- How to Respond to a Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse
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How to Respond to a Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse
If a child discloses to you about sexual abuse:
- Stay calm.
- Actively listen to the child.
- Believe the child.
- Reassure the child that what has happened/is happening is not their fault.
- Tell the child that you want to help and to do this you need to share this information with your supervisor/your principal/a child safety officer or a police officer.
- Ensure the child has appropriate support after the disclosure.
- Document the details of the disclosure.
- Inform the authorities.
- Take care of yourself.
Do not approach the alleged perpetrator or inform any other person about the disclosure other than your supervisor/principal/child safety or police.
1. Stay calm
Children who have been abused can be very sensitive to other people’s emotional states. Your tone of voice and your facial expressions will be indicators for them. It is important that you present yourself to a child as an adult who can manage the situation without panicking or being fearful of what they are about to disclose to you.
2. Actively listen to the child
When children are disclosing they need your full attention. Reassure the child that you understand what they are telling you. It’s okay to ask for clarification from the child if you are unsure. Repeat what they have said in your own words to make sure you have understood them, but be aware that the words a child uses will be important for you to remember. Avoid leading questions or questions that are suggestive to the child. It is the role of the police and child safety to investigate the validity of a child’s disclosure. Your job is to listen, believe, support, document and act.
3. Believe the child.
Children are repeatedly told that they will not be believed if they tell anyone about the abuse. For a child to be doing this with you means they trust you and have overcome enormous barriers to tell you. Avoid questions which may make the child feel they are to blame (e.g. did you try to stop it? Why did you go there with him/her? Are you sure that’s what they were doing?). Again be conscious of your tone of voice.
4. Reassure the child that what has happened/is happening is not their fault.
Children regularly feel they are to blame for the abuse occurring. If a child is telling you what has happened this gives you an opportunity to reinforce the message that children are never to blame.
5. Tell the child that you want to help, and to do this you need to share this information with your supervisor/your principal/a child safety officer or a police officer.
When children are abused their ability to trust people can be affected. Let the child know exactly who you are telling (try to always use a person’s name instead of that of an organisation). This creates a trusting environment between you and the child. Sometimes children will not want others to know about the abuse and may ask you to keep this a secret. This is normal, however it is important that you avoid making promises you are unable to keep or guarantee (for example, “I will make sure you never have to see that person again”, or “I’m going to make sure you are safe now”).
6. Ensure the child has appropriate support after the disclosure.
Immediately after a child discloses
If you are able to provide a supportive environment for a child it is possible to counteract some of the trauma the child has experienced. Sometimes children will want to sit quietly and watch a movie or read. Sometimes they will want to go and play with their friends. Be guided by what the child wants. Try to observe the child at a distance to see if they are okay whilst giving them space.
Specialist counselling services are available in your local area. These services are set up to respond to the needs of children and families affected by child sexual abuse.
7. Document the details of the disclosure.
As soon after a disclosure as you can, write down any comments or statements the child made during the disclosure. This could be used as part of an official process so try to use the child’s exact words and factual information, for example, names mentioned. Note the dates and times of disclosures. Avoid making assumptions or interpretations of the details provided.
8. Inform the authorities.
After receiving a disclosure, inform the Department of Child Safety and/or the Queensland Police Service. If you believe the child is at imminent risk, contact the authorities immediately.
School staff (including teachers, pre-service teachers, teacher aides and school ancillary staff) and those working with children are required to operate within school, state and national frameworks, guidelines, policies and legislation such as the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service, DET Standard of Practice and the Queensland Child Protection Act (1999). School staff should also access support from a supervisor in relation to the disclosure.
9. Take care of yourself.
Supporting a child through their disclosure can be an emotional experience for everyone involved. It would be normal for you to experience a range of feelings. Others who have supported children with this have talked about feeling angry, fearful, sad, guilty, worried, and relieved. Sometimes it is helpful to seek support in debriefing the situation with a supervisor or counsellor. This ensures confidentiality is maintained. It is important for you to recognise the significance of your role in the process and remind yourself that you are part of the child’s network of trusted adults.
Taking time out for you is essential post disclosure. Do an activity you find enjoyable.
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Reminder wallet card
On page 2 of the Trusted Adult information slip you will find the “what to say if child discloses abuse” wallet card. We suggest you cut this out and keep it with you.
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Department of Child Safety
Tel: 1300 703 921 (North Coast Regional Intake Service)
Queensland Police Service
Tel: 000 (Australian national emergency number)
for urgent and life threatening incidents.
Tel: 131 444 (PoliceLink)
Tel: 1 800 333 000 (Crime Stoppers)
for non-urgent matters or to have local police contact you.
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Sunshine Cooloola Services Against Sexual Violence Inc.
Tel: 07 5443 4711 (Maroochydore)
Tel: 07 5482 4421 (Gympie)
Centacare SCOPE (Domestic violence service)
Tel: 07 5430 9300
Lifeline Crisis Telephone Line & Online Crisis Support Chat
Tel: 13 11 44
Kids Helpline (for children)
Tel: 1800 55 1800
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