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An upset child sitting against a wall with a hood pulled tightly over his head

Sexual abuse has an often devastating and long-term impact on the lives of many children and young people - for these children the future can be very dark indeed.

A new study by Durham and Bristol universities will evaluate the effectiveness of a therapeutic service designed to help children and young people who have been affected by sexual abuse. The research includes one of the largest randomised trials of this type of therapy to have been undertaken in the world.

The three-and-a-half-year NSPCC-funded study will evaluate the effectiveness of 'Letting the Future In [LTFI]', a therapeutic intervention designed for children and young people aged between four- and 18-years-old who have been affected by sexual abuse.

The programme, which is currently offered by 18 NSPCC teams across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, uses a range of approaches to help children and young people express themselves including talking, playing and creative activities such as painting, drawing or storytelling. Participants in the programme are offered up to 20 sessions with a trained social worker or therapist; their parent / safe carer may have six individual sessions as well as joint sessions with the child.

Professor Simon Hackett said: "The research will provide an invaluable opportunity to learn not just about 'what works' for children who have been sexually abused, but also how interventions work."

The independent evaluation includes a randomised control trial [RCT] to determine whether the LTFI intervention is successful in meeting the needs of children who have been affected by sexual abuse and their safe carer in comparison to children in a control group.

Data for the study, entitled 'Evaluation of Letting the Future In', will be collected from children and their safe carers between April 2013 and February 2015. Following data analysis, the research report will be completed by June 2015.