In order to ensure the safety of the children and young people in our care, there is a variety of policies, procedures and practices that must be followed, and workers are encouraged to report their concerns about possible abuse. Therefore, knowing the settings’ policies and procedures on safeguarding, child protection, whistleblowing and complaints, is crucial. Early years practitioners need to be familiar with and follow these procedures and protocols for promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children in the area and know who to contact in the settings to express concerns about children’s welfare. Having an understanding of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, which establishes the processes of assessing needs, planning services and reviewing the effectiveness of service provision at all stages of work with children in need and their families, is also important.
It can be very hard for children and young people to reveal abuse. Often, they fear there may be consequences. Children value being believed and, as the adult they have chosen to tell, it’s vital that the practitioner acts on what he/she has been told. If the disclosure made by the child or young person to a worker, suggests that there is harm/abuse or a serious risk of it, the worker should consider reporting the matter immediately to the designated safeguarding officer.
There are some general points that the practitioner has to take into account:
• Take seriously what the child/young adult says;
• Be honest about responsibilities;
• Keep calm;
• Look at the young person directly;
• Try to clarify information without over questioning;
• Don’t promise to keep child’s allegation a secret;
• Reassure them they are not to blame for the abuse;
• Be aware that the young person may have been threatened;
• Don’t do anything that may aggravate the situation or cause further harm or distress to the child.
If a child discloses abuse, practitioners have to listen very carefully to the child. It is always important to avoid expressing our own views on the matter. Communicating in the right way is crucial, especially with disabled children and for children whose preferred language is not English. The nature of this communication will also depend on the substance and seriousness of the concerns. A reaction of shock or disbelief could cause the child to retract or stop talking. We must show acceptance by using positive phrases such as: “I am glad you have told me”, “This is not your fault” or “I will do everything I can to help you”. We must avoid using phrases like: “Why didn’t you tell anyone before?”, “I can’t believe it”, “This is awful, but are you sure it is true?”. We should also never make statements such as “I am shocked!”, and we must never ask direct or leading questions. In fact, practitioners should never question a child for more information that could influence the outcome of alleged abuse. We also need to let them know they have done the right thing: reassurance can make a big impact to the child who may have been keeping the abuse secret. Practitioners need to tell them it’s not their fault as abuse is never child’s fault and children need to know this. We should say that we believe them because children might keep abuse secret in fear they won’t be believed. We should never talk to the alleged abuser as confronting the alleged abuser about what the child’s said could only make the situation worse for the child. We always must remember that our duty is not to investigate or question the child, but to follow our settings policy and procedure. It is crucial to explain what we’ll need to do next. If age appropriate, it is better to explain to the young person that we need to report the abuse to someone who will be able to help. In case of a child’s abuse disclosure, we need to make sure to do a written record of what is been said from the child making sure it includes time, date, name of child, name of person the concern was reported to and the exact words used during the disclosure.
Practitioners must record as soon as possible (preferably within an hour) full information about the child at first point of contact, including name/s, address/es, gender, date of birth, names of the people with parental responsibility (for consent purposes) and primary carer/s, and keep this information up to date. The records of disclosure must be promptly reported to the line-manager, mentor or safeguarding designated person; practitioners should always share their concerns and discuss any differences of opinion. In fact, we need to make sure that action will be taken quickly and there are no delays in protecting the child. The sooner the abuse is reported after the child discloses the better. All concerns, discussions about the child, decisions made and reasons for those decisions, should be recorded in writing. The child’s records should also include an up-to-date chronology, and details of the lead workers in the relevant agencies, for example, a social worker, a GP, a health visitor or a teacher.
The safeguarding lead should then decide whether an immediate referral to Social Services or the Police is appropriate. If the practitioner has difficulties contacting the safeguarding lead in time, the worker should consider whether to make a direct referral to Social Services or the Police. We need to take into account that when referring a child to children’s social care, the practitioner should consider and include any information he/she has on the child’s developmental needs and the parents’/carers’ ability to respond to these needs within the context of family and environment. It is also possible to report abuse anonymously over the phone or online to the NSPCC helpline. Online reports will be read within 24 hours and helpline counsellors will be able to discuss about what the child has said and advise the practitioner on what needs to happen next. If the child appears in immediate danger, may be necessary to call the police on 999.
In these cases, parents are informed at the same time as the report is made, unless this increases the risk of harm to the child or additional guidance has been given by the local safeguarding children board, through which the investigating officers will contact and inform parents, feeding back to the setting within 48 hours of a referral, letting the setting (and practitioners) know what is happening.