Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Nursery abuser's trail of damage

by Jonathan Morris
BBC News South West

Vanessa George. Pic: Devon and Cornwall Police
Vanessa George was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court

Paedophile nursery worker Vanessa George and one of her accomplices have been sentenced.

But what is the future for the children and parents of those abused by George at a Devon nursery school?

Children's charity Barnardo's said the age of children at Little Ted's nursery in Plymouth meant they should recover.

But the reality is that some could suffer a series of problems as they get older, according to a Plymouth University psychologist.

Some 30 children, all under the age of three, were abused by George, who was jailed indefinitely and must serve at least seven years.

The case was every parent's worst nightmare, said one mother.

Not only did George abuse the youngsters, but she then sent pictures via e-mail and mobile phone to Angela Allen, who was sentenced with her, and Colin Blanchard, who will be sentenced later.

Dr Michaela Gummerum, a lecturer at the university's School of Psychology, said it was now time for parents to be "brave and help their offspring".

Help has been offered by social services, police and psychology services at Plymouth City Council.

A child loses trust in one of the most important person in their lives, someone who they usually depend on and trust
Dr Michaela Gummerum

But the real test will be the support for the children offered by their parents, Dr Gummerum said.

She told BBC News that even nursery-age children had an understanding of sexuality.

"They might not know where babies come from but they understand some acts are OK and others are not," said Dr Gummerum.

"Attachment relationships form in their first year of life.

"The relationships are mainly through the main carer, but also through schools.

"The problem with abuse, and sexual abuse in particular, is that this attachment relationship and trust that children have in parents or their attachment figure is disturbed.

Parents have been offered counselling

"So there is definitely some consequence of the abuse."

The result can be conditions such as bed-wetting, nightmares and problems with relationships later in life.

One mother said she had already noticed changes in her children's behaviour.

Before the trial, some parents spoke of their children idolising George.

So the realisation that they were betrayed could hit the children even harder.

"A child loses trust in one of the most important people in their lives, someone who they usually depend on," said Dr Gummerum.

Many of the parents who attended the court hearings have been receiving counselling, feeling a sense of betrayal themselves.

"It is a terrible experience also for the parents. The trust in the system and especially nursery workers is shattered," said Dr Gummerum.

Little Ted's
Little Ted's has been closed down

"You feel disgusted when you read about what happened - especially from someone who was a nursery worker."

One mother told BBC News: "I felt sick when I first heard. Now I feel wrecked and damaged, it's messed up my head.

"I just want to lash out at people all the time. I'm on pills because of it. It can't really get any worse.

"It's going to be on my mind for the rest of my life. Every time you look at your kid it's always there."

The children's families have been given regular briefings by the police on the progress of the inquiry and access to mental health and paediatric services.

Dr Gummerum said: "It seems like the legal system dealt with it really quickly and the families got the support from the police, psychologists and social workers.

"That aspect of the case was really encouraging."

Community spokeswoman Kathy Hancock said the response by both Plymouth City Council and police was "outstanding".

She has received dozens of phone calls from parents and grandparents - some distraught - who have in turn thanked her and the local Parent Support Advisors (PSA) for accompanying them to court.

The support line for parents and others affected by the Vanessa George investigation can be accessed via the police on 08452 777444.

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