I watched the moving BBC documentary ‘Abused’ last week. It highlighted for me the importance of correctly managing children’s direct disclosure of abuse. The programme followed a group of survivors of sexual abuse, and all had struggled painfully when talking about what had happened to them. Some had kept secrets for years. Some brave enough to disclose had not been taken seriously, and had been tragically and unforgivably sidelined.
Adults who make up the children’s workforce necessarily work towards forming positive and trusting relationships with the children in their care. At times this may mean that children feel they can confide about aspects of their life that may cause concern for their general welfare.
The disclosure may be that they are feeling unsafe or have been abused – or it may be that they feel vulnerable in other ways. Perhaps they tell you that they are being bullied – or experiencing homelessness – or racism – or perhaps they are worried that they are pregnant or ill. Effective safeguarding means that any welfare concern needs to be taken seriously and everyone has a role to play in this. Any disclosure concerning the welfare of a child should be recorded and reported to the Designated Safeguarding Lead of the setting.
If the disclosure involves abuse, the matter is extremely serious and professionals must take the following action:
- Stay calm.
- Listen to what the child is actually saying.
- Reassure them that they have done the right thing by telling you.
- Do not promise the child that this can be kept secret; explain that you must tell other people to keep them safe.
- Know that children rarely lie about abuse and indicate that that you are taking the matter extremely seriously.
- Reassure the child that the people who will be informed will be sensitive to their needs and will be looking to help protect them. Inform them that it will have to be passed on to the appropriate agencies.
- Do not interrogate the child, or push for more information. Ensure that any questions asked are open, not leading closed questions.
- Do not ask them to repeat what they have told you to another member of staff.
- Make a note of any conversations with the child, trying to make these as detailed as possible, including when and where the conversations took place.
- Report the disclosure to the Designated Safeguarding Lead of their setting as soon as possible – always on the same day. The person to whom the disclosure was made should ensure that the child is informed about what will happen next, so they can be reassured about what to expect.