Practical resources to help adults respond to children disclosing abuse
Our previous research has shown that adults don’t always recognise, understand or react appropriately when a child or young person starts to tell them about experiences of abuse. This can mean that the child doesn’t get the support they need (Allnock and Miller, 2013).
We consulted with children to find out their needs and experiences. We carried out a survey, focus groups and interviews with adults who work with children to find out how we can help them better respond to disclosures of abuse. We also looked at the existing evidence on the topic.
Adults told us they aren’t always confident about knowing what to say and do if a child starts to disclose. So we’ve created an evidence-informed resource to help adults ensure children always feel listened to.
Authors: H. Baker, P. Miller, E. Starr, S. Witcombe-Hayes and C. Gwilym
We identified that it’s helpful for children and young people in the moment of disclosure if adults use appropriate interpersonal skills to make it clear they are listening and taking them seriously.
Show you care, help them open up
Give your full attention to the child or young person and keep your body language open and encouraging. Be compassionate, be understanding and reassure them their feelings are important. Phrases such as ‘you’ve shown such courage today’ help.
Take your time, slow down
Respect pauses and don’t interrupt the child – let them go at their own pace. Recognise and respond to their body language. And remember that it may take several conversations for them to share what’s happened to them.
Show you understand, reflect back
Make it clear you’re interested in what the child is telling you. Reflect back what they’ve said to check your understanding – and use their language to show it’s their experience.
We’ve created a poster to help professionals remember these skills and embed them in their practice. It’s free to download so you can display copies around your school or organisation in places where you know adults will see them.
Use the key points from the poster as part of your discussions with children and young people about the importance of speaking out about anything that’s worrying them. Make sure they know you will respond to them supportively if they ever need to talk. And remind them they can contact Childline at any time if they need confidential support, by calling 0800 1111 or going to the Childline website.
“This is the most sensitive and hardest part of the child protection journey. Our skills can either open up a child or close them down… [it’s] critical we do things right by them at their most vulnerable moment.”
Please cite as: Baker, H. et al (2019) Let children know you’re listening: the importance of an adult’s interpersonal skills in helping to improve the child’s experiences of disclosure. London: NSPCC.
Allnock, D. and Miller, P. (2013) No one noticed, no one heard: a study of disclosures of childhood abuse. London: NSPCC.