Over 800,000 children are confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect each year in the United States. Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, followed by physical abuse. Perpetrators are often family members, friends, and acquaintances. In fact, 95% of all victims know their perpetrators.
Since 1981, our Kids on the Block program has been serving Middle Tennessee with the mission to educate children, as well as adults, about health and social issues that affect people every day. Kids on the Block uses several tools to help raise awareness by providing an interactive, educational puppetry program for children in elementary and middle schools.
Our Child Abuse Prevention program is licensed through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and can be modified for grades K-4th. The program teaches children the facts about child abuse, stressing the point that child abuse is never a kid’s fault and that it is okay to talk about it. As we’ve stressed before in our Tips to Teach Children How to Respect and Accept Differences, we understand everyone doesn’t have access to our program so two of our puppets, Stephen Arthurs and Sabrina Johnson, are here with helpful tips on Listening to Children for reports of abuse physical, or sexual.
Hey Guys! My name is Stephen Arthurs. My mom had a problem. She used to hit me and hurt me a lot because she didn’t know what to do when she was angry. That’s called physical abuse. But guess what? I found out I’m a really good kid and what my mom did to me was NOT my fault. I’m here to help you too!
Hi! I’m Sabrina Johnston and what happened to me is called child sexual abuse. I found out that what happened to me was NOT my fault and it is OKAY to tell, even if you are told not to. Stephen and I have come up with some Dos and Don’ts when listening to a child disclose.
Listening Dos & Don’ts
Remain calm and composed. Children can mistake or interpret anger or disgust as directed towards them. It is important to remember that you are not angry with them, but at what happened, so remain calm and composed.
Believe the child. The majority of children do not lie about abuse. Let the child know you believe them and want to get them help.
Explain it’s not their fault. Make sure the child knows it is in no way their fault.
Give positive messages. Reinforce how proud you are of the child for telling you. Reassure them with positive reinforcements such as, “I know you couldn’t help what happened.”
Answer honestly. Listen and answer the child’s questions honestly. This may be tough but it is important that you do.
Respect the child’s privacy. Let the child know you will respect their confidentiality by not discussing the abuse except to those directly involved in the legal process. Do not discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened. Do not push the child to give details, instead leave that to the professionals, they will know how to handle it.
Keep a stable environment. Although the child has been through a traumatic experience, do not change the rules for them. The most important thing they need right now is stability.
Report to the Department of Children’s Service. As an adult, it is your duty to report the incident. Tennessee law requires that any person who knows, or has reason to suspect, that a child has been abused must report it to local law enforcement authorities or to the Department of Children Services. Suspicion leads to reporting. Reporting it does not mean that you are certain that abuse has occurred. Reporting abuse or suspected abuse is a request for professionals to investigate further.
To report suspicion or an incident call: 877-237-004
Do not overreact or panic. When discussing the experience with the child, do not let your emotions get the best of you. It is important for you to remain calm and composed, children need help and support to make it through this difficult time.
Do not pressure for details. Do not pressure the child to talk and do not avoid talking about the abuse. Let the child talk at his or her own pace; forcing information can be harmful.
Do not confront the offender. Leave this task to the authorities. It is your job to be a support system for the child.
Do not blame the child. Never, ever blame the child. Abuse is never the child’s fault.
Signs of Disclosure
Less often do children come to you in private and tell you specifically what is going on, which is why it is important to know the signs of a disclosure when they do happen. One of the more common ways children disclose is through indirect hints.
For example, “My babysitter keeps bothering me,” or “Mr. Jones wears funny underwear.”
Usually a child uses this form of hinting because he or she hasn’t learned the specific vocabulary. He/she may feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it directly; or the child has promised not to tell. Sometimes it is a combination of these reasons. If you notice this behavior, gently encourage the child to be more specific. It is important to bear in mind the limits of his or her vocabulary; he or she might not be able to explain exactly what is happening.
Additionally, children will disguise the disclosure.
For example, “I know someone who is being touched in a bad way” or “What would happen if a girl told her mother she was being molested but her mother didn’t believe her?”
The child might be talking about a friend or sibling, but it is just as likely they are talking about themselves. Encourage the child to tell you what they know about the “other child.”
Often the offender uses threats to force a child to remain silent, so the child will disclose with strings attached.
For example, “I have a problem but if I tell you about it you have to promise not to tell anyone.”
When this happens it is important to let the child know it is not their fault. Tell the child you believe them and want to get them help. In order to do so, you need to make a confidential report to safe grown-ups who can help. You will respect their need for confidentiality so you will not discuss the abuse with anyone except to those directly involved in the legal process.
Another sign to watch for is if a child has explicit knowledge beyond their years.
For example, a child talks about the appearance of body parts, how they taste, smell, or feel.
These can be indicators something else is going on. Be sure to gently ask the child more questions.
As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and adults, it’s our responsibility to protect children. For more information, or if you would like to attend a Stewards of Children training or bring one to your workplace, school, church, group, etc., please contact Melanie Scott for more details.
Additional Helpful Resources
Here are some great books for kids about child abuse as well as great resources for adults!