“Someone is Hurting Me”- 9 Tips for Responding to Abuse Disclosure

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

As a teacher, staff member, or volunteer, you wear many hats. You pass on knowledge, clean up spills, keep order—and that’s just in the first hour of spending time with a group of kids! No matter what our role, as leaders we are tasked with recognizing and responding to abuse. Because of this, we should know what to do if a child or youth reveals something to us.

Abusers often tell children that the abuse should be kept secret and that bad things will happen if they tell others about the abuse. This makes children hesitant to tell, and, if anything, he or she may say they have a “friend” who is being abused. You may be the only person to whom a child feels comfortable revealing the real story.

What steps should you take when a child or youth discloses abuse to you?

  1. Provide a safe environment to speak with the child where you will not be interrupted, but make sure there is visibility to others.
  2. Listen and stay calm.
  3. Reassure the child that he or she did nothing wrong and that you believe him or her.
  4. Express compassion and sit near the child, but do not touch him or her without permission.
  5. Encourage the child to tell you what happened, but don’t press for details or interrogate. Don’t make suggestions or lead the child; listen to his or her explanation.
  6. If the child wants you to promise not to tell, respond with honesty. “I will not tell other teachers or children, but I may have to tell someone who can help you.”
  7. Do not ask leading questions such as, “Where did he touch you?” Allow the child to show visible injuries, but do not insist on seeing the child’s injuries.
  8. Document the conversation in writing as soon as possible to provide accurate information in future conversations. Then, report the abuse immediately to your supervisor or other person in authority.
  9. If you are a mandated reporter, follow your school or organization’s protocol.