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Guidelines for Teachers Handling Disclosures of Child Abuse

Guidelines for Teachers Handling Disclosures of Child Abuse

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to approach the child about your concerns is to tell him/her that you are concerned that they are looking unhappy/angry/withdrawn or that you have noticed a bruise/burn/cut etc.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)

A Practical Introduction to Child Protection

Child Protection Refresher Course for Experienced Staff

Child Protection Officer: Roles and Responsibility


6 responses to “Guidelines for Teachers Handling Disclosures of Child Abuse”

  1. Avatar Julian Wood says:

    An informative blog post as usual Pooky.

    My advice if a teacher has any sort of concern regarding a child is NOT to look for a disclosure.

    You concerns need to be placed on record and your school will have a system in place that should allow the teacher to record these concerns.

    However small the ‘concerns’ are-It’s much better to build up evidence and to pass this on to the Child Protection Officer (Has to be the Headteacher in Primary schools).

    There are trained people that can deal with disclosures . In fact in these situations it’s always best to seek advice, as the child might already have a history that the teacher is not aware of and they might do more harm by actively encouraging the child to talk.

    Sorry Pooky don’t mean to belittle your advice but in my experience this course of action is always the best one for the child and their teacher.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Julian. I whole heartedly agree with you that actively seeking disclosures is always better done by a fully trained member of staff for the reasons you’ve outlined. However, I hope there is some sound advice here for anyone who may find them self in a situation of dealing with a disclosure – this can happen to any member of staff as children will tend to talk to someone they trust and feel most comfortable with as opposed to following school policy.

  2. Avatar Julian Wood says:

    Completely agree.

    Excellent advice for Teachers who find themselves hearing a disclosure.

    Also make sure the teacher writes everything down-as soon as possible after disclosure and passes this info on to Child Protection Officer.

    Time is always crucial in this matters.

    • You are so right Julian with the time & writing it all down. You can forget so much after the emotion has subsided.

      Very thorough post Pooky!

      • Thanks Julia, I think Child Protection is such an important issue which is one reason I’ve just redeveloped our child protection portfolio to cover a lot more breadth. I am hoping to add a course specifically for special school staff too as the child protection issues in a special school can be very different both in nature and in terms of how to deal with them.

  3. Avatar Ross Mannell says:

    This is an important post. From the 90s, schools in NSW, Australia have had guidelines enforced in order to deal with abuse. Lessons for children help them become aware of what is and isn’t acceptable.

    Each year I ran the course with my classes, I had children disclose. We were not to probe further but report what we had been told to the Principal who would then pass on the information to the Department of Child Services (DOCS). At a later time, the Principal would pass on information tot he reporting teacher letting them know if there was a case.

    Each time I reported a disclosure, it was investigated and proven. It’s a sad process but very necessary. The results always left me wondering how many children were suffering in silence.

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