On handling disclosures – 3

What we should do next...

Being trusted with a disclosure is a privilege. But it’s a responsibility too. So…

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Nina Podlesnyak (adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Nina Podlesnyak (adapted)

What should we do when a disclosure begins?…

We should listen.

Don’t pass it on to someone else. The child chose you. So go with it, if you possibly can!

This means listening. Actively. Skilfully. Deliberately and sensitively.

But whatever we do, it must be about listening.

Our ability to hear the child is proportionate to and effects our ability to help them.

The greatest gift of all…

Listening is the greatest gift we can give a child who’s chosen to speak to us about their past.

It’s an art to listen well. But if we’re the chosen person – the one the child feels safe enough to tell – then we’re more than half way there.

The rest is relatively straight forward. Here’s a quick tip list:

  • Keep good eye contact – it shows we’re focused on them and not distracted.
  • Give lots of non-verbal cues – nodding, smiling, mmm-ing, etc.
  • Match the facial expression – this says we’re “getting it”. Not just the words, but the feelings too.
  • Keep questions neutral – no closed questions. Use things like: what happened next? And then what?

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Once the account is over…

  • Re-assure verbally – “it’s good that you’ve talked about this, thank you for telling me”
  • Re-assure physically – if a hug is appropriate, go for it. Or a light touch on the arm. Whatever feels right (or not!)
  • Explain the next step – “I need to let a couple of people know about this, so that we can help keep everyone safe.”
  • Say who you need to tell – social services, a specific worker if you know one, your CP co-ordinator, etc.
  • Keep them up to date – let the child know that you’ll keep them posted on what unfolds. Why? Because…

Losing control of what they’ve said because it’s now “out there” is very anxiety-provoking for children.

We can prevent this by making sure they know we’ll tell them any news we get about what happens next.

Then, last but absolutely crucial:

  • Make a record of the conversation – this is paramount
  • Do it quickly – as soon as possible after the disclosure is best
  • Keep the account factual – record as much of what the child actually said as you can remember – verbatim
  • Distinguish fact & opinion – be clear about what you heard and saw (facts) and what you think (opinion). How do you do this?…
  • Preface your opinions with clues – things like “In my view…, I felt that…, It appeared to me…, In my opinion,” etc.
  • Include times/dates – these are key bits of information for future reference. So be sure to include them

Stuck with what to do with a troubled child or young person? Help is at hand – click here…

Final word…

Most of this is common sense.

It’s about listening well and then being sensitive to what the child needs from us in the moment and afterwards. And then making sure that we capture what we’ve heard so that it can be dealt with properly.

For me, the guiding principle that drives my practice, is a simple question: what does this child need from me in order to help them off-load this very difficult and painful information?

If we start there, we won’t go far wrong.

What do you think?…

  • Are there other tips you would add to the list above? Share your experiences on taking disclosures…
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2016

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