‘The best part of my job is when the children take back control’

Sinead Hegarty, the NSPCC's Foyle service manager.
Sinead Hegarty, the NSPCC's Foyle service manager.

NSPCC Foyle and Childline have recently merged bases in the NW and are now located at one site in Derry city centre. In this article, NSPCC Foyle service manager, Sinéad Hegarty, outlines her work dealing with children who have been sexually abused and how she helps them on their journey to recovery.

A long-held wish to help local children rebuild their lives after sexual abuse has led Sinéad Hegarty to dedicate more than 15 years of her life to the NSPCC.

Sinéad, who has been with the leading children’s charity since 2004, started out as a Children’s Services Practitioner and now heads up the NSPCC team at its base at Exchange House in Derry. She is in charge of a team of seven expertly trained staff who deal directly with children and families.

Sinéad’s team, previously located at Glendermott Road in the Waterside, is now based alongside the Childline Foyle team of staff and volunteers at Exchange House.

The merger was officially recognised at an event last month which was attended by NSPCC and Childline staff and volunteers plus the region’s Mayor together with corporate partners, politicians, Council representatives and supporters.

The hybrid base includes the Childline counselling room where volunteers take calls from children from the north west and across the UK. The site also has carefully decorated and resourced therapeutic rooms where the charity’s Letting the Future In’ service is delivered. The rooms are decorated to be bright and child-friendly with furnishings chosen by staff to support the therapeutic process.

There are a variety of toys as well as arts and crafts that help children explore and work through their impact issues.

This service focuses on helping children and young people recover from the traumatic impact of child sexual abuse. Individual work is offered to children and young people between the ages of 4 and 17. It aims to help them overcome the impact of their experiences and “get back on track” - giving them back their future.

Sinéad, who was raised in the Marlborough area, went to Thornhill College and then studied psychology at what is now the University of East London. A few years later, she went to the Ulster University’s Magee campus to complete her post-grad and MSc in social work.

Outlining her job, the 51-year-old told the Journal’: “My role is to ensure that the team is skilled and equipped to deliver a therapeutic service to support children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse. I oversee the delivery of this service, work with management teams on policy and procedures and on any issue relating to development and delivery of services. I also work to raise awareness of our service.

“I need to ensure that the team receives the training and support it requires to meet the needs of the children we work with. I also make sure that we follow agency policies and procedures, adhere to legislation and meet regional policies for the safeguarding and protection of children.”

Sinéad says no two days are the same and there are weeks when she is not in the office very much.

“On any given day, I can be meeting with the team or the team manager to discuss any issues that have arisen and where staff need support. I can be having discussions about child protection concerns and giving advice; I also give practice advice to support and develop the skills of the team. I work with the regional and national management teams to review and develop the services we offer to meet the needs of children and families in the Western Trust area.

“I sit on a number of groups linked to child protection and working within sexual and domestic violence, so I contribute to regional policies through those. I also deliver presentations to social work students and attend training and conferences to ensure that my knowledge and skills are kept up to date and I can support the team in delivering best practice.”

Sinead says she became aware of the sexual abuse recovery service in her previous job and knew this was something she really wanted to do.

“I believed that I would be able to support children and young people at this time in their lives and help them to get their lives back on track. I felt that I could make a difference and it was a job I really believed in, knowing the impact of child sexual abuse, having seen it in my work.”

Whilst her job might be difficult, Sinéad also stresses how fulfilling it can be to help children through extremely challenging situations.

She said: “The best bits of my job are the most rewarding and that is seeing a child - who has been affected so much by their experiences of abuse that they feel they will never move on and that life is not worth living - work through their impact and walk out of here, not needing us anymore and so determined and able to live life to its fullest and be everything that they ever could. It’s where children take back control from their abuser.

“I would just ask that anyone who is or who has experienced child sexual abuse tell someone they trust and to avail of the supports on offer. They can contact us directly if they wish.”

She added: “Mental health and lack of resources for treatment and also lack of understanding is a big issue for children in the North West right now.

“This can be fed into by social media from which our young people often gain their sense of self. The smart phone is a computer in their hands and, as well as being a really positive, educational tool, it also means that, within seconds, they can activate sites that they are not equipped to deal with or that can give them unrealistic views on e.g. relationships and we need to support our young people in navigating them.”

The NSPCC says it is very grateful to everyone who supports its life-changing work in the north west but it urgently needs more fundraising volunteers.

If you feel you, your friends and family or your workplace can help in any way, contact northernirelandappeals@nspcc.org.uk for further info.