'One in six children are abused - it is happening in every community'

Suffolk charity Fresh Start new beginnings

The Fresh Start new beginnings team pictured in October 2021 - Credit: Caroline Horne Photography

Managing director of Suffolk charity Fresh Start new beginnings Patsy Johnson-Cisse, shares her thoughts on the progress of the charity in 2021 and looks ahead to 2022.

Having survived what has been the most challenging year for the country and certainly for our charity, it’s quite remarkable that we’re looking at the potential for the return of yet more restrictions in the lead up to Christmas.

Whilst this is upsetting and frustrating of course, my overwhelming feeling as we approach the end of this year, is one of pride at what our small charity has achieved against the odds, and of determination that we will go on to help and support even more children and families that need us in 2022 and beyond.

Charities have of course suffered in so many ways as a result of the pandemic. But what a lot of people don’t know, is that we have also been wrapped up in a surge of support and generosity from people keen to help.

From national government grants to corporate support, we have been incredibly lucky in that our income has not suffered to the extent of others, and we have been able to sustain our crucial services. Whilst it’s often hard, especially working in industries such as ours, we should never forget the compassion and kindness that exists in our communities.

Patsy Johnson

Patsy Johnson-Cisse, managing director of Fresh Start new beginnings - Credit: Fresh Start new beginnings

I am incredibly proud of the team we have here at Fresh Start new beginnings, who have upped their game and delivered creative means of working with our children, online when they had to and in person when we were finally able to re-open our doors

Substantial lottery funding has enabled us to grow our team which means we have a mix of loyal, experienced staff that have been with us for years, alongside new, eager team members and volunteer trustees bringing a wealth of skills and experience to our charity.

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The horrific news reports of the suicides of Sam and Chris Gould from Cambridgeshire who reported they had been sexually abused, bring what is a hidden world to the consciousness of people who are often completely unaware of the reality of life for many thousands of children.

We provide therapeutic services to children who have been sexually abused, and I never fail to stun people when I tell them that statistics tell us that one in six children face this kind of abuse. One in six. That means it’s happening in every community. I don’t say this purely to shock, I say it to spark action.

Our county is lucky to have a charity such as ours that can provide this help. We have a waiting list – one that continues to grow – but thankfully those children on it are waiting for far less time than many others around the country because of the unique services we offer and the way we work with our partners.

I’m never satisfied however, and for as long as there are children on our waiting list, I am determined that we must grow. Every day of waiting for help is a day too long, so next year, we hope to have welcomed even more team members and we’ll be adding more services to our offering.

We’re already seeing that innovative thinking is ensuring we reach more people.  Special Covid funding enabled us to appoint an outreach worker who works in our Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to ensure they are aware of the help that is available.

We have huge plans for events and hope that Covid restrictions don’t mean a further pause on these. Events are crucial to our income generation and whilst we have survived 2021, we’re now budgeting for 2022 and beyond and hope to boost our funding with some of our popular events such as our dragon boat race which is now virtually sold out for 2022.  Our first ever Christmas quiz was due to take place this month and was an instant sell-out, but sadly was postponed over Covid concerns.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has continued to support us this year, through donations, by volunteering at our events or by simply spreading the word about what we do. All of us can help support children who need us by simply being aware that sexual abuse is happening, and if you spot signs – please be their voice.

Christmas is a wonderful time for so many of us and a time to enjoy the warmth and care of our families and loved ones. For some children in our communities, it will be a time of fear and pain.  As we enjoy the festive period, I urge everyone to remember those who may not be as lucky as ourselves and to consider the small actions we can take to reach out to those who are vulnerable. I want every child to know at Christmas and always that they are not alone.  Together we can make a difference.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all at FSnb.

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