WellStop is focused on being evidence-informed and to support and undertake research whenever practicable. If you are interested in partnering with WellStop on a research project, please phone us (04 566 4745) or complete a general enquiry form. Please note that we cannot accept all proposals, but we are willing to discuss ideas.
Effectiveness of Programmes
WellStop has participated in and commissioned research to demonstrate the effectiveness of our treatment. By international standards we rate highly with a 2003 evaluation of our programmes for adults who had engaged in Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) conducted with 203 adults ordered to attend community-based programmes by the courts over four years that found a recidivism rate for HSB of 5.2%. This is comparable to a rate of 16% for sex offenders receiving probation monitoring. A 2006 study, Getting It Right by Ian Lambie and othersevaluated our youth services showing a 2% recidivism rate for adolescents who had engaged in HSB and completed treatment. The sample size across the country was 682 youth who were followed up for an average of 4.5 years.
Good Way Model Research
The Good Way model is a therapeutic approach developed at WellStop for clients with intellectual disabilities and serious behaviour concerns. It is also now used with clients who don’t have a disability.
The Good Way model was evaluated by Victoria Weedon in 2015 who found that overall the introduction of the Good Way Model intervention with young people presenting with harmful sexual behaviour, targeted the problem behaviour appropriately and that it was well received by participants.
Programme Evaluation for Children with Concerning Sexual Behaviour
In 2007 WellStop commissioned research by Victoria University of Wellington to determine the level of sexualised behaviour in local schools. Results of this researchshowed that over 2/3rds of teachers reported managing a range of sexualised behaviours by Years 7 and 8 students, and some reported behaviours which they found disturbing.
Most of the behaviours were managed within the school setting. As members of a diverse community, teachers had different definitions of ‘normal’ behaviour. Recommendations for agencies working with teachers and schools included that:
Teachers needed resources to know how to handle difficult situations with children
They wanted advice and support to help them manage the child’s behaviour
They needed some information about sexualised behaviour as part of teacher training
They needed to have regular follow up training from agencies such as WellStop
They needed a toolkit to help them identify students who were more “at risk”.
Pilot Children's Programme Evaluation
Following on from the 2007 research, WellStop and our Christchurch-based partner agency, Stop, jointly applied for Ministry of Justice sexual abuse prevention funding in 2010 and developed a three-pronged approach to treatment for children who presented with concerning sexual behaviour in the school or home setting.
This pilot was then evaluated. The pilot included teacher education, a consultation service for schools dealing with children with sexualised behaviour, and a therapy service for children with concerning sexual behaviour. Results of the evaluation of the pilot showed an overall improvement in teacher’s knowledge and confidence to deal with issues around sexualised behaviour, that schools and parents could successfully enact safety and support plans for children with support and consultation from WellStop, and that children who needed a full assessment and treatment service also were treated successfully.
This pilot lead to funding by Oranga Tamariki for our full assessment and treatment service for children, and we are still working on funding the other parts of the approach.
Research About Our Clients
We have also sought to understand our clients and their experiences.
Typologies of Boys/Young Men who have Sexually Harmed Others
Stephanie Dillon in 2010 looked into the characteristics and background experiences of 195 boys and young men aged 6-17 who were taking part in the WellStop, Stop and Safe Network programmes for concerning or harmful sexual behaviour.
She looked into the characteristics that the clients presented with and found seven themes: unusual sexual interest and delinquency, trauma and neglect, sexual abuse and family mental health problems, mood disregulation, personality and social deficits, developmental deficits, and family aggression and abuse.
Her research then looked at whether a typology was possible and determined these were the main different possible profiles:
Clients who were depressed and relationship seeking
Those who were trauma reactive
Those who tended to be hostile and engage in a range of aggressive behaviours
Those who tended to control others and felt entitled to abuse.
Characteristics of Girls/Young Women Presenting with Harmful Sexual Behaviour
Victoria Weedon (2011) researched the characteristics of girls presenting with Harmful Sexual Behaviour. She found that girls seen at WellStop and the two other community-based programmes, Stop and Safe Network, experienced:
High levels of maltreatment
Displacement from families
Exposure to multiple family stressors – especially domestic violence
Had histories of multiple abuse themselves, as well as mental health issues.
She proposed that young women needed a gender-responsive approach to treatment.
Trauma Experiences of Children with Sexual Behaviour Problems
Lyn White, in her 2015 research looked at the Trauma Experiences of Children with Sexual Behaviour Problems in relation to how they viewed themselves and their relationships.
She found that children presenting to WellStop with Harmful Sexual Behaviour have:
High levels of trauma including: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect
Experiences of household dysfunction such as experiences of domestic violence, growing up with a family member with mental health problems
Criminality in the family
Parental separation or divorce
Growing up around alcohol and drug abuse.
These experiences are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). 71.6% of children in this study had experienced four or more ACEs compared to 12.5% of the normal adult population, and 44.2% had seven or more ACEs.
Having four or more ACEs has been shown to impact on a person’s future health, mental health, and achievement in life.
Lyn White concluded there was a need for therapy with these children to be trauma-informed and to develop their resilience especially their sense of mastery and ability to deal with emotions.
Children with Sexual Behaviour Problems and Adverse Childhood Experiences
Nathan Heine from Victoria University of Wellington also considered ACEs for children at WellStop in his 2018 study.
He found that the most common ACE was the absence of a parent, followed by witnessing domestic violence and mental illness in the family.
Children referred to WellStop were also frequently exposed to violence in the home but experienced less sexual abuse than was found in other research.
Nathan Heine also found that the more ACEs a child who presented with concerning sexual behaviour experienced, the more sexual behaviours they displayed.
Targeted Prevention of Concerning or Harmful Sexual Behaviour by Children
In 2018, Heath Hutton, a WellStop employee who is studying at Massey University in Wellington, researched this area for his Master’s thesis. He reviewed the literature and interviewed clinicians and therapists who work in the harmful sexual behaviour field about their views on targeted prevention.
Targeted prevention is where prevention activities are focused on people and situations where there is greater risk of harm. It is also known as secondary prevention. Primary prevention is focused on a whole population, and tertiary prevention is focused on preventing reoccurrence or further harm.
Heath found that targeted prevention approaches aimed at preventing children engaging in concerning or harmful sexual behaviour need to be part of an overarching comprehensive national strategy that takes advantage of early intervention opportunities.
He emphasised the need for collaboration and communication throughout the sexual violence sector and beyond. His thesis provides an overview of the key issues that need to be considered by policy makers in the development of new prevention strategies and initiatives in the sexual violence area.
It highlights the various socio-cultural factors that will need to be adequately addressed by any approach that hopes to meet the diverse, and often conflicting, needs of individuals, families, and communities. Critical in this was the need to incorporate Māori knowledge and world-view in any initiative.
Heath’s research identified various secondary or targeted prevention opportunities that could be implemented.
Prevention programmes for children identified as being in higher risk groups or for voluntary referrals for family or school referrals where there were concerns about children’s sexualised behaviour
Increasing education opportunities on childhood sexualised behaviour for parents and families, and for primary school teachers and education professionals
School based programmes for children to help them develop clear knowledge about boundaries and behaviour
Prevention programmes/activities targeting exposure to or use of pornography by children
Programmes for children who had been harmed to build their resilience, since a high proportion are likely to be revictimised
Situational prevention opportunities - that is looking at places or situations where harmful sexual behaviour could occur and modifying them to decrease the likelihood.
A significant connection that emerged from Heath’s review of the literature, and from his research, is the relationship between societal conditions and targeted prevention.
For effective targeted prevention efforts to be developed we need to do more than consider the context of specific individuals or risk factors.
There needs to be a focus on broader societal conditions and universal prevention efforts to set the foundations for targeted prevention approaches.