Disclosures of abuse and neglect
Children may disclose abuse that is occurring or that happened to them in the past. This might be distressing but you need to know how to respond if it occurs.
What is a disclosure?
A disclosure is when a child tells you, or lets you know in some way, about past or current abuse.
It is compulsory for all Life Without Barriers carers to report harm or risk of harm to a child. LWB carers, in any state or territory in Australia, are required to report all disclosures of abuse no matter when, where, or to whom they happened to their care team.
You can read about Mandatory Reporting here
How do disclosures occur?
Some children may tell carers about previous abuse within hours or days of meeting them, others may never disclose. Children often make disclosures when they are feeling secure in their placement and they feel they can trust their carer.
Children may tell you directly or they may tell you in a more indirect way, such as drawings, in play or talking about something that “happened to a friend”.
It is common for children to disclose to their peers and family members so it is important for you to get to know their friends and their family.
Disclosures by Children with Disabilities
Children with disabilities may also make disclosures. They may disclose verbally or in less concrete ways. Listen carefully and take them seriously. Sadly, children with disabilities are more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse because they have impaired communication, can be more physically dependent, and are more often in the care of strangers.
What to do
If a child tells you about abuse or neglect, listen calmly without judgement. Reassure them they did the right thing by telling you, that you believe them and that you’re there to help them. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as, you’ll make sure nobody ever hurts them again. Be careful not to let them see reactions of shock, disbelief or fear as this might upset them.
Don’t ask probing questions. Your role is not to interview the child or gather evidence. This is the responsibility of specially trained workers and, sometimes, police officers. However, you do have an obligation to report what the child has told you as soon as possible
- write down what the child said or did, using their exact words if possible and date the conversation or incident
- record and date your observations about their mood and demeanor
- share the information with your care team to assist the investigation process
Where appropriate, let the child know that you have to tell their care team. Explain you want to help keep them safe and that this is the care team’s job. Children may not be happy about you reporting the disclosure, and they may even oppose it. It's important to act to prevent any further harm to the child, their siblings or any other children who come into contact with the person alleged to be responsible. Advocate for the child if you feel this is needed.
Only pass on information to the people who need to know. You mustn’t discuss or share these disclosures with other people such as friends, neighbours, other carers, etc. The information the child had told you must be treated as confidential.
Self-care after a disclosure
Hearing a child tell you about their current or past experiences of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect can be extremely distressing. You may have no idea that the child had experienced such things and it may impact on you in unpredictable ways.
The child will need your ongoing support to help them cope with what has happened. It is essential to their well-being that you provide them with ongoing reassurance and emotional support.
Seek assistance for your own emotional reactions as soon as possible. You may need an opportunity to debrief with your care team and, if need be, they can assist you with accessing other support services.