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Dealing with disclosures

We know the thought of anything having happened to your child will come as a shock and is very upsetting. However, if you are concerned, or if your child says something to you, it is important to listen and, as difficult as this may be, not to show shock or upset.

The City of York Safeguarding Children Partnership has developed the following guidance for parents and carers who are worried about how to respond if their child tells them they have been abused.

Remain calm

  • Listen!
  • Remain calm.
  • Respond to your child with calmness and kindness, regardless of how you may be feeling in reality.
  • Accept how your child feels.
  • Allow your child to talk about what has happened as many times as they wish to. Children tend to say things gradually over a period of time. An initial disclosure to you is often a child’s way of testing your response and whether it is safe to tell.
  • Thank your child for telling you. Remind them that you will help keep them safe.
  • Reassure your child that what happened was not okay, that you believe them and that they are not in trouble.

Accept what your child says

  • Don’t put words into your child’s mouth. Ask general questions only (e.g. tell me about that?)
  • Don’t pressure your child to continue or ask them for more details than they are ready to give.
  • Don’t question your child in a way that will introduce new words, phrases, or concepts into their minds.
  • Don’t “correct” or influence your child’s information (i.e. “why didn’t you tell me sooner”; “ why did you let him do it?”)
  • Don’t challenge, confront, or criticise your child’s information even if the information seems unlikely or there are obvious errors. Remember children are sometimes unable to give accurate timescales or dates.
  • Try to get the message across that talking is OK. If your child does not mention what has happened again, you can make a general reference to what they have said and use this opportunity to reassure him or her that it is OK to talk about it.

Keep a written record

Accurately write down what your child has told you, what you said, and the date. This may be used as part of your statement or as evidence in court. It also reassures your child that you have heard them, that what they have said is important, and you are taking it seriously.

Talking to others

  • It is important to respect your child’s right to privacy while balancing this with the need to discuss their disclosure with other adults. Don’t expect your child to re-tell to other family members/friends.
  • It is important for you and your child not to continue to keep the alleged abuse secret. Gently explain to your child that what they have said needs to be shared by you with another trusted adult. Explain that this is the job of adults and it is how they help keep children safe.
  • Explain to your child that he or she has done the right thing to tell and that they will may have to tell their story to someone else whose job it is to talk to children about these issues.

Get help

Discuss your concerns, fears, or doubts about your child’s statements with another trusted adult, friend, childcare professionals, or counsellor.

Your child's recovery from their experiences largely depends on you and your ability to support and respond appropriately to your child's needs, behaviours, and statements.

Following these general guidelines, trusting your own instincts, and being a loving parent will be helpful to the healing process for all concerned.

And finally

You must not take the law into your own hands – not only will this make the situation worse for you but it can also work against any investigation.

For further advice or sources of help please contact:

Adapted from The New Zealand Governments, Department for Child, Youth and Family’s advice for parents