Join the conversation – Responding to disclosures of child abuse and neglect

Join the conversation – Responding to disclosures of child abuse and neglect

20 June 2018

This webinar provided an overview of recent research on how to support and respond to children's disclosures of abuse and neglect.

This webinar summarised recent research on how professionals working with children and young people can create environments that support, and respond well to, children’s and young people’s disclosures of abuse or neglect. It also discussed the various barriers to reporting child abuse and neglect and outlined potential strategies to address them.

A full recording of this webinar is available on our YouTube Channel.

The audio, transcript and presentation slides are also available.

Related resources


Re: maintaing contact with the young person and family. What about when structures in workplaces deindentify mandatory reporters? How to respond?
Thank you for your presentation. It was very helpful. My question to you is: What do you do if a child reports that another child has sexually abused them? You stated in your presentation that this is still considered child abuse. I am wondering if you would approach this differently, because the perpetrator is a child and not an adult. TIA, Richard.
This is really useful information as it helps to clear anything up if you are uncertain.
With regards to the ligitimacy of personal and domestic violence identified by a minor ... Q1. How do you qualify allegations of Domestic Violence when the Perpetrator maintains a campaign that the violence NEVER happened? Q2. How do you identify normal Familiar Refuse, when a parent is the one who is identified as the Perpetrator? Q.3. How do you identify normal Familiar Refuse, in cases where there are allegations of Parental Alienation made by a "Targeted Parent" where they maintain the Domestic Violence never happend -BUT- the child maintains that it does and has been victim and witness of other members of the family.?
Suzanne Priddle
Thank you for the webinar, I am a mandatory reporter and always find webinars interesting in relation to risk of harm
corriene Spencer
Thanks for your questions, everyone. Karen will be available to respond to your questions next week. Please stay tuned.
Adam Dean
Thank you for your presentation and for providing us beneficial information in regards to child abuse. It would be helpful to provide children and young people safe, secure and nurturing environment.
What an excellent webinar, and so glad that it will be available soon to share with our whole team. I am very interested in the reply to Richard's question also regarding a child as an alleged perpetrator and how this would best be handled? Also, with regards to supporting staff wellbeing with reporting, are there any organisations that can help review policies and practices to provide an external, professional view on our procedures?
What is the current rate of perpetrator conviction after disclosure of abuse?
Do you also include psychological abuse as a subtype of child abuse?
In Victoria, organisations may be required to investigate allegations of child abuse under the reportable conduct scheme, what resources are available to equip organisations with the skills to conduct such interviews/conversations with children?
What about adults who disclose experiencing abuse as a child?
What were the main "professionals" identified as perpetrators during commission? e.g. Police etc.
What do you do if a child reports that another child has sexually abused them? You said in your presentation that this is still "Child Abuse".
I might have missed it as the sound has cut out a few times, but are there figures around the % split of family member committing abuse compared with non-family members?
You mentioned how important achieving "balance" is when responding to a disclosure ie not asking too many questions and not asking enough questions - can you provide an example of responding with "balance" ...
What do you suggest if a child discloses that their parent uses what might be considered an old-fashioned form of discipline? For example, smacking, or using the belt.
Secondary disclosure - Say a student discloses to you about their friend that you don't know - in this case do you just need to support the individual disclosing (as opposed to making a report about the individual experiencing the abuse)?
If a child is close to a disclosure (of sexual abuse) but then shuts down, what could the practitioner do to help the child?
What do you do if you have suspicions based on the child's inappropriate sexualised language but there is no disclosure?
How can I obtain more information on common law - duty of care?
We work very much in an environment of transparency as much as possible in our program - what is the recommendation around disclosing to the parents that you are the reporter? Is it better to be up front, or is it better to wait and see whether it is investigated?
Please comment on how we can support child and family post-disclosure and follow up that helps deal with the trauma? Referral pathways e.g. Social Work, Psychologists and Doctor? How to encourage staff in hospitals and health and other institutions to refer on as client's right to services and supports in the community - any ideas and suggestions of continuity of care?
Do you see a difference in the types of abuse which occurs across different age groups?
Do you inform the child that you will be notifying others? I always believed this was essential?
We have been advised not to advise the family if we have contacted child safety with concerns as it could increase the risk to the wellbeing of the child - can you please clarify what is recommended...?
How do you respond to secondary disclosure from a friend?
Just wondering about the situation where a child is brought to therapy by a non-abusing parent, and the child discloses (in the absence of that parent) that they are being abused by the other parent. At the end of the session, is it better to discuss what the child has said to the 'non-abusing' parent or to keep this confidential, reporting only to authorities? I am wondering about the risk of the non-abusing parent coaching the child or responding in some way that hinders an investigation.
What is the definition of children and young person? What is the age range?
Can you please explain if there are any differences in mandatory reporting obligations if the perpetrator of physical or sexual abuse is a child as opposed to being an adult (also if this perpetrator is at the same school as the victim)?
Is there a guide around reporting young people having consensual sex even though they themselves are under the age of consent but the partner is over the age of consent?
If a worker suspects a child is being neglected, on top of reporting this, do you recommend that the organisation lets the parents/carers know they will be reported or keep it anonymous?
In my experience, child protection agencies often would prefer parents are not made aware of reports as it may hinder their investigations. Today's webinar discussed being transparent with parents where possible, could you please explain this a bit further?
If you are subject to secondary disclosure from a friend of the abused child, what are the steps in handling this? How do you refer a child to other services if the parents are the one the child is telling you is the abuser?
When working with older young people, and they disclose historical abuse that they DON'T want to report, what process would you take?
What happens if the process is too much and the child doesn't want to continue with the report?
Thank you for all these questions. Many questions are now published. However other questions have not been published for confidentiality and privacy reasons. We have attempted to respond to all questions by identifying and responding to themes.
Karen Broadley
In relation to questions about what to do with second hand information about child abuse and neglect. If you have second hand information about a child or young person being abused, and the person who has provided you with this information refuses to report the matter to the authorities – you should report the concerns to the police and child protection, as they have been relayed to you. If an older young person or adult discloses that they were sexually abused as a child then they should be encouraged and supported to seek counselling and report their abuse to the authorities. If they do not want to make a report, and they have told you the name of the perpetrator, it is very important that you inform the authorities. If the perpetrator is living with or having contact with children then these children could be victims of child sexual abuse. It is important that the safety of these children be assessed. It is important to remember that child safety must always be prioritised over confidentiality and privacy.
Karen Broadley
There were questions related to the difficulties involved in the process of making a report about the safety of a child or young person who does not want you to make a report. The child may want assurances that certain things will or won’t happen – assurances/promises you cannot give. There are no easy answers except to say that 1) the child’s safety is paramount and you must make the report, 2) don’t give false promises, 3) yes the young person may feel betrayed by you in the short term, but 4) your support, honesty, consistency and steadfastness will hopefully – in the long term - give the young person a positive experience of what it means to be respected, valued and cared for. What a young person wants isn’t always what they need! It is also important to always tell the child that you cannot keep what they have told you a secret and you must take action to keep them safe. It is important to tell them the action/phone calls/conversations you plan to take. If someone can think of a situation where a worker may be justified in not telling the child about their intention to report please post it?
Karen Broadley
There were questions about whether to report a suspected child abuser. If you have concerns about an adult grooming a child or children, you should report this to the authorities. Even if you think the individual’s behaviours are unintentional, or the individual has an intellectual disability – you must still report this.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about whether child abuse should be reported if the abuser is another child or young person. A disclosure about abuse by another child or young person should be reported to child protection. Not only will the child making the disclosure need support and counselling, the other child or young person will also need support and counselling and may be a victim of abuse him/herself. The safety of other children who live with and have contact with the other child or young person may also need to be assessed. Refer CFCA paper on children and young people with problem sexual behaviours for further information.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about children disclosing and then retracting their disclosure about sexual abuse and what to do when children are unable to provide a disclosure that results in their protection. Sexual abuse is a complex abuse type and it can be difficult for child protection and the police to obtain the evidence that is needed to protect the child. When a professional (say a counsellor) believes that a child is being sexually abused but the child has been unwilling or unable to disclose the abuse to child protection or the police (or retracts their disclosure) it can be distressing for the professional to be in a position of powerlessness and unable to help the child. This is particularly difficult if the child is having ongoing contact or access with the alleged perpetrator. In these situations, it is important, as far as possible, to remain involved with the child, support the child and do everything possible to enable a safe space for the child to disclose. If any new information comes to light it is important to report this to child protection. Also consider the child’s current network (personal and professional) and whether you can make any referrals for the child or family that will further develop and strengthen the child’s support system and sense of safety.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about whether to report ‘consensual’ sex that is outside of the age of consent. If a professional is aware of a young person who is under the age of consent having ‘consensual’ sex with an older person (i.e., the sexual relationship is illegal) – the matter should be reported to the authorities. (if the age ranges only marginally sit outside of what is legal and the reporter assessment is that the young person is not experiencing significant harm then it may be beneficial for the reporter to communicate this assessment to child protection and the police – however a report should still be made).
Karen Broadley
There was a question about how to find the balance between not quizzing the child and still asking questions. Generally, it important to let the child take the lead and disclose as much information as he/she feels comfortable. However, it is important to ask enough questions to try and gain a general understanding about 1) what is happening to the child (e.g., is it sexual touching? or the child being shown pornography? or is the child being hit? Where? Are there current injuries?), 2) who is abusing the child (e.g., the name of the person and their relationship to the child), and 3) the risk to the child (e.g., when is the child likely to have further contact with this person?) This is all important information to report to child protection. However, if the child does not want to answer these questions it is important not to pressure the child.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about physical abuse. If a child has injuries as a result of discipline it is important that this be reported to the police and child protection. If a child does not have injuries but reports inappropriate methods of discipline (e.g., a belt) then this is inappropriate discipline (may in some places count as unlawful chastisement). It should be reported to child protection. However, child protection, police and the reporter may all agree that the best way forward may be for the parent to be educated and supported to improve their disciplinary methods.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about emotional abuse, psychological abuse and neglect. Some concerns have been expressed about child protection services ‘not taking reports about emotional abuse and neglect seriously’. (It should be noted that the term ‘psychological abuse’ is often used interchangeably with ‘emotional abuse’). These cases can be very difficult for child protection practitioners to successfully take before the court. However, such concerns should still be reported to child protection. If the child protection file shows a history of multiple reports and multiple concerns being raised by professionals and others in the community about the safety of a child, then at some point this may provide the necessary impetus for child protection to take action to protect or at least assist the child.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about where to find professional support. Sole practitioners who have no superiors or set of guidelines to refer to should turn to their own professional body (i.e., AASW) for guidance. They should also consider how they may get peer support and external supervision. They may also need to make a deliberate effort to build relationships with police, child protection services and other relevant professionals in their area.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about what to do when there are threats/likelihood of harm but no actual current harm to the child. In these situations, the police may not be able to take action. A report to child protection, or a consultation with child protection about how to put a risk management plan in place may be useful.
Karen Broadley
There were a number of questions about transparent reporting and whether or not to tell a family of your intention to make a report about the safety of their children (when you are concerned about parental abuse or neglect). The answer to the question about whether to tell families about a child protection report you are planning to make is – “it depends”. A number of agencies have transparent reporting guidelines – which is good and valid. On the other hand, one of the comments made by a listener was that the child protection system in their jurisdictions prefers reporters not to let parents know of their intention to report in case of hindering the child protection investigation – which is also good and valid. Decisions about whether or not to inform families about your intention to report to child protection, need to be guided by your agency guidelines and child protection services in your area. However, flexibility is also important – i.e., decision making must be informed by the particulars of the situation such as the age of the child, severity of the abuse, and likelihood of further abuse – in essence your own assessment. If the worker believes that telling the parents about the report may hinder an investigation, or that a parent might ‘coach’ a child, or for some other reason the child may be at increased risk of harm then these are good reasons not to let the parents know about your intention to report.
Karen Broadley
There were questions about whether to keep working with a child if the practitioner believes they don’t have sufficient skills to assist the child. If, for example, a counsellor recognises indicators of child abuse but there is no disclosure, the counsellor may wonder whether to refer the child to a more experienced counsellor, or to continue their working relationship with the child. If the counsellor has built a positive and trusting working relationship with the child and the child does not want to change to another counsellor then there may be merit in keeping the situation as is. Decisions such as these are difficult and should be discussed in supervision and through peer support.
Karen Broadley


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