Exploring the supportive needs of volunteers working with sexually abused children in Somerset West
Kingwill, Claire Michelle
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The definition of child sexual abuse is problematic as it encompasses various meanings within different cultures. This in turn leads to difficulty in measuring the exact incidence and prevalence of child sexual abuse within a country. Many researchers, however, agree that the incidence and prevalence of child sexual abuse within South Africa is significantly high and poses a large threat to many children. As a result, the government has implemented legislation and various policies to protect children from sexual abuse, as well as to provide the victims of such abuse with the necessary assistance. As child sexual abuse may have considerable short- and long-term effects on the child, it is essential that the child be adequately supported. Through various welfare programmes, the government aims to provide support and treatment to children who have been sexually abused. Professionals working with sexually abused children work in a highly stressful environment and often show symptoms of vicarious traumatisation, secondary trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue as a result. South Africa in particular faces further problems, in that the welfare programmes are often underfunded and lack the support needed to effectively help sexually abused children. This has led to a need for community members to volunteer in order to help alleviate some of the stress on professionals working within the field of child sexual abuse. Community members can volunteer in various ways within many different spheres of the community. Their motivations to volunteer vary and range from wanting to give back to the community, to wanting to further their education. Volunteers in South Africa that work within the field of child sexual abuse may also, however, experience many of the same symptoms as the professionals with whom they work. This often leads to a high dropout and turnover rate in volunteer programmes. That said, if volunteers feel a sense of satisfaction and support within their work environment, the organisation’s retention rate will be higher. Literature has shown that South Africa’s mental health services rely on volunteers to help alleviate the workload, particularly in the area of sexual abuse. While much research has been done on the supportive needs of professionals working with sexually abused children, little research has been conducted on the secondary trauma experienced by volunteers working within this field. This qualitative study is therefore important because it explores the supportive needs of volunteers working at an organisation for sexually abused children in a small community in Somerset West. Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the North-West University and the participants gave their informed consent before taking part in the study. Data were gathered through discussion groups and individual interviews with six volunteers. Through the process of crystallisation and the four standards of trustworthiness, the reliability of the findings was ensured. Using thematic analysis, various themes and sub-themes were identified. From the data obtained in the group discussions and individual interviews, it was revealed that the volunteers had similar supportive needs to those of psychologists, social workers and counsellors working in the field of child sexual abuse. These included a need for supervision and debriefing; a need for appreciation, acknowledgement, value and worth; a need for more contact and support from the organisation; a need for emotional support from the organisation and supportive others; as well as a need for assistance in coping with anger, all of which is consistent with previous research. As volunteer retention is essential to the continuity of organisations such as the one in this study, it is imperative that the volunteers’ supportive needs are understood and fulfilled. These findings have contributed to an understanding of the volunteers’ supportive needs and what organisations and significant others can do to fulfil these needs, in order for the volunteers to render effective services to the sexually abused children with whom they work.
- Humanities