Responding to disclosure

When a child or young person has been abused or is being abused, it is often very difficult for them to talk about it and tell someone how they feel. This can be for a number of reasons and could also depend on their age and the severity of the abuse. For example, they may feel uncomfortable, scared, embarrassed or guilty. If they are very young, they may not understand what has happened and may not realise how serious it is, or the abuser may have made them believe it is their fault. Being abused or neglected can also cause young people to have low self-esteem and confidence, which would make it even more difficult for them to talk to someone and report it. 

They may also be worried about the repercussions of them telling someone, especially if the abuser has threatened them, or if the abuser is a member of their family and they don’t want to report them. Therefore, they may ask that anything they tell you remains a secret; however, it is extremely important that any child protection matters are reported, so it would not be possible to do this. In this situation, the best thing to do is to reassure the child and encourage them to speak out about what has happened. 

If a child or young person tells you they have been abused or neglected, it is important to first consider how they must be feeling and to make them feel safe and supported in your company. You should explain to them that they have done the right thing and ensure they don’t feel guilty or ashamed for speaking to you. It is also important that you remain calm and conceal any emotions you may be feeling as it could make them feel worse. Let them know that you are there to listen to them and help them.

How to manage a disclosure of abuse or neglect:

  • Keep your emotions under control; stay calm and don’t express that you are shocked, disgusted, angry or upset
  • Ask open and non-leading questions to get the right responses 
  • Listen carefully and be understanding 
  • Take the child seriously and let them know that you believe them
  • Communicate with them in a way that they will understand; don’t use complicated words or terminology 
  • Make sure they know what has happened isn’t their fault 
  • Reassure them that they have done the right thing by telling you
  • Tell the child that you will support them throughout the process 
  • Explain to them that you will need to tell someone else who can help them 
  • Allow them to talk at their own pace; don’t be pushy or pressure them 
  • Ensure you make notes throughout or after the child has left so that you remember everything.

Modified from source: Accessed on 18/10/2016.

A disclosure may happen when you least expect it. It will most likely happen if a child or young person feels safe with you and trusts you, as they will feel more comfortable. Any disclosed incidents of abuse or neglect must be reported to the relevant persons, and you should follow your workplace’s procedure for reporting child protection matters. If you suspect any child or young person is being abused or neglected but you are unsure about reporting it, remember that you have a responsibility to the child and by reporting it you would be helping them and preventing them from coming to any harm. You should explain to the child or young person what will happen next and make sure they are fully aware of the process you need to take. It is important that they are in the know as this will prevent them from worrying about it and make them feel safer. 

Mandatory reporting

This is a legislative requirement for people working in certain roles to report suspected abuse and neglect to government child protection services in Australia. The mandatory reporting laws are different across states and territories, with the main differences concerning who has to report, and the types of abuse and neglect that have to be reported. The occupations that are most commonly named as mandated reporters are those that involve dealing with children on a frequent basis, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and police. This means that people working in these roles would be legally required to report any suspicions of abuse. It generally states that except for sexual abuse, in which case all suspicions must be reported, it is only cases of significant abuse and neglect that must be reported. 

Modified from source: Accessed on 18/10/2016.

Below is a guide by the Australian Institute of Family Studies stating who the mandatory reporters are in different states and territories and what they must report:

State/TerritoryMandatory reportersWhat must be reported
   New South WalesA person who, in the course of his or her professional work or other paid employment delivers, or supervises the provision of:
-Children’s services
-Residential services or law enforcement, wholly or partly, to children.
Reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is at risk of significant harm and those grounds arise during the course of or from the person’s work. 
  Victoria-Registered medical practitioners, midwives, registered nurses
-Teachers registered under the Education, Training and Reform Act 2006 or teachers granted permission to teach under that Act
-Principals of government or non-government schools
-Members of the police force.
Belief on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of protection on a ground referred to in Section 162(c) or 162(d), formed in the course of practising his or her office, position or employment.
-Physical abuse
-Sexual abuse
      QueenslandA doctor or registered nurseAwareness or reasonable suspicion during the practice of his or her profession of harm or risk of harm.
QueenslandSchool staffAwareness or reasonable suspicion that a child has been or is likely to be sexually abused; and the suspicion is formed in the course of the person’s employment.
QueenslandAn authorised officer, employee of the Department of Child Safety, a person employed in a departmental care service or licensed care service.Awareness or reasonable suspicion of harm caused to a child placed in the care of an entity conducting a departmental care service or a licensee.
-Physical abuse
-Sexual abuse or exploitation
-Emotional/psychological abuse
   Western Australia-Doctors
-Nurses and midwives
-Police officers
Belief on reasonable grounds that child sexual abuse has occurred or is occurring.
   Western Australia-Court personnel
-Family counsellors
-Family dispute resolution practitioners, arbitrators or legal practitioners representing the child’s interests.
Reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child has been: 
-Physically or sexually abused, or is at risk of being abused.
-Ill-treated, or is at risk of being ill- treated.
-Exposed or subjected to behaviour that psychologically harms the child.
       South Australia-Doctors
-Registered or enrolled nurses
-Police officers
-Community corrections officers
-Social workers
-Teachers in educational institutions including kindergartens
-Family day care providers
-Employees/volunteers in a government department, agency or instrumentality, or a local government or non-government agency that provides health, welfare, education, sporting or recreational, child care or residential services wholly or partly for children; ministers of religion (with the exception of disclosures made in the confessional)
-Employees or volunteers in a religious or spiritual organisation.
Reasonable grounds to suspect that a child has been or is being abused or neglected; and the suspicion is formed in the course of the person’s work (whether paid or voluntary) or carrying out official duties.
-Physical abuse
-Sexual abuse
-Emotional/psychological abuse
         Tasmania-Registered medical practitioners, nurses, midwives
-Dentists, dental therapists or dental hygienists
-Registered psychologists
-Police officers
-Probation officers
-Principals and teachers in any educational institution including kindergartens
-Persons who provide child care or a child care service for fee or reward
-Persons concerned in the management of a child care service licensed under the Child Care Act 2001
-Any other person who is employed or engaged as an employee for, of, or in, or who is a volunteer in, a government agency that provides health, welfare, education, child care or residential services wholly or partly for children, and an organisation that receives any funding from the Crown for the provision of such services; and any other person of a class determined by the Minister by notice in the Gazette to be prescribed persons. 
A belief, suspicion, reasonable grounds or knowledge that a child has been or is being abused or neglected or is an affected child within the meaning of the Family Violence Act 2004.
-Physical abuse
-Sexual abuse
-Emotional/psychological abuse
-Exposure to family violence
        Australian Capital Territory-Doctors
-Nurses, enrolled nurses
-Person providing education to a child or young person who is registered, or provisionally registered, for home education under the Education Act 2004
-Police officer
-Person employed to counsel children or young people at a school
-Person caring for a child at a child care centre
-Person coordinating or monitoring home-based care for a family day care scheme proprietor
-Public servant who, in the course of employment as a public servant, works with, or provides services personally to, children and young people or families
-The public advocate 
-An official visitor
-Person who, in the course of their employment, has contact with or provides services to children, young people, and their families and is prescribed by regulation.
A belief, on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person has experienced or is experiencing sexual abuse or non-accidental physical injury and the belief arises from information obtained by the person during the course of, or because of, the person’s work (whether paid or unpaid).
     Northern TerritoryAny person  A belief on reasonable grounds that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer harm or exploitation. 
-Physical abuse
-Sexual abuse
-Emotional/psychological abuse
-Exposure to family violence (e.g. a child witnessing violence between parents at home)
     Northern TerritoryRegistered Health ProfessionalsReasonable grounds to believe a child aged 14 or 15 years has been or is likely to be a victim of a sexual offence, and the age difference between the child and offender is greater than 2 years.
Source: Accessed on 18/10/2016.

Policies and procedures

There will be policies and procedures to follow at your workplace to encourage a safe, friendly and supportive environment for children. A child protection manual provides guidance for professionals working with vulnerable children and young people. It will reflect the legislative requirements of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and will also contain knowledge and practice requirements for child protection in different states and territories. Your workplace will also have a Code of Conduct, which will state the behaviour and values expected from staff that are supporting, caring and working with children and young people. There will also be a Duty of Care statement, which will outline the organisations responsibility and commitment to keeping children and young people safe.,-youth-and-families/child-protection/child-protection-practice-manual-online

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