CFCA Webinar – Responding to disclosures of child abuse and neglect

CFCA Webinar – Responding to disclosures of child abuse and neglect


Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s
webinar, “Responding to disclosures of child abuse and neglect.” My name is Cathryn Hunter
and I’m Manager of Knowledge Translation for the Emerging Minds project here at the Australian
Institute of Family Studies. Today’s webinar presentation will summarise recent research
on how professionals working with children and young people can create environments that
support and respond well to children’s and young people’s disclosures of abuse or neglect.
It will also discuss the various barriers to responding to child abuse and neglect and
outline potential strategies to address them. Before I introduce our speaker, I would like
to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting. In Melbourne
the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects
to their Elders past, present and emerging and to Elders from other communities who may
be participating today. Firstly, some housekeeping details. One of
the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge, so I would
like to invite everyone to submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.
We will respond to your questions at the end of the presentation. We would also like you
to continue the conversation we begin here today. To facilitate this, we’ve set up a
forum on our website where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised, submit additional
questions for our presenter and access related resources. We will send you a link to the
forum at the end of today’s presentation. As you leave the webinar a short survey will
open in a new window; we would appreciate your feedback. Please remember that this webinar
is being recorded and the audio transcript and slides will be made available on our website
and YouTube channel soon. It is now my pleasure to introduce today’s
presenter, Karen Broadley. Karen is a Senior Research Officer with the CFCA information
exchange based here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Karen has more than 20
years’ experience working in the fields of youth work, child and family welfare and statutory
child protection services. This has included a number of roles within the Victorian statutory
child protection system, including leadership positions.
Karen has authored a number of journal articles, book chapters and reports, all focusing on
the topics of child protection and child safety. Please join me in giving Karen a very warm
virtual welcome. Thank you, Cathryn, and thank you to everyone
taking part in this webinar today. In this presentation I’ll be covering a lot of material
and moving through it quite quickly. So, if you have some questions that I don’t speak
to, please do post these questions online. For those of you who are new to our webinars,
the Australian Institute of Family Studies is the Australian Government’s key research
body in the area of family wellbeing. And Child Family Community Australia is the AIFS
information hub for evidence, resources and support for professionals working in the child,
family and community welfare sector. If after the webinar you would like to do some further
reading on responding to children and young people’s disclosures of abuse, the third resource
sheet from the top is on this topic. The other resource sheets listed here are also relevant
to the presentation today. The PowerPoint presentation will be available on the website
after today so there is no need to take notes. Cathryn has told you a little bit about my
background so, as I said, I’m going to move through this quite quickly, so I won’t tie
up any time talking about that. Basically, the aim of the presentation today is to assist
people working with children and young people to identify and appropriately respond to indicators
and disclosures of child abuse and neglect. To do this I will draw from the findings of
the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and other academic research.
Although the focus of the Royal Commission was on child sexual abuse and much of the
literature about responding to child abuse and neglect also focuses on sexual abuse many
of these findings are relevant to child abuse and neglect more generally. It is important
to say at the outset that many of the challenges we face in the child, family and community
welfare sector are complex challenges, which defy simple solutions. Quite often we would
like to be given a script or a tool, a practice standard or a form with some boxes to tick,
we would like to have some prescribed steps and actions to take, and we would like some
certainty. But best practice requires much more than
tools and lists. It is not that there is no place for them, but we also as practitioners
must draw from our good character, like compassion, empathy, honesty, courage, patience, authenticity.
We must understand and work to the goal of our practice, which is, for us, children’s
safety and wellbeing. We must also draw from our intuition, from emotion, from our experience,
and how to reflect on our experience. We must also understand that sometimes there
are some real complexities and tensions intrinsic to the work we do and that sometimes there
really isn’t a right answer; there is just an all things considered best answer for a
particular child in a particular situation. But, of course, sometimes there is a right
answer, and I will talk about some of these things today. As a by the way, these ideas
I have just spoken about, being mindful of the goal drawing from our intuition, experience
and so on, are taken from Aristotle’s virtue ethics. The virtue ethics tradition is a lovely
and a sensible ethical framework that can help us think well and act well in the very
complex work that we do. As I go through each of the slides I will
ask and answer a question that is relevant to our overall question about how we are to
respond to children and young people’s disclosures of abuse. There are 12 questions in total
that I am going to ask and answer. The first questions are fairly straightforward, such
as: What is child abuse and neglect? Who abuses children? And, why is it important to respond
well to children’s disclosures? Answering these questions is important because
it provides the context from which to answer the later questions such as how to respond
supportively to a child’s disclosure, what to do after a disclosure, what are our duties
to report child abuse and neglect, and what some of the challenges are associated with
reporting child abuse and neglect. So, the answer to the first question is that
child abuse and neglect is commonly divided into five types: physical abuse, emotional
abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and exposure to family violence. If you would like further
information about these abuse types, you can refer to the resource sheet listed at the
bottom of this slide. The second question is who abuses children?
Children can be abused by people from within the family, which is sometimes known as intra-familial
abuse, and from outside the family, which is known as extra-familial abuse. Research
tells us that child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by a wide group of people. Importantly, often
the perpetrator is known to the child. Child physical abuse is usually perpetrated by parents
or carers. When it is perpetrated by people outside the family it is usually called something
different; for example, bullying. Emotional abuse, neglect and exposure to family
violence are, by their nature, abuse types that generally occur within the family. Children
can be abused by adults and also by other children and young people. In fact, quite
a lot of abuse is perpetrated by children and young people against other children and
young people. Studies suggest that 30 to 50 per cent, maybe even higher, of sexual abuse
is perpetrated by children and young people. Although males are responsible for most incidents
of physical and sexual violence against women and children, females can and do also abuse
children. Of the 1,476 survivors giving evidence in
private hearings at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,
nearly 14 per cent of the alleged abusers were reported to be female. So, estimates
of female perpetrated child sexual abuse range from about 5 per cent, even up to about 15
or 20 per cent. Knowing a true estimate is difficult and even those figures that I have
quoted need some qualification. But, certainly, the numbers of female perpetrators is higher
than what many people have previously thought it to be.
So, the key message here really is that the abuser may not fit our idea or stereotype
of what an abuser should look like. This is really important, because if we have in our
minds that a particular person, because of their age, gender, position in society and
so on, couldn’t possibly abuse a child, then this can be a barrier to us really hearing
a child’s disclosure. The next question, why is it important to
respond well to children and young people’s disclosures of abuse? In essence, it is important
to respond well so that the child’s safety can be ensured, or at least increased. Also,
responding well will help the child connect to professional services that can work with
a child and family to achieve safety and protection for the child. Responding well can help the
child to trust professionals who will be there to help them.
Your supportive response can also provide immediate support and comfort to the child.
Integral to all of this is the child’s safety. A good supportive response will optimise safety
for the child. Question 4: When do children and young people
disclose abuse? Findings from the Royal Commission are that it took many survivors many years
to disclose sexual abuse. It was found that about 20 per cent of survivors took between
20 and 29 years to disclose child sexual abuse and 55.7 per cent took more than 30 years
to disclose sexual abuse. Although these findings are specific to child
sexual abuse there are similar findings that talk about how difficult it can be for children
to disclose other types of abuse as well. As well as taking a long time to disclose
abuse, some children who do disclose later retract or deny the abuse. This may be for
a range of reasons, such as fear of negative consequences for themselves or for their family,
or shame and self-blame. So the message here is that children and young people typically
find it very difficult to talk about all types of abuse and neglect and some children take
a long time to fully disclose what is happening. Question 5: How do children and young people
disclose abuse? Disclosure is sometimes straightforward. For example, a child may disclose abuse after
participating in an education program. However, more often disclosure is not straightforward.
A child or young person may indicate abuse by changing their behaviour in some way or
engaging in risk-taking behaviour such as self-harming, or by refusing to spend time
with a particular person or indicating a dislike for a person. Or, if something has happened
at home, the child may not want to go home. Importantly, one of the most powerful indicators
or signs of child sexual abuse is age inappropriate knowledge of sex. Commonly a child will disclose
bits and pieces of abuse to different people over time. According to the Royal Commission,
many survivors who disclosed in childhood said that they had made a number of smaller
disclosures rather than a full disclosure of the abuse.
They may have tested a potential recipient to see how they responded by drip feeding
information, or may have limited a disclosure if they thought the person they were telling
was not receptive or not coping with the disclosure. So when that occurs, when a child gives only
a small piece of information, it is important to try and recognise this is an indicator
and to feel comfortable following up on hints of abuse or neglect. This means having the
ability to ask direct questions, such as: Are you okay? Is anything worrying you? Do
you feel safe? How do you know when you feel safe or unsafe? Is there anything you would
like me to do to support you? And you will obviously initiate this conversation
at the right time and place so you won’t be interrupted and you have some privacy. It
is also important to relay hints of disclosure to your superiors in your organisation, because
there have been situations in organisations where a child has, say, been abused and one
person hears or knows a little bit of information but doesn’t think it’s enough. It’s a bit
of a red flag, someone else sees a red flag, someone else does, but people don’t feed it
up to management. But then later on, when there’s an inquiry,
the pieces are put together and it can be seen that if that information was pointed
in the right direction then the children would have been protected. It is important to point
out that we can never guarantee that a child who is being abused will disclose the abuse
that is happening, because we don’t know the exact situation the child is in. But what
we can do is be a caring supportive person in a child’s life and provide a supportive
response to their disclosure indicators and hints of abuse.
The problem with so many of the findings of the Royal Commission is that so many children
try to disclose abuse and, in fact, often did disclose, but they were brushed aside,
ignored, disbelieved and even punished. Our responsibility is to respond well and act
to increase children’s safety when they do disclose abuse or when they give out hints
or indicators of abuse. The next question is: Who are children and
young people likely to disclose abuse to? The findings of the Royal Commission, and
other research, are that younger children are more likely to disclose to a parent, particularly
their mother. Older children and young people are more likely to disclose to their friends.
So, in some instances, a young person may talk to a friend who then talks to an adult,
say, a youth leader or a teacher, about their friend who has disclosed abuse to them. They
may do this because they are concerned for their friend and don’t know what to do to
help them. So then it is up to the adult to respond well to this secondary disclosure.
The seventh question: What hinders or gets in the way of a child disclosing abuse? Commonly
things, such as the child or young person’s sense of shame and embarrassment, can get
in the way of them talking about what has happened to them. In situations where there
is family violence or parental drug and alcohol abuse, for example, children and young people
can feel shame and embarrassment. In the Royal Commission, shame and embarrassment were commonly
identified as a barrier to disclosure of sexual abuse. Survivors spoke about feeling uncomfortable
talking about sex and body parts. One survivor who grew up a Catholic is quoted
as saying, “My parents just didn’t even talk about sex. Nobody did. I wasn’t told anything
and I didn’t even know what my testicles were.” So it is important to feel comfortable having
difficult conversations, talking about sad emotions, sex and body parts. Feeling responsible
for the abuse is a feeling children and young people commonly have, and this can also get
in the way of them talking about the abuse. This can particularly be the case if the abuse
has been going on for a long time. The longer the abuse goes on the more complicit the child
may feel. Or the child can just have a feeling that the listener will say, “Well, why haven’t
you said something before? Why now?” So in this situation you need to tell the child
that the abuse is not her fault. Then there is the fear of not being believed. This may
be particularly the case if the perpetrator does not fit a particular profile. For example,
according to the Royal Commission, many survivors met disbelief and hostility when they were
children and spoke about what a priest, or someone else in a respected position, had
done to them. So it is really important to believe the child
and tell the child that you believe him. This point about believing is really important.
I remember when I read through some of the transcripts of the Royal Commission feeling
shocked and saddened by how many children did disclose abuse but weren’t believed. So,
although many survivors didn’t disclose as children, there were also many who did, but
they just weren’t believed. Children and young people can also be afraid
of negative consequences for themselves or their family. For example, they may have been
threatened by the perpetrator, they might fear losing support if they are dependent
on the perpetrator, or the child may be afraid of a negative reaction from family or their
family being unable to cope. Again, findings from the Royal Commission were that some children
did not disclose abuse because they were concerned about how their parents would react.
One survivor spoke about his concern that his father would kill the perpetrator. Another
spoke about his parents not being emotionally strong and not having the ability to cope.
Or the child may even be concerned about the listener’s ability to cope with what the child
is saying. There are other things that can get in the
way of a child disclosing abuse. For example, the child may believe that the abuse is normal,
particularly if a child has experienced the abuse her whole life. Or the child may have
no one to disclose to. Again, the Royal Commission found that some children did not disclose
because they had no one to talk to. Or the child may be concerned about lack of confidentiality.
Or if a child has had negative experiences with adults and has experienced them as untrustworthy
this may make it difficult for them to disclose abuse.
Again, it is important to remember that we can never guarantee that every child who is
being abused will disclose abuse that is happening. Some of the barriers to a child disclosing
abuse might exist outside of our control. For example, the child being threatened. However,
what we can do is be an approachable and trustworthy person who is able to respond well to difficult
conversations. We are only responsible for doing what we can do to protect a child. We
can’t do what we can’t do. Secondary consultation and specialist advice is crucial in assisting
us to know the difference. Some children and young people face additional
barriers and difficulties in disclosing abuse and neglect. For example, Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children may be particularly reluctant to disclose abuse because of past
experiences of forced removal, racism and fear. There is research to suggest that Indigenous
children face an inescapable dilemma; that’s coming from Herring’s work. Inescapable dilemma,
on the one hand to maintain silence about abuse or risk, or risk involving child protection
and criminal justice systems, which have the power to break their families and communities
apart. Some children from culturally and linguistically
diverse backgrounds also face additional barriers. For example, they might be afraid of being
isolated from their community and afraid of other negative consequences if they disclose
abuse. They might feel pressured to put family and community needs before their own needs.
In the case of child sexual abuse they might be worried that they will be disgraced and
their family will be disgraced and, if they are a girl, that she may have less marriage
prospects. Children with disabilities can also face additional
barriers to disclosing abuse. If they have communication difficulties, for example, or
if they’re dependant on the abuser, or if they have not been educated about sexuality
and other aspects of personal safety then they won’t have the language to describe abuse.
So now we are getting to the crux of the issue. How do we respond supportively to a child’s
disclosure, indicators or hints of abuse? And the answer to this question really does
draw from everything I’ve just said. Firstly, it is important to try to stay calm. Given
what I just said before that some children and young people don’t disclose abuse because
they are afraid of people being unable to cope or afraid of negative reactions, it is
important to counteract this by being as calm as you can be. Although hearing that a child
or young person has been abused is distressing it is important to stay as calm as possible.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you must not show emotion, but you do need to try and
be in control of your emotion and to explain your emotions to the child. For example, you
might tell the child that he or she is not the cause of your distress. You might say
that you feel upset because adults are meant to care for children and not hurt them. Like
I said before, it is crucial that you believe the child. Even if what the child is saying
is a shock and even if the abuser doesn’t fit the type or profile of who you think an
abuser should look like, still believe the child.
Also, confirm to the child that you are listening and that you understand what the child is
saying. This is partly about letting the child know that you believe her and you are taking
the conversation seriously. Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Listening supportively
and having empathy is more important than the details of what you say, and this is really
important. Here you are and the care, concern and respect the child feels coming from you
is what is most important. Also, reassure the child she is brave to talk
about something so difficult and emphasise that the abuse is not the child’s fault. This
is important given children commonly feel responsible for abuse. And reassure the child
that it is right to tell. Also let the child take his time and avoid quizzing the child
or young person about the details of the abuse. Although you will need to ask some questions,
you need to be balanced about this; you don’t want to go to either extreme either quizzing
the child or asking no questions, balance is important.
It is really important that you explain to the child or young person that in order for
them to be safe you will need to report what they have told you to someone else. Explain
what you plan to do next, who you plan to tell and why. Don’t make promises you can’t
keep and remember that the child’s safety and protection is the most important thing.
So we are up to Question No.9: What do we do after a child has made a disclosure? This
is super important. We have listened supportively, we have told the child that we will need to
take some further action, what do we do next? Firstly, it is important to make a report
to child protection in your area or to the police. You should in your organisation have
these phone numbers handy. Even if you have reason to believe that a report has already
been made or that an investigation is underway, any disclosure of abuse should still be reported
to child protection and/or the police. The question of who to call, child protection
or the police, will partly depend on your location and issues to do with response times.
Importantly, it would also depend on the nature of the abuse the child is suffering and the
child’s immediate safety. So, by this I mean that, if a child is being seriously abused,
say, sexual or physical abuse, and there is reason to believe that another incident of
abuse may occur again within hours, well then this requires an immediate response and I
would suggest you would need to ring whoever you can get onto first.
Generally, if you were unsure, it is important that you seek advice from specialist services
and professionals. So, for example, seek advice from superiors within your organisation, the
police or child protection, and remember specialist cultural advisers. Secondly, it is important
to keep the information the child has told you confidential. Only tell those people who
must be informed of the disclosure. This will include your supervisor or manager, child
protection and the police. Thirdly, it is important that you support
the child or young person as best you can after the report is made. If you are limited
in what you can do to support the child then you might talk to the child about who else
might be able to support them, or even make a referral to another organisation. It may
also be important for you to keep the child or young person informed about the progress
of the report so they are not left feeling anxious, left hanging about what exactly is
going to happen next and when. It is important to remember that it is not
your role to counsel the child or investigate what the child has said. Child protection
workers will investigate and professional counsellors are available to provide counselling.
Also, it is important not to confront the perpetrator.
The tenth question considers our duties to report child abuse and neglect. I am going
to go through this quite quickly because I still have a little bit to get through. There
are civil laws and criminal laws and these are different in each jurisdiction, each state
and territory. Mandatory reporting laws are civil laws. So some professionals are mandated
under the law to report child abuse and neglect, particular types.
In some places there are criminal laws: failure to disclose laws, failure to protect. In some
places they’re called bystander laws. There is also common law duty of care, which I won’t
go into in any detail, but I do have resources and information about this if anybody would
like further information. We also, of course, have an ethical responsibility to report child
abuse and neglect. And I think particularly after the findings of the Royal Commission,
where so many organisations didn’t respond well to child abuse there now is increased
community awareness and increased community expectations that people, particularly professionals,
will respond well to disclosures of child abuse and neglect.
So we are nearly reaching the end, but I do want to go through some of the challenges
associated with reporting child abuse and neglect. We know that we need to report it.
We know that legally we need to, we know it’s ethically right that we should report it,
we care about children, we care about their safety and wellbeing, we want to make children
safe, we want them to be well and we want them to thrive. But that doesn’t mean that
going through the process of making a report is actually simple and straightforward and
easy. There are some research studies that highlight
some of the challenges in making reports to the authorities about child abuse and neglect,
and these are really worth mentioning because once we understand what some of those dilemmas
are and what some of those difficulties are, we can actually then improve our systems and
our processes and provide more support to each other so that we can actually do what
we want to do, and that is protect children. So research suggests that workers can be uncertain
about whether their suspicion has reached a certain threshold, and this can act as a
barrier to them reporting child abuse. In many respects the answer is fairly straightforward
– if in doubt, report. The reality is that the police and child protection will often
have more information than what you have because they can gather information from multiple
sources, from health professionals, education professionals and many others. And they also
have information over time. In other words, they will have a history on file.
So their information combined with what you report to them may be enough to actually constitute
a concern. So, for example, you might be concerned about a particular child, there might be some
sexualised behaviours, but you might not think it’s enough to report to child protection.
Maybe you’ve spoken to the child about whether she is worried about anything, whether she
feels safe and so on, but the child has not disclosed anything.
If you then do make a report to child protection or the police, they might have information
on file that the child’s uncle, who is a registered sex offender, has just been released from
jail. So that extra information then might be enough for someone to actually go and talk
to the child and then the child might make a disclosure and then the child’s safety can
be ensured. So it’s really important to err on the side
of safety and make a report if you do have some concerns. Of course, we need to acknowledge
that there are researchers that talk about the problem with child protection systems
becoming overloaded and too many people making too many reports. Still, the rule of thumb
should be that it’s better to over-report and err on the side of safety rather than
under-report. An important way through this, one important way, is to talk with supervisors
or managers, colleagues, or ring child protection for a consultation.
You don’t always need to tell child protection the details of the child. You can just ring
them for a consultation to say, “This is the situation, this is what I’m concerned about,
is it worth making a report?” But, like I say, if you’re concerned it’s better to err
on the side of safety and make that report. Research has also found that if workers believe
that child protection will not investigate the report anyway then this can act as a barrier
to reporting. Although the worker might be right and child
protection may not investigate, the worker still needs to report. As I said, we don’t
know what other information child protection may have on file and might have from other
sources. Research has also shown that workers can be concerned about betraying the trust
of the child and making matters worse for the child. As previously stated, it is important
to tell the child that you need to report the concerns.
It is important to tell the child that you are taking this action because you care and
because you are concerned about the child’s safety. It is important that you support the
child as best you can and, if necessary, try to refer the child or family to other supports
and services. Professionals have also told researchers about their concerns about damaging
their relationships with parents and carers. These concerns are often very valid and often
arise out of a worker’s concern for families who are isolated.
They might worry that, if the child or family knows they have made a report about them,
they will become even more isolated and mistrustful of people and services and this in turn could
create new and greater risks for children. This is a complicated issue. Generally transparent
reporting is important, so this means telling families that you are planning to make a report
to child protection. However, this can be particularly tricky and possibly even counterproductive
if you make a report and child protection doesn’t do anything anyway.
The reality is that most reports made to child protection are not investigated; they are
closed. So the way forward may be to make a report, find out the outcome and, only if
it is going to be investigated, then talk to the family. On the other hand, in a situation
where a child or young person discloses to you and you tell the child you plan to make
a report and you don’t know whether it will be investigated you may put a plan in place
with the child, particularly an older child or young person, to update them about the
progress of the report. This may increase trust between the child
and you or the parents and you, if it’s the parents that you are working with. Even if
the broader system doesn’t respond in a way that you or the child thinks is helpful, at
least you have acted in an honest, transparent, trustworthy way. And this is not only good
for your relationship with the child, it is also good for the child because it gives the
child an experience of a trustworthy person and a trusting relationship.
Overall, it is important to be flexible and not too fixated on rules. Although many agencies
have transparent reporting guidelines, and this is important, some flexibility in some
situations may be warranted. Flexibility, of course, needs to only happen through conversation
and collaboration. It is not a decision that any one person should make on their own. The
idea of follow through with children and families is also important. The way you treat them
and the contact you have with them after the report is made, and keeping them informed,
is crucial. Still other challenges involved with reporting
child abuse and neglect include workers believing that they must discuss a case with a senior
colleague or manager before reporting. For example, one research study found that in
a hospital setting doctors are seen as the authority with nurses feeling the need to
convince the doctor of the legitimacy of their concerns before making a report.
However, mandatory reporting and failure to report laws can be seen as a way to deal with
this hierarchy. If a worker suspects abuse or is concerned about a child and the senior
staff member disagrees, the worker who has the suspicion is still legally bound to report.
Research also finds that workers can be concerned about their own personal safety, and this
is an important concern. This can be particularly true for professionals
working in rural and remote locations. If a worker is personally known by the families
they are working with, and if the family knows or suspects the worker has made a report about
them, the worker may be concerned for their own safety or their own family’s safety if
the family know where they live. In relation to the problem of workers’ safety,
some researchers have suggested that organisations should have structured guidelines that require
workers to report all types of threatening and violent incidents to management. Researchers
have also suggested that workers should have clear information from management about what
they can expect from the organisation after they report an incident of threats or violence
or intimidation. There are some researchers who suggest that
service users should be given clear messages about what types of behaviour are unacceptable
and what the response will be if their behaviour is violent or threatening. It is also worth
noting, and I’m going to mention Victoria here – it’s where I live so I know the legislation
here and haven’t looked into whether there’s this legislation elsewhere – but it’s worth
noting that in June 2014 in Victoria legislation was introduced to provide for longer sentences
for people who commit acts of violence against emergency workers.
This includes police, firefighters, paramedics, nurses and doctors. Whether similar legislation
might support the safety of child, family and community workers and child protection
workers is something that may deserve some discussion.
The last question is to do with how we are to create supportive conditions for supporting
and enabling children and young people’s disclosures of child abuse and neglect. This is a huge
question. I have listed a few answers, but this really is too big a question for me to
really delve into today. It is important for organisations to have clear policies and procedures
in place for creating child safe organisations and responding to suspicions of child abuse
and neglect. It is also important that people working with
children and young people be provided with ongoing training, advice, support, supervision
and, at times, good debriefing because the work can sometimes be distressing. It is also
important for organisations to build relationships with the police, child protection services
and other professionals who are involved in protecting children from abuse and neglect.
Where appropriate, it is also important to provide children and young people, and parents
with child abuse prevention programs and other programs that will ultimately increase the
safety of children and young people. So, in summary, we know that child abuse and
neglect damages children in multiple ways. It hurts them in the short term and causes
harm to their growth and development in the long term. It is important for professionals
and people working with children and young people to do their best to be approachable
and to build trusting, mutually respectful relationships with children. It is important
to recognise indicators and signs of child abuse and neglect and to follow up on hints
of abuse and neglect. If a child discloses abuse it is important
to listen, support and believe the child. Tell the child that it is not his fault and
it is right to tell. Remember that the child’s safety is the most important thing. In order
to achieve this, it is important to seek advice and support from those in your organisation,
child protection and, where appropriate, also the police, also from specialist services
such as disability services and specialist cultural advisers.
After you have made a report, it is important, wherever possible, to maintain contact with
the child and family. If child protection and/or the police do decide to follow up on
your report, this is likely to be a very difficult and stressful time for the child and family.
It is important to try to not distance yourself from them at a time when they most need your
support. And even if they’re angry with you, or even if they do feel betrayed, it’s still
important to try and remain involved and remain connected because that’s when they need your
support. The question about how we best respond to
children and young people’s disclosures of child abuse and neglect often doesn’t have
easy answers or steps. However, there are ideas, guidelines and research findings that
can help us find our way forward. I hope this presentation has assisted you to feel more
confident about responding to the problem of child abuse and neglect.

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