Educational professionals are sometimes uncertain about how to respond to disclosures of abuse. Talking to children and young people about gender-based violence (GBV) can prompt an increase in the number of disclosures. This does not mean it is happening more often, just that more young people are speaking out. In this sense, disclosures can be viewed as a positive outcome of a Whole School Approach (WSA), indicating that students have a growing awareness of GBV and the support available to them. It does mean, however, that schools need to prepare all staff to respond in a way that is trauma-informed and child-centred.
Responding to disclosures
If a young person chooses you to tell it’s important you remember to:
- Stay strengths-based – survivors are experts in their own experience and with the right support and information they can find answers to increase their safety.
- Consider your voice and body language. Some children and young people are living with violence and abuse every day and it’s important to be mindful of this when talking to young people. When you are calm and relaxed this helps young people regulate their emotions.
- Listen, believe and validate. Be explicit about this – saying “I believe you, you have done a brave thing opening up” creates a sense of safety and strengthens relationships. Trusted relationships have repeatedly been proven to be the most effective tool to prevent abuse and protect young people from the impact of trauma.
- Stay calm and present. Doing this will show your worthiness of the trust they’ve placed in you. Following processes and policies are important, but ensuring they feel supported and believed can be life changing.
- Get support. These issues are emotionally challenging. Take care of yourself and make use of the support available to you.
If you are concerned or someone makes a disclosure you are required to follow your safeguarding procedure, including informing your Safeguarding Lead. Staying child-centred through this process will result in better outcomes for the child or young person. This involves:
- Being transparent with the child or young person about what will happen next, without making promises or guarantees you might not be able to keep.
- Reassuring them that they are being taken seriously, asking young people what they want to happen and being responsive to their needs.
- Treating their information with care and only sharing what you need to with the relevant person/people.
- Keeping young people informed and ensuring they have adequate support throughout and for as long as they need.
In the aftermath of an incident it is recommended that a child or young person is appointed a designated trusted adult that this person should be the young person’s choice.
If a child or young person has a health need arising from a sexual assault or sexual abuse they can be referred to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). You can find your nearest SARC here.
Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ChISVAs) provide emotional and practical support for victims and survivors of sexual violence. They work independently but in partnerships with schools and colleges to ensure the best possible outcomes for the child or young person, including supporting a young person to understand their options and how the criminal justice system works. You can find your local Rape Crisis centre here.
Specialist organisations can provide additional one-to-one advocacy and counselling support to victims and survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), including rape and sexual assault.