What helps children disclose abuse? Part 1…

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/JamieWilson

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/JamieWilson

I recently wrote about some of the reasons why children don’t disclose abuse. Why they don’t tell others what’s happening to them.

That’s the half-empty side of the issue.

Now for the half-full side – the reasons why children do disclose. Or at least some of the things that encourage them to do so.

The basis for this post is the NSPCC research report: No one noticed, no one heard… It’s a brilliant study and well worth a read!

So what sorts of things make it easier for kids to speak out about their abuse?…

Why kids tell others about abuse…

The first three themes that emerged as making disclosure easier for children, were:

    1. Intervention by others
    2. Developmental changes
    3. Emotional needs 

1. Intervention by others…

One fifteen year girl alleged sexual abuse by her father from an early age to being 15…

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC In Plain Sight

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC No One Noticed, No One Heard

Whilst it pays to be cautious about directly asking young people if they’re experiencing abuse. But where there is suspicion and a safe relationship, it just might help them disclose.

The best way might be to ask if there’s anything they’d like to talk about?…

Have you noticed a young person having obvious problems (weight loss, heightened anxiety, self-harming behaviour, etc.)?

A sensitive enquiry after their welfare just may be the tipping point they need to make the step to telling someone.

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2. Developmental changes…

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC/No One Noticed, No One Heard

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC/No One Noticed, No One Heard

For some kids it’s the passage of time that leads to disclosure.

It’s not until they gain a few years that they have the understanding they need to tell others about their experiences.

Some of the blocks that are eroded in time include, for example:

  • They just don’t have the words to express what’s happening…
  • The have no way of comparing their experiences with those of other kids – so they don’t know it’s wrong…
  • They felt that it was wrong, but lack the confidence or reference point to investigate further…
  • The growth in understanding comes gradually as children get older…

One of the other issues that helped young people disclose abuse was the impact of sex education in school. Others include:

  • Learning about sex through television programmes and other information sources…
  • Realisation helped by appropriate intimate relationships during adolescence…
  • Speaking to friends about their experiencing and understanding that abuse isn’t normal…

3. Emotional needs…

Some of the young people in the study disclosed because they reached a point where they were no longer able to cope.

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC/No One Noticed, No one Heard

Graphic courtesy of ©NSPCC/No One Noticed, No one Heard

If there is pressure at home, pressure at school, isolation from friends and a sense that there is nowhere to turn, some children disclose at that point.

Carrying the weight of living with terrible and recurring experiences can become too much!

It is at times like this that the trusting relationships young people have with adults can be crucial in facilitating a disclosure.

If they sense that you care about them, that puts you in the frame as someone to tell…

What do you think?…

This post is just a summary of an extensive piece of research, and so is far from being exhaustive. You can read more detail on this by going direct to the research itself, here.

  • Please let me know what your thoughts are…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

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© Jonny Matthew 2014 with material quoted from the NSPCC research project No-one Listened, No one Heard

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  • Clare Roach

    This report is very interesting …..abuse is a very complex issue and neglect as one example develops over time, as family issues become more difficult and entrenched. My project in paticuarly tries to improve childrens outcomes at an earlier stage. The keyworkers take a whole family approach that parents and carers fully understand from the beginning. The keyworkers build good realtionships with their families allowing difficult conversations to take place . We have a variety of childrens tools that keyworkers use to spend time with children both in the home and in school. This allows children time and opportunity to talk about their fears and difficulties. The project data shows that this often gives children the opportunity to disclose and helps the keyworker to identify where neglectful, or at the other end of the scale authoritarian parenting is taking place. This enables the keyworker to work with the family , improve parenting and nuture the relationships between parent/carer and child before the situation declines into a more abusive situation.

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