It’s pretty heavy stuff – the first time a child tells you something about their suffering.
There’s a sense of trepidation and elation – all at once!
So how can we best serve kids who disclose?…
One of the commonest questions I get asked is this: “How should I deal with a child who discloses?”
Because a disclosure is so important, there is a lot of anxiety about how to respond.
We want to get it right.
There are all sorts of reasons why children and young people find it difficult to talk about what’s happened to them.
But one thing is undeniable: it’s a big deal when they do finally speak up.
Kids often stay silent for years before they disclose. Many wait until adulthood.
So if they do say what’s happened, it means something:
What disclosure means…
- The timing is right – something must have taken place – a one-off thing or a process – to make it feel right for them to say something now. Maybe they’ve been going through a long process of thinking about things. Maybe they just can’t hold it in anymore. But, for whatever reason, the timing is right now.
- The situation is right – many things influence how troubled children feel. Where they’re living. Who they’re with. What’s been happening recently. How they’re feeling. Just as the timing is right, so is the situation. This can tell us a lot about how we can best help the child going forward.
- The person is right – kids don’t disclose lightly. It’s just not a light thing. So when they choose to talk to us, we should take notice. More than that – along with the timing and the situation, the person is key. They didn’t just feel it’s OK to talk now, or in this situation. They felt it was Ok to tell us. The person is right.
The privilege of taking a disclosure…
Here’s the rub: when a child tells us about their past, their abuse, their experiences, it is an immense privilege!
- Congruence – for all this to happen, the young person must have some sense of congruence with the person they tell. Somewhere deep down, in a place it’s hard to find words to describe – they just feel good about it. About us.
- Safety – fear is one of the greatest drivers of silence among victims of child abuse. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what might happen. Fear for their family and even their abuser/s. So for them to tell us about it all, means they now feel safe. Or at least safe enough to speak up.
- Trust – disclosing is a here and now kind of thing. But it also has implications for the future. Children need not only to feel safe to tell us. Now. They have to have some sense of trust about what will happen next. After they’ve spoken up.
Perhaps for the first time in a child’s life they feel OK to give voice to some pretty awful stuff. They are in completely uncharted territory.
The starting point for helping a child to work through their traumatic past experiences, is coming to the place where they feel they can trust someone with it.
And they’ve chosen us! Wow! :0)
There are some practical implications from all this. But that’s for another time and another post.
For now, let’s remember what a profound and immense privilege it is when kids tell us their hard stuff…
What do you think?…
- Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below or click here.
- Ferguson, H. (2011) Child Protection Practice, Palgrave, London – this is a clear, concise and brilliantly practical book on child protection – highly recommended.
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© Jonny Matthew 2016