evaluation.
  • Funding comes from a national child protection strategy in Canada.
Source: Mimzy May/Pexels
Source: Mimzy May/Pexels

A helpline and therapy service for adults who are troubled by their sexual interest or concerned about their risk of sexually offending against children is getting set for a major expansion, after confirming five years of core funding from the Canadian government.

The Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) launched Talking for Change (TFC) in August 2021. The service offers an anonymous national helpline and therapy for individuals who are distressed about their attraction to children, concerned about their use of child pornography, or worried that they might offend. The group sessions, currently available in six of Canada’s 10 provinces and two of its three territories, are about to expand from 16 weeks to 20.

All TFC services are staffed by psychologists and social workers who are trained specialists in child sexual abuse prevention, said Dr. Ian McPhail, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, a program of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University. The program also works with bystanders who learn that someone close to them is looking for help. Since 2021, TFC has seen a steady increase in the number of people contacting the helpline and being referred for therapy.

“Having more clients contacting the helpline is success in itself because it shows that more people are aware of our services,” McPhail said. “Another big piece will be ongoing evaluation. We’re all psychologists, and one thing we’re obsessed with is research and evaluation. We have the internal motivation to continue that.”

The next five years will see the beginning of a controlled trial to build a more robust evidence base on the efficacy of TFC’s approach. Over time, “[our research will] follow people for longer periods of time to be able to confirm whether Talking for Change is efficacious and whether it’s preventing child sexual abuse over the longer term.”

The wider client base may also shed light on some of the specific client profiles where a preventive approach can make a difference.

“Especially with problematic online sexual behavior, a lot of folks who come to us are on the autism spectrum or have other neurodivergent issues,” McPhail said. “So we’ll be adapting and expanding those service offerings over the next two or three years to be more responsive to the needs of that client group.”

So far, the response from clients has been powerful.

“If you are like me, and have found yourself in need of help, I encourage you to give this group a try,” said one therapy client. “It could be one of the best decisions that you ever make. It was for me.”

“The facilitators are some of the most compassionate and understanding people I have met,” another client added. “They didn’t judge me and instead, they genuinely offered their knowledge and help.”

In 2023, Talking for Change was selected as an evaluation site for the Moore Center’s Global Perpetration Prevention project with the Oak Foundation. Then the Department of Public Safety Canada (PSC) agreed to continue supporting the program for five years under its National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet.

“In 2020, we opened the door a crack,” McPhail said. “Now the door is wide open.”

With program continuity assured, the six-member team at Talking for Change will be able to bring timely assistance to more clients and deliver greater benefits to the community as a whole.

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