Q: What do I do if a child tells me—or hints—that they are being abused? 

A: The child has found the courage to tell you about a difficult experience because they trust you and they need help. This is your chance to prove that they trusted the right person. Perhaps you are a part of their Circle of Safe Adults.

Here are the key steps to follow:

  • Remain calm. Do not overreact. Even though you might be feeling overwhelmed with emotion (shocked, angry, hurt, scared) try not to cry or become too emotional. The child will be taking their ques from your initial response.
    • Reassure the child with helpful phrases such as:
  1. “I believe you.”
  2. “I am glad you choose to tell me this.”
  3. “You have done the right thing by sharing this with me.”
  4. “You are very brave to talk to me about this. I’m proud of you.”
    • Let them tell you what happened in their own words.
  • Do not ask too many questions and especially do not ask leading questions.You only need enough information to decide what your next step will be to keep the child safe.
  • Do not ask to see any injuries that are not in plain sight.
  • Do not make any promises about what will happen.
  • Do not promise that you won’t tell anybody as you will have to share information to get the child help. If you make that promise and then break the promise you have now become yet another adult who has betrayed their trust.
  • Do reassure them that you will get them the help they need.
  • Avoid saying anything negative about the abuser or making threats about them.

Report the disclosure immediately to the authorities.

Do not investigate on your own or ask too many questions.

  • You can risk interfering with the future investigation or prosecutions
  • You can cause the child even more trauma

Your report to the Abuse Hotline may not be enough to result in immediate action, but you can be proud that you had the courage to act. Your information will be saved in the Child Protective Services system and may be combined with other evidence until there is enough proof for the authorities to act.

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