When children make the decision to tell an adult they have been abused, they are typically worried about what will take place. An adult’s response to a child’s disclosure is very critical.
Kids need to know that breaking the silence about abuse is the right thing to do. If a child’s disclosure is handled with support and care, the child can learn to feel safe once more. Additionally, taking action and reporting the abuse is crucial for the sake of protecting not only the child but also potentially other children.
If you’ve suspected that a child has been abused and/or neglected, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties can help. We understand that this could be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but as we’ve seen over the last 20 years, it is a necessary conversation to have in order to save children’s lives.
What You Should Say to a Child if You Suspect Child Abuse
Speaking with a child about the abuse they may be suffering from can be an embarrassing or sensitive subject for them, but it is important to discuss this to get the child the help they need.
Most importantly, practice your part of the conversation beforehand to get you as comfortable as possible with talking about this serious subject matter. Have faith that the child is telling you the truth about their experiences. Children rarely lie about abuse.
Sit at eye level with them, as hovering or standing over a child is a position of power and may intimidate them. Then, have the conversation with the child privately and in a place they feel safe, and give the child all of your attention.
While having this conversation, keep the following in mind:
- Let the child know that they have done nothing wrong and that what happened to them is not their fault. Praise the child’s courage for speaking up and telling you.
- Remain calm and collected. Ask only a couple open-ended questions, like “What happened?” Let the child use their own words to tell the story.
- Limit your questioning. Children generally share the details of their abuse only once. It’s imperative that a specially trained interviewer get the answers to their questions so a formal investigation won’t be hindered.
- Avoid displaying feelings of shock or horror to the child. The child could feel guilt or shame. Share your feelings in confidence with a friend or professional.
- Try not to interrogate the child. They will have to tell the full story to the authorities following a report.
- Don’t correct a child’s words about what occured or the names they use for body parts.
- Do not criticize the child, the family, or the abuser. This may scare or confuse the child. Many children still care about the abuser but want the abuse to come to an end.
- Thank the child for talking to you. Remind them that what happened is not their fault, and that you are proud they had the courage to talk about it. Acknowledge their feelings and their fears, however different they may be from your own personal feelings.
- Tell the child about who you plan to call and what you are going to do to help them.
- Do not make promises you cannot keep.
What You Should Do After You’ve Spoken With Them
Once you’ve spoken with the child and collected the information you need, ask the child if they feel safe going home. A parent who is non-supportive or non-believing may not be able to protect the child, or the child may fear punishment for revealing the abuse. In this instance, don’t inform the parent if it may potentially put the child in harm’s way.
If the child does not feel safe or you are concerned for the child’s safety, call Child Protective Services immediately. Then, report the abuse. You do not need “proof ” to report abuse, and you can report suspected abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services or local law enforcement.
However, refrain from suggesting that the child might have been abused. Let the specialist you are reporting it to know everything that the child told you verbatim without any of your biases as that can hamper the investigation process. Accuracy is essential.
Don’t express any form of doubt to the child, or draw your own conclusion about the validity of a disclosure. That is the responsibility of investigators. Also, refrain from talking about the allegations with anyone, including co-workers and relatives. This betrays the child’s trust and can jeopardize an investigation.
Lastly, if you think the child may need an immediate medical evaluation for injury assessment or a forensic examination, contact the Children Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties as soon as possible.
Every Child is Worth Fighting For
Since June 2000, CACHSC has fought to protect children from their abusers, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of concerned adults making the call. If you’re worried about a child, even if you are unsure, you can reach out to us about your concerns. We’re here to listen, offer advice and support, and provide the next steps if a child’s in danger.
It’s normal to feel anxious, nervous, or unsure about getting in touch with us. We’re here to help and put your worries at ease. Letting us know your concerns about a child could be the first step to helping protect them from a lifetime of abuse and neglect.