How do I approach a child whom I suspect is being abused?
If you suspect a child of being abused your immediate response may be to talk with the child.
This may be difficult because he or she may be afraid to disclose for the following reasons:
- The fear of being hurt further by the abuser
- The belief that the abuser may go to jail
- The fear that something will happen to him/her, such as removal from home
- The fear that other people in the family will blame them
- Loyalty to the caregiver and the family – no matter how bad the situation may be
- The fear that you may think that the abuse is deserved
Abused and neglected children may be unaware that their situation is unusual and while the outlet of talking with a sympathetic adult may relieve some children, others may feel threatened and withdraw.
One way to approach the child about your concerns is to tell him/her that you are concerned that they are looking unhappy/angry/withdrawn or that you have noticed a bruise/burn/cut etc. This may lead you to asking if there is anything they want to tell you about this observation. Do not, however, pressure the child to respond. Assure the child that you can be approached when he or she needs to talk. If the child does disclose, listen carefully and immediately make notes once the child has left your company.
On average a child who has been abused attempts to tell adults on eight different occasions before any action is taken
What can I say and do to help the child?
- Actively listen to the child (stop what you are doing, look at her/him, respond by nodding and making supportive sounds)
- Control your expression of panic, shock or horror
- Express your belief that the child is telling the truth
- Use the child’s language and vocabulary
- Tell the child that this has happened to other children and that they are not unusual
- Reassure the child that to disclose was the right thing to do, emphasising that, whatever happened, it was not their fault and they are not bad
- Tell the child that you will do your best to support and protect them
- Indicate that you will have to make a report of the incident to the head teacher/warden and that they will help to stop the abuse
It is important that you remain calm and in control of your feelings when the child discloses to you. Your role at this point is to support and reassure the child.
You will not be helping the child if you:
- Look or act shocked/disgusted or become angry or distressed yourself
- Make any judgmental statement about the alleged perpetrator. The child may well love this person and only want the abuse to stop
- Make promises you cannot keep, such as promising not to tell anyone
- Seek details beyond those the child freely wants to tell you. Your role is to listen to the child, not to conduct an investigation
- Ask any direct questions or name behaviour and body parts in language different to that of the child (this may prejudice and subsequent investigation).
You may find the following Creative Education Open Courses helpful (these can all be delivered in house as well)