FLORENCE, SC — CARE House of the Pee Dee has become the first in the region to offer Problematic Sexual Behavior – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an evidence-based treatment for children who act sexually. Previously, this trauma-informed therapy, which has a 98% success rate, was only available at two locations in the state, both located in the Lowcountry.
Simply put, problematic sexual behaviors are child-initiated behaviors that are sexual in nature, developmentally inappropriate, and can be harmful to the child or others. Examples include inappropriate sexual interactions with other children, public displays of sexual behavior, and engagement with sexually explicit material. “Children are curious creatures and begin to explore their bodies at an early age. This is completely normal and suitable for development. When we talk about problematic sexual behaviors (PSB), we look at factors such as the frequency of the behavior, developmental considerations, and, of course, prejudice. If the behavior includes force, intimidation or coercion or if it instills fear, it’s time to seek help,” says Alice Curry Gallego, Outreach Coordinator at CARE House.
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According to national data, 20 to 25 percent of cases handled by Children’s Advocacy Centers, centers that provide services to child victims of abuse, involve a child acting sexually on another child. These behaviors are common. They are serious, but fixable, and for caregivers looking for support, there is hope.
Research shows that with effective, evidence-based treatment, children with problematic sexual behaviors can continue to lead healthy lives free of such behaviors. According to long-term data from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center who developed the model, PSB-CBT has a 2% recurrence rate – meaning that in the long term, only 2% of children who received treatment continue to re-present. behaviors later in life. “PSB-CBT is an evidence-based treatment that reduces a child’s risk of future problems – not only in terms of problematic sexual behaviors, but also general behavioral problems,” says Casey Wilkes, LPCA, one of CARE House therapists trained in the model.
The treatment offered at CARE House is delivered in a group model to children aged 7-12 and their carers. The groups of children and caregivers meet simultaneously for one hour each week and are led by a team of master’s level clinicians. “Sexual misconduct in children is not a predictor of a specific diagnosis or an indicator that a child will become a predator in adulthood. Often children are exploratory and need to learn rules and skills to adapt,” said Andrea McConkey, a Masters-level trainee in the model.
According to McConkey, these adjustments come through learning the rules of sexual behavior, impulse control and other skills taught throughout treatment and practiced between sessions. “Technology has moved up the timeline significantly when it comes to exposure to sexual material. In the parent group, we spend time helping caregivers educate their children about sex, because the need for those conversations is there before many parents are ready to share,” McConkey continues.
CARE House held its first group session of this school-age model in March and although the duration of treatment is approximately six months, the open group approach allows families to join the group on an ongoing basis after a clinical assessment. CARE House hopes to expand its services in the future to include both preschool and adolescent role models. A group of child-serving professionals, agencies and leaders meet monthly to receive training, share information and work collaboratively to bring about change within their own agencies and the community in order to dispel myths and increase access to this life-changing therapy.
CARE House is accepting referrals for PSB-CBT. Local agencies and providers can also request a presentation to learn more about CARE House’s problematic sexual behaviors, treatment model, and referral process.