IMPORTANT: If a child is in immediate danger or risk, phone 000. If you wish to report concerns that a child is being sexually harmed, including grooming of a child, please report to Policelink on 131 444. You will also find a list of child protective services contacts at the end of this article.
Your response to a disclosure of any kind of child abuse (including sexual or physical) can be the first important step in stopping the abuse and protecting that child or young person from further harm.
This initial response can vary depending on circumstances and needs. Responses may include putting in place protective strategies, engaging appropriate support services or making reports to relevant authorities.
It is important to understand how difficult it can be for a child or young person to disclose abuse or sexual harm. Offenders put a great deal of time and effort into ensuring the child remains silent. Some of the reasons a child or young person may have trouble disclosing include;
- The offender has told them not to tell, and often with accompanying threats such as, “they will take you away from your family if you tell”.
- They think they will get into trouble.
- They feel guilty or ashamed.
- They feel that no one will believe them.
WHAT TO DO IF A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON DISCLOSES HARM TO YOU
If a child or young person discloses to you, try to follow these steps:
- Listen carefully to all they say.
- Let the child use their own words.
- Be patient and calm.
- Tell them you believe them and it’s not their fault.
- Let them know you will do everything in your power to help them, but do not make promises that you may not have any control over or be able to keep.
- Let the child know that you will need to tell someone to help keep them safe. Though this may upset the child, it is very important that you act protectively and in the child’s best interest.
- Do not force them to talk about it; you are there to listen to what they want to tell you.
- Do not use direct questions (questions that only require yes or no answers) or leading questions (i.e. “Did he touch you on your private parts?”) Instead, try using open questions, for example, “Then what happened?” “Tell me more about that.”
- Do what you need to do to make the child feel safe.
- Importantly: follow your obligation to report as soon as practically possible.
- When documenting, use the child’s exact words as best you can.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON IS BEING HARMED
Sometimes a child or young person’s behaviour or words may lead you to suspect or become concerned that child is unsafe or being harmed. In this situation, it is important that you:
- If at any time your believe a child is in immediate danger, please call 000.
- Do not frighten the child or young person by asking confronting questions.
- Let the child or young person know that you are there for them if they ever need to talk.
- Record your concerns including any behavioural observations or conversations you may have had with the child or young person.
- Importantly: follow your obligation to report as soon as practically possible (see below for a contact list).
- If in doubt, contact the Bravehearts Information and Support Line on 1800 272 831.
Australian Capital Territory
Office for Children, Youth and Family
(Department of Disability, Housing and
Community Services) *mandated reporters
Phone: 1300 556 729 or 1300 556 728
New South Wales
Department of Community Services
Phone: 132 111
Phone: 1800 700 250
Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women
Phone: 1800 811 810 (b/h)
or 1800 177 135 (a/h)
Department for Child Protection
Phone: 131 478
Child Protection Services (Department of Health and Human Services)
Phone: 1300 737 639
Health and Human Services (Families and Children)
Phone: 131 278
Department of Communities, Child Protection and Family Support
Phone: 08 9222 2555 (b/h)
or 1800 199 008 (a/h)