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Child Abuse (UFAM)

The Child Abuse Functional Unit (UFAM) offers a multidisciplinary response to all cases of suspected possible sexual abuse of children.

SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital’s Child Abuse Functional Unit was the first in Spain which was created to treat children affected by sexual abuse. Since 1995, the Unit’s staff have been treating girls and boys under the age of 18 and assessing all patients who are suspected to have been a victim of such acts, so that, if the suspicion is confirmed, they can help them to overcome this traumatic experience and try to ensure that they don’t suffer this type of abuse again.

The main objective of this multidisciplinary Unit linked to the Paediatrics Department is to provide a medical and psychosocial response in cases where minors have reported situations of abuse, and to act when there is a strong suspicion on behalf of the family members or professionals who look after them. The UFAM, supported by the Official Medical Association of Barcelona (COMB), evaluates and diagnoses minors and treats the consequences of each case. The Child Abuse Unit staff also treat adolescents that have sexually abused other underage children.

FAQs about the UFAM

Who can go to SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital’s Child Abuse Functional Unit (UFAM)?

The Unit deals with cases that are referred to it by families, as well as treating children and teenagers who are referred by paediatricians or other professionals (justice services, Child and Juvenile Mental Health Centres [CSMIJ], schools, lawyers or the police). Any person who identifies a suspected case of abuse can consult our professionals about the situation.

How can I contact the Child Abuse Functional Unit?

Please call the telephone number +34 93 253 21 13. Office hours are from 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. (with treatment preferably given in the mornings).  

Outside of these hours, cases that are felt to be urgent should preferably be taken to the A&E department at the closest hospital or health centre, which can then refer them to SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital’s UFAM or the department considered to be most suitable.

Where should I turn if I suspect child sexual abuse?

We recommend that you request urgent help from a nearby healthcare centre if the child sexual abuse has occurred within the last 72 hours, when there may still be some form of physical evidence. The child should be examined by a doctor when there is a suspicion of possible abuse.

If the situation took place over 72 hours ago, ask the Child Abuse Functional Unit about the steps to take. You can also call the free helpline Infància Respon (child protection) on 116 111. This department of the Directorate General of Child and Adolescent Services (DGAIA) also has an email address where you can report cases of child or adolescent abuse (infanciarespon.bsf@gencat.cat).

Who can receive help from this team specialising in child sexual abuse?

The patients in the Unit are boys and girls between the ages of zero and 18 years who are suspected to have suffered a type of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is considered to be the situation in which a person with a position of power (an adult or an older child) uses coercion or forces a boy or girl to perform any type of sexual activity.

The abusers are also sometimes treated if they are children or adolescents in order to correct their behaviour, if required, or to rule out the possibility that the aggressor—when he/she is underage— has not also been a victim of prior abuse.

Does the UFAM treat cases of physical or psychological abuse?

We do not treat cases of physical abuse. In these cases, the family member or person who suspects child abuse should first go to see a paediatrician at their nearest primary care centre or hospital so that the possible physical consequences can be studied and treated.

Neither do we assess cases of psychological abuse. In such circumstances, you are also recommended to go to your nearest primary care centre or hospital.

What does the team do when there is a suspicion of child sexual abuse?

The patient is assessed, a diagnosis is made and they are treated in accordance with the needs of each individual case. The treatment (medical and psychological) may be given directly at SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital or in coordination with nearby services such as Child and Juvenile Mental Health Centres (CSMIJ).

We treat the consequences directly associated with the abuse while considering the experience suffered by the child and their age. We take a biopsychosocial approach to treating patients. In all cases, we work to provide self-protection mechanisms to the underage victims of abuse, and to prevent them from being abused again.

We also offer support and guidance to the core family members not involved in the abuse on how to tackle the situation and how they can try to overcome it.

Does the Unit offer any form of legal advice?

No. The team always writes a report on the case of each individual patient, whether or not they feel it constitutes a case of abuse. When abuse is diagnosed, the staff in the Child Abuse Functional Unit have the legal and deontological obligation to report the situation to the relevant bodies (justice, health and child care services). In the early phases we can only guide the families to initiate legal proceedings, but under no circumstances do we offer legal advice.

When a diagnosis of child sexual abuse is confirmed, the medical report that is submitted to the family of the minor may be given as evidence in court. The objective of this document, which is legally valid, is to avoid the re-victimisation of the child. Or rather, to not make them relive the situations that they suffered through statements or scenarios that make them re-experience the role of the victim, or relive emotions associated with the traumatic experience.

The UFAM does not process the child protection procedures either. These procedures are handled directly by the Directorate General of Child and Adolescent Services (DGAIA) or the legal bodies involved in each case.

What are the functions of the Child Abuse Functional Unit?
  • Initial family support, accompaniment, and support during the assessment process. 
  • Socio-family study of the environment of the affected child, and an assessment of whether or not their protection is required.
  • Data collection and physical examination by a paediatrician.
  • Paediatric treatment and subsequent follow-up if required. 
  • Psychological study of the minors and support to the core family members not involved in the abuse.
  • Collection and evaluation of the minor’s statement.
  • Assessment and treatment of the consequences, if any.
  • Writing up of the report for the family, judicial bodies and child protection services.
  • Specialised psychological treatment and guidance, if required. 
  • Referral to other psychological services in the healthcare network if required by the patient or the family.
  • Collaboration with the judicial bodies, among others, when required.
  • Psychological preparation of the minor before the oral hearing. 
  • Empowerment of the children to avoid re-victimisation.
  • Referral to professionals in other centres when requested.

 

How do the professionals in the UFAM work?

The Child Abuse Functional Unit (UFAM) works in coordination with the other Departments and Units at SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital (Gynaecology, A&E, etc.) The team gives a diagnosis and treats children who have suffered a situation of child sexual abuse from an adult or another minor.

The team consists of two paediatricians, two psychologists, a psychiatrist and a social worker, in addition to a member of administrative staff. The main objective of the professionals is to provide children who are suspected to have suffered abuse with a comprehensive approach to help them fight the damage that can be caused by these experiences.

Some of the objectives of the Child Abuse Functional Unit include the diagnosis and assessment of the boy or girl who has suffered a case of sexual abuse and working to help them recover properly. It also acts to ensure the protection of the child and treat the physical and psychological consequences of the abuse in both the child and other family members. Providing tools that help to prevent other cases of abuse from occurring (whether within the family or elsewhere) is another of the main missions of this Unit. 

The work carried out at SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital guides the families of children who are suspected to have suffered sexual abuse, both in cases in which abuse is confirmed and those in which it is not. 

Training and prevention in the area of child sexual abuse

Training is another of the main activities of the UFAM. We provide training to several types of group: teachers, student parent associations, adolescents and young children. Prevention is the main objective of the sessions aimed at schools, families, children, and adolescents. The sessions are adapted to the needs of each individual case. For more information about the guidance that we offer, please contact the UFAM at the Unit’s email address.

We also train professionals (paediatric and psychology residents, Master’s students and social workers) to provide them with tools to help them deal with child sexual abuse. We have also participated in the Department of Health’s steering committee to update the Health Protocol on the Mistreatment of Children and Sexual Abuse.

UFAM activity

Minors treated
368
during 2018
Those referred
66%
from other health departments
Follow-up
883
or non-face-to-face visits
Patients assessed
517
in Paediatrics and Psychology
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