Dealing with a disclosure
As a professional working with vulnerable children and families, you may find yourself in a situation where a child wants to tell you what has been going on for them. Approaching such situations correctly will mean that the child feels supported and that the integrity of the information is maintained should there need to be a police investigation. This page considers key principles for dealing with a disclosure.
No matter what experiences you have had both in your professional life and personal life, dealing with a disclosure from a child can be difficult. If however you can keep the key principles below in mind, then the process can become easier.
- Make time for the child - even if it is not convenient for you, the child may have spent a long time choosing their moment and if they don't tell you now they may never feel able to tell anyone in the future.
- Do not promise confidentiality - tell the child that what they say will only be shared with those who need to know. If the child chooses not to tell you anything as a result of this then that is their choice.
- Remain calm - your reaction will be picked up by the child, both verbal and non-verbal cues. For example if they feel that you are embarrassed about what they are saying then they may cut short what they want to say as they do not want to embarrass you further. As an adult you can deal with any issues it may cause for you later.
- Don't make judgements - the main focus is on listening to what the child is saying without interrupting them.
- Acknowledge that telling you must have been difficult
- Believe what you have heard - the time for investigating and checking will come later, however if you start with the assumption that a child is lying then it is more difficult to challenge that assumption as time goes on.
- Empathise with the child do not sympathise - for example, 'I can tell this is difficult for you' as opposed to 'Oh you poor thing, lets make things better shall we'.
- Reassure the child that they have done the right thing - the child may be thinking that what is happening to them might happen to every one and be worried about bringing it up as an issue.
- Do not blame the child or the abuser - the child is likely to be experiencing some conflicting feelings and by levelling blame this may be compounding those or confusing the child further.
- Do not conduct an interview - let the child tell their story with as little interruption as possible. The time for interviews will come later if necessary.
- Clarify that you understand any language that can have multiple meanings - for example, if a child says 'They touched my minnie', ask the child to explain what they mean by minnie (are they refering to a part of their body, and is it a part where they should not be touched).
- If you do need to check use open ended questions - for example, 'Tell me ...', 'Explain what you mean by ...' and 'Describe what you mean ...' and only use words that the child has used already.
- Tell the child what is going to happen next - for example who you may have to speak to and why.
- Record the conversation - as soon as possible after the disclosure make as accurate record as possible using the child's words. It is also useful to note the date, time and setting as well as whether others were present (and who they were).
- Record any actions taken - for example who you have told about the disclosure.
- Take some time for yourself - make sure you have support if you need it.
- Child protection
- Youth Offending
- Children with Disabilities