On handling disclosures – 1

The privilege of being chosen...

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!

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/rangizzz

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/rangizzz (adapted)

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?”

Great question!

Because a disclosure is so important, there is a lot of anxiety about how to respond.

We want to get it right.

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Staying grounded…

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.

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/imgorthand

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/imgorthand

  • 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.

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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!

Here’s why:

  • 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.

    Adult & child talking

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

  • 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.

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All of these things add up to a profound thing: being given a disclosure is an immense privilege.

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)

Final word…

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.

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© Jonny Matthew 2016

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Roger Welch

    A young girl that became part of our family a few years after go, has recently been in touch to say she is happily settled in a relationship and has three beautiful children. She first came into our lives as a very angry, troubled young person. At first she wouldn’t engage in conversation and insisted on spending long periods of time in her bedroom. She arranged for her to attend college and evening DJ sessions three times a week, then eventually we found her a part time job training as a hairdresser. She stayed with us for about 6months and as her life seemed to be improving, her social worker arranged for her to return home to her birth parents. A week later the social worker rang to say she was kicking off again and could we take her back. We were delighted to as she had become very special to us. This time though we insisted she engage in family outings, holidays and everyday experiences that all family’s go through. Soon she was hinting about her troubled past, days out with friends that had gone wrong, mixing with the wrong people, staying out late. It was like she wanted to tell us her problems but didn’t know how to and was frightened about how we would react. So we said to her whatever she told us we would record and we would help her pass her story onto her social worker and her family. Slowly over the next 12 months she began to tell us little pieces of the experiences she had suffered and that troubled her. The story she told was like putting a horror word jigsaw together. Sometimes what she was telling us was fictional and sometimes fact, but every thing was written down by me after she had disclosed. I had to leave blank spaces in the script because she would tell only part of the incidents that she had suffered. Eventually I showed her what I had written and she filled in the blank spaces, deleted the fiction and expanded on the facts, she gave the social worker a copy that was passed onto her mum. Tears flowed when our daughter returned home to her family. 10 years later she has got in contact with us, it’s going to be a tearful reunion

    • jonnymatthew

      Wow! Beautiful. Very well done. Love and patience can work wonders! Thanks for sharing this lovely story. Cheers Roger, J.

  • disqus_hMmN7dX4eO

    Justice for victims of institutionalised sexual abuse needs to be paramount. On Monday l went to the funeral of a man in his 50s that took his own life. As a child he had been systematically sexually abused by men in a position of power and authority. Some still hold those positions. Ten years ago his brother also committed suicide, they were placed together in local authority care as children. Unless these perpetrators are answerable for their crimes they will continue to abuse with impunity.

    • jonnymatthew

      Couldn’t agree more. The legacy of childhood institutionalised abuse (and ALL forms of abuse) is tragic. Whilst the attrition rate in bringing successful prosecutions is very high, we should still make every effort to bring perpetrators to justice. I just hope attempts to get the historical child sexual abuse inquiry off the ground will finally bear some fruit. Despite its overly wide – one might even say unrealistic – remit, it seems to me that we need to do some that really probes into what’s gone on for many years behind closed doors. Cheers, J.