Interview with an ISVA: Clare Sullivan

Clare Sullivan was appointed the Team Manager for SECOS (Sexually Exploited Clare SullivanChildren’s Outreach Service) hub and ISVA service in December 2013. Prior to this she was the Barnardo’s Child and Young Person’s ISVA for 2 years. Clare works with acute and historic male and female victims who are under the age of 18 years old. She currently has 14 people on her case load. Clare’s post covers the Tees Valley (which included Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland Local Authorities). Clare has completed the LimeCulture ISVA Development Programme, which she did between September 2011 and March 2012. Clare is pictured  with her father after completing a 50k fundraising challenge for Barnardo’s.


What does your average workday consist of?

“As a Child and Young person’s ISVA my day would ordinarily start with recording case notes from the previous night’s sessions and completing actions as most sessions take place out of school hours. Case notes are recorded on the Barnardo’s intranet system following strict procedures in line with outcome monitoring. Mornings are predominantly office based so provide a good opportunity to chase case updates from Police, CPS and Witness care. It is also a good time to organize pre court preparation with our peer supporters and the witness service who accompany us on home and school visits in the run up to court. Office time is also used to prepare for sessions where young people have asked to cook at SECOS or engage in craft activities such as painting or model making.

Some young people opt for lunchtime sessions and school either allows me to take a young person off site for a picnic and a walk or a private room is made available in school for us to share lunch and a chat. Afternoons are often filled with multi agency meetings which ensure holistic support for the young people; these may consist of core group meetings with social workers and school staff, Child Protection conferences and Looked After Child meetings etc. From mid afternoon I am busy collecting individual young people from school and home in order to engage them in ISVA support. As all sessions are child and young person led content varies from having a hot chocolate by the beach to making a curry for the family in the SECOS kitchen. We try to see young people at least fortnightly for intensive outreach support”.

 What is your favourite thing about your role?

“Having been a primary school teacher for 15 years I love having the opportunity to work 1-1 with children and young people. Providing emotional and practical support through non-direct work means I can work creatively within sessions. The working relationship has time to strengthen as I support the young person through the criminal justice process which allows me to tailor support to meet individual needs and interests’.

What is the most challenging thing about your role?

“Helping children, young people and their families understand and come to terms with an outcome such as ‘no further action’ by Police or CPS and a ‘not guilty’ verdict by a jury. We do however have good relationships with CPS who have accompanied us on home visits to help families understand decisions made and how to appeal against them”.

 What is your greatest achievement in relation to your role?

‘In 2012 I ended my support for 2 individual girls aged 14 who at the time did not know each other. I had supported both girls for about a year each, both A* students who had struggled to cope with the emotional fallout from their experience. Both girls felt frustrated with the criminal justice system outcomes relating to their individual cases and as part of their healing requested that they be able to support other ISVA clients in the future. I introduced the girls to each other and we developed a contract that ensured that they were kept safe within appropriate boundaries. The girls discussed how they wanted to offer support to other young people and felt that they would have liked to talk to someone their own age who knew how they felt before going to court. The girls developed the protocols for their peer support; they decided that in order to engage in their support young people should have a number of opportunities to meet them before court preparation. The peer supporters developed a leaflet offering coping strategies to help young witnesses and use this in their support sessions. Feedback has shown that this is an essential part of our service and young people have commented that it has made a difference to their engagement in the criminal justice process. One young person commented: ‘If they can do it and then get their life back on track whatever the outcome then so can I’.

I have had the pleasure of watching our peer supporters grow in confidence from shy young girls to assertive advocates. The girls are currently involved in an ongoing project with Barnardo’s policy and development unit that will eventually lead to developing resources to train judicial staff (including defence barristers) across the country in how to treat young witnesses.

In December I accompanied the peer supporters to a parliamentary inquiry relating to CSE victims and the sex offences laws. The girls spoke eloquently to the group about their experiences and what needs to change in order to meet the needs of future victims. One of the peer supporters challenged the term ‘child prostitute’ appearing in government policy and how this created confusion for the general public and professionals alike as it suggested choice. The other peer supporter challenged gaps in the grooming law that did not account for the concept of informed consent.

I am immensely proud of how much these girls have grown and their journey has only just begun, they are both keen to pursue legal and political careers and I am sure they will continue to work to safeguard children and young people in the future. They both speak of how they have managed to turn the most negative experience in their lives into the most positive”.

If there is one thing that you could change relating to your role, what would it be?

“Despite continuous efforts to raise the profile of the ISVA role it remains misunderstood by some professionals. It would be great if the role of the ISVA was as understood by key agencies as the role of the Police or judiciary seems to be. This would make requests for special measures such as accompanying a child in the video link room so much easier and ensure the best service to all children and young people without the barriers created by miscommunication and misconceptions’.

How would you like to see the ISVA role developed in the next 3-5 years?

“I would like to see the ISVA role formally recognized as an integral part of the criminal justice process with the same respect and understanding given to other key players. Once an ISVA outlines the support needs of a victim they should not be challenged but professionally acknowledged”.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your role with other ISVAs?

“As of December I became the manager for our ISVA service. I am really excited about this role but also know that I will miss the face to face work with children and young people. I am committed to continue working with the peer supporters in their efforts to improve conditions for young witnesses, particularly those affected by sexual exploitation. I am keen to research ways other countries support victims and look for models of best practice we can incorporate into our work on both a local and national level.

We are very lucky in our region as we have a number of agencies providing different ISVA support and the practitioners meet monthly during a shared breakfast, now that my role has changed I feel the managers would also benefit from such a networking meeting (and bacon butty opportunity!) We all have the same service aim and together lets hope we are stronger!”


Clare was interviewed by LimeCulture as part of our new blog series “Interview with an ISVA’. LimeCulture is now the leading ISVA training provider, having successfully trained over 100 ISVAs since 2011. LimeCulture is a huge supporter of the ISVA role, which we believe to be a vital part of the response to victims of sexual violence. The aim of this new blog series is to showcase the important and varied work that is done by ISVAs across the country in support of victims. If you are an ISVA and you would like your work to be featured in ‘Interview with an ISVA’, please email

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