No Secrets support abuse sufferers

PUBLISHED: 08:44 30 September 2012

Police outside Hillside school

Police outside Hillside school

Archant

'THINGS got very bad and I was suicidal at one point. What do I say? What do I do?"

Fifteen months on from her daughter’s heartbreaking revelations, one mother is still moved to tears by the exploitation of young children carried out by former Hillside First School teacher Nigel Leat.

Leat was jailed ‘indefinitely’ in June 2011 after admitting 36 counts of child abuse at the Worle school.

But although the predatory paedophile is being kept safely behind bars, his victims and their families continue to suffer. Many of them in silence.

The mother said: “Our children are victims and we are victims but even now we are still scared to talk about it.

“I still have the nightmares from her and the flashbacks to deal with.

“While I was going through everything I thought I can’t tell my friends because I felt guilty that I didn’t pick up on it. There were times when I needed to cry.”

The mother - who cannot be named without compromising her daughter’s legal anonymity - found herself at rock bottom.

Because her daughter did not speak of her abuse until after Leat was jailed, the family wasnot able to access some of the support afforded to others in the same situation.

It was the family’s darkest hour.

After two months without counselling, minimal advice and with no-one to turn to, they were told the NSPCC was overburdened and could not help.

In return they were given just six group sessions with a council social worker.

Upset, angry and confused the mother turned to No Secrets support group.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the group’s formation. Already is has helped a number of thankful parents, like the Hillside mother.

Leader Christine Western said: “Hillside was the final nail in the coffin. I felt exasperated and not happy with child protection measures.

“The system lets the kids down and their families down because there isn’t the support network there. It needs a change in the law and more money.”

Although Hillside was the catalyst, the group deals with all sorts of problems including domestic abuse, bullying and educating children to not approach strangers.

The terrible events at Hillside will haunt the families involved forever but it should not be viewed as an isolated case. Nor should the excellent work of the Worle school’s pupils and staff since be tarnished.

In February Burnham’s former scout leader David Burland was jailed for 15 years after being found guilty of 33 abuse offences relating to three boys and a girl.

Such cases are rare but Christine acknowledges not every paedophile case can be prevented.

Both recent tragedies took place over a number of years and because statistics show the majority of cases involve someone who is known to the family, Christine believes the risks can be reduced by educating children.

No Secrets holds weekly meetings on a Thursday morning at Weston’s Barcode cafe for kids and adults.

Youngsters are able to play games and read stories but are also taught important life messages, whether that is not to approach strangers or that their bodies are their own.

But it is also a learning centre for the parents.

They can get information on anything, with issues such as school bullying and single-parent access previously raised.

Christine believes the best way to protect children is by convincing adults to not get spooked by ‘taboo’ subjects. The more kids are permitted to talk about issues such as sex, the more likely they are to come forward if they are in danger.

The mother agreed and said even now parents are reluctant to open up about the Hillside issue.

She said: “My fear is for anyone who has to deal with it alone. We have such pain and it is tempting to just bottle it up.

“If you come to the meeting there’s support for you. Having said something helped me.”

No Secrets cannot take away the pain. They cannot take away the memories. They cannot turn back time.

But they can be a comforting ear, a shoulder to cry on or an advice service.

No-one at their meetings will judge you as by-and-large everyone there is in the same boat.

But the group’s message is clear; be brave and share.

● No Secrets meets between 10am and noon on a Thursday at Barcode in South Parade during term time and 10am-2pm during school holidays. A public meeting will also be held at The Campus in Highlands Lane on October 8 between 1-2.30pm and 6-7.30pm.

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