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Know the signs

Some more ideas for helping a child talk about abuse are:

  • Establish a trust relationship by first showing your interest in them as a person, show you are concerned with what they think and feel.
  • Regardless of how shocking a child's statements might be, maintain your openness and composure. Never appear shocked at what the child says.
  • Don't stifle a child's trust by expressing disbelief or outrage.
  • Be careful not to express a negative or discrediting attitude toward a child's parents.
  • Let the child go at his/her own pace. Listen and pick up on the clues that the child gives.
  • Do not talk too much
  • You may wish to use drawing materials to provide diversion and lessen the tension.
  • Don't convey anger or impatience if the child is not ready to discuss troubling issues.
  • Talk with the child in a quiet place where you will be relatively alone, if you have control over the setting. Do not ask "Why?" questions. More effective would be "How did that happen?" or "What happened before (or after)...?"
  • Try to arrange to talk with adolescents in a recreational setting. They may be more ready to talk while shooting a few baskets or taking a walk.
  • If the child begins to feel discomfort and wants to break off the conversation, allow him/her to do so. Be alert for the child's readiness to discuss the situation at a later date.
  • Listen for conflicting statements, which may be the child attempting to cover up the incident at direction of a parent, or from loyalty or fear of retaliation from the abuser.
  • Use the child's own words (especially in cases of sexual abuse) but check to make sure you both understand their meaning.
  • Remember that a child may feel some anxiety after telling you about his/her situation.
  • You can help the child most by believing the child throughout the process.
  • Explain carefully to the child, if you feel you should report abuse or neglect, that you care about both the youngster and his/her parents and you need to tell someone who has helped other children and who will be able to help his/her family.
  • Do not assure a child that he/she will not have to leave home. If the youngster asks, only assure that a police officer or social worker will talk with the family members and try to help them.

Avoid making promises to the child (for example, "It will be all better!")

Always remember: You are responsible for reporting, OCS and law enforcement are responsible for investigating. Establishing and investigating abuse and neglect is the responsibility of the Office of Children's Services and/or the law enforcement agency in your area. You need only have a reason to suspect that abuse or neglect has occurred to report. Your role will be to serve the child as a supportive resource throughout any investigation that might occur.

How to Support the Child

In this video an OCS worker discusses the importance of supporting the child victim after the child has disclosed regarding abuse. It is important to believe and be supportive. The best way to support a child who has disclosed abuse is to encourage their participation in normal healthy activities, to listen if the child feels the need to talk, and to be there for the child.

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