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Children at Risk Ireland (CARI) has announced the appointment of their new Chief Executive/Clinical Officer, Emer O’Neill.

Ms O’Neill is CARI’s former national Head of Therapy and will retain a clinical role in the national charity, which supports children, teenagers and families affected by child sexual abuse.

Ms O’Neill says Ireland must talk more openly about child sexual abuse if we are to tackle the trauma it inflicts on so many lives. “Sexual abuse affects children and teenagers from all walks of life every day of the year.  It is not just an historic issue, and we need to overcome our reluctance to discuss it, however difficult that may be.”

“More funding is needed for services like ours which provide a safe space for children to work through their pain and to heal. The good news is that with the right support and therapy, child victims of sexual abuse can live life to their full potential. Therapy helps them process the intense feelings of shame, guilt, confusion and hurt they face. It also helps to reduce mental health problems and addiction issues and enables them to enter into healthy relationships in the future.”

“But not every child has early access to the therapy services they need, particularly in regional areas. This is why we are extending our Outreach Services, starting with the recent launch of our South East Centre in Wexford. It will serve children and teenagers in counties Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Kildare and Wicklow.

“No child abuse victim should have to travel more than an hour to access therapy services,” says Ms O’Neill. “However, we cannot extend across the regions without adequate funding. Just a third of the costs of our new southeast service will receive State funding, forcing us to fundraise for the remainder. Our focus should be on therapy, not on raising money.”

Ms O’Neill says there’s also an urgent need to deal with “increased levels of sexualised behaviour among children exposed to internet pornography. Children under 12 cannot process what they see, so they act out, often with other siblings or peers. Parents really struggle when dealing with this kind of behaviour, but if it is not tackled effectively, it can just generate further cycles of abuse.”

“We work very effectively with parents and schools to resolve behaviours like this. However, there needs to be more support for a nationwide response to help us support these parents.”

About Emer O’Neill

Ms O’Neill has worked as a systemic family therapist and manager for over 17 years, the past two years with CARI. She holds an MSC in Systemic Family Therapy from The Mater and UCD and has also worked with Console and Pieta House.

If you have concerns about child protection or a child’s sexualised behaviour, go to or call the CARI Helpline on 0818 924567.