‘Child sexual abuse is tragically common and it impacts lives for many many years,’ says Dr. Peter Silverstone
By Min Dhariwal, CBC News
On a wide open space east of Edmonton, the Be Brave Ranch has given new hope to child survivors of sexual abuse.
The ranch offers an intensive four-week therapy program run by the University of Alberta that has helped sexually abused children deal with post-traumatic stress and other trauma, according to recently completed clinical trials.
The Be Brave Ranch is the only facility of its kind to offer this dedicated treatment to children aged eight to 12.
It’s the brainchild of Glori Meldrum, a survivor of child abuse herself.
“Every little kid that comes to our facility, honestly, I just feel better because I know they can grow into healthy adults,” said Meldrum, who was at the U of A on Monday to announce the program’s findings. “That’s all I ever wanted.
“To be violated the way I was, and these kids are, it’s disgusting. There is no more horrific crime.”
Over the past year, girls and boys aged eight to 12 have been healing through peer support at the ranch.
‘It’s really very tragic, this changes that possibility’
Clinical trials already show a reduction in PTSD, depression and anxiety.
“These kids have the opportunity to lead normal lives,” said Dr. Peter Silverstone, a professor of psychiatry with the University of Alberta’s faculty of medicine and dentistry.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people I see in my clinical practice, pretty much every day, who years, or decades later are still dealing with the consequences of child sexual abuse. It’s really very tragic. This changes that possibility.”
The results of the clinical trials, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Behaviour, showed a “highly significant reduction” in symptoms, according to a news release about the program.
Thirty-five children took part in the trails. On the first day, each child filled out a standardized questionnaire. On the final day, they filled out the same questionnaire and the results were compared.
Researchers found a 25-per-cent reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder scores, a reduction in the number of children experiencing PTSD (14 children, down from 26) and a significant reduction in depression and anxiety, according to a report about the trials.
“Happy, and healthy adults.”
“In layman’s terms, we have uncovered new hope for this horrific crime,” said Dr. Silverstone.
“Successful programs can not only reduce the suffering of child survivors, but can also significantly lower future health care costs by changing the health trajectory of children.”
The program was designed Silverstone’s research team. Little Warriors, a charity that works to prevent and treat child sexual abuse, designed the Be Brave Ranch, where the program is delivered.
“The Be Brave Ranch offers the caliber of comprehensive treatment that child sexual abuse survivors need and deserve,” said Meldrum, who is also the founder and chair of Little Warriors. “Our clinical trial results confirm everything we have worked for, and we are excited to continue helping children grow into happy, healthy adults.”
Small groups of children lived at the ranch and underwent hours of therapy with psychologists each day. Their parents stayed at other lodges at the ranch. The children were taught life skills and were gradually encouraged to speak about the abuse with therapists.
The therapy also included structured play, physical exercise, arts and crafts, music, role playing and interacting with horses and dogs.
The ranch can treat as many as 60 kids at one time. The kids must all stay at the ranch for the 28-day period.
Kids from across Canada have come to the ranch for treatment.