Friday, December 8, 2023

The Second Edition of ATSA’s Task Force Report on Children with Sexual Behavior Problems is now Available

 By David S. Prescott, LICSW & Amanda Pryor

In 2005 and 2006, I was fortunate enough to be a part of ATSA’s task force on children with sexual behavior problems. The task at that time was simple; we would write a report summarizing what is known, and provide recommendations for assessment, treatment, and policy.

Chair Mark Chaffin made the task simpler still. He organized the task force members into three groups, each of which would tackle one of the content areas and produce a section three pages long He would then edit the document and send it on to the board. Not surprisingly, none of the groups could limit their contribution to just three pages, but this clever approach made the process significantly easier, and the result was both comprehensive and concise.

In 2018, ATSA’s leadership requested an update to this report. The idea was not to start from scratch, but merely to update the first edition.  Again, this seemed like an easy task, but became more complicated along the way, including by significant changes in the office and the onset of the pandemic. The project that started with Phil Rich as the board liaison was then shepherded by Amanda Pryor, who succeeded Phil. Although I had been asked to Chair the task force, the final document reflects collaboration between many players in the task force, the ATSA office, ATSA’s Executive Board of Directors, and its Child and Adolescent Committee.

In other words, both the content and the processes changed over the years, and resulted in a stronger yet more flexible document in an era where the level of scrutiny by stakeholders has only grown higher. This document, which emphasizes person-first language, has been as thoroughly reviewed and considered as any document that ATSA has produced.

 What else has changed over the years?

To start, the research in this area has come a long way. Many people are to be congratulated for this. This research has emerged from many areas, from the University of Oklahoma to the United Kingdom.

During the initial review of the first edition, it became clear that we needed more of a focus on trauma and adversity. Anyone working with children and teens has long had an appreciation for the importance of understanding the role of trauma and adversity in the lives of our young clients. However, our understanding of these areas has become much more granular over time. Working with the task force was a great opportunity to reflect on this.

The role of technology has also changed dramatically. When the first task force report came out, the iPhone was still in development, early exposure to sexually explicit media was less common, and social media was in its infancy. Further, the “tube” sites (a generic term for online pornography sites that provide free content) had begun to flourish only at around the same time as the first edition of the task force’s report.

It is also important to note that our field’s understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation of diversity has also come a long way, in research, professional discourse, and clinical practice. This focus has included considerations related to LGBTQ+ youth and other marginalized communities.

There has been impressive innovation in treatment approaches and modalities. This includes more sophisticated think about family involvement, group-based approaches, and individual therapy. We now have even greater confirmation of the important and very noble role that families and other caregivers can have in helping children emerge into a safer adolescence.

Further, the process led us (and this was really Amanda’s contribution) to produce this as a foundational document focusing on assessment, treatment, and placement considerations. Across the coming months, there will be addenda produced to address specific areas. These include considerations in the areas of technology, sexuality, culture, intellectual and developmental disabilities, sibling abuse, policy, and collaboration with Child Advocacy Centers.

Also in the background is knowledge that the document we produced is aimed at primarily North American audiences and that additional materials with more of an international slant would also likely be welcome. While ATSA is truly an international organization, it also recognizes that North American practitioners can sometimes face unique challenges.

Ultimately, no document can be all things to everyone, but this project, thanks to uncountable numbers and drafts across many years, will hopefully guide many professionals in a more empirically grounded and helpful way.

Download the document:

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