Directions: Use this guide to support conversation with staff about what to do if a child or youth in your program discloses abuse.
As a child and youth professional, it is your responsibility to take necessary and appropriate action when a child discloses sensitive information to you regarding an abusive or neglectful situation that they experienced. Research indicates that an adult’s response to a child discloser has a direct impact on their recovery. It is important that you communicate to the child or youth that you are glad they came to you, that you are a safe person to share the information with, that you believe them, and that they are not alone. Remember, any direct disclosure from a child or youth requires an immediate report to the installation’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP).
Here are some additional guidelines to help you talk with a child who discloses maltreatment:
- Do not let the child “swear you to secrecy” before telling you, as you may need to make a report.
- If a child asks to speak with you, try to find a neutral setting where you can speak privately.
- During the conversation, just listen and let the child explain what happened in their own words.
- Respond calmly. Even if the story is difficult to hear, it is important not to show disgust or alarm.
- Avoid making judgmental comments about the abuser.
- Reassure the child that it is not their fault. Children often feel (or are told) that they are to blame for their own maltreatment and for bringing “trouble” to the family.
- Do not make promises to the child that things will immediately get better. Things may get worse before they get better, but conveying this to the child may cause greater anxiety.
- Do not confront the abuser.
- Ask the child if they feel safe going home. If they do not, or if you believe that it isn’t safe for the child to return home, the situation is considered an emergency and should be handled by immediately contacting FAP. Do not take the situation into your own hands. Provisions for the child’s safety should be made by an appropriate agency.
- Limit the number of people with whom you share the information in order to protect the child’s privacy.
- Explain to the child that you must tell someone else to get some help.
- Assure the child that you or another staff member will be available for support whenever possible.
Remember that children and youth who disclose abuse and neglect are often frightened or anxious and will need reassurance, encouragement, and support in the weeks following disclosure.
Adapted from https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/reporting/responding-to-direct-disclosures/.