Disclosure is the process by which a child will let someone know that abuse is taking place. This may not happen all in one go and may be a slow process that takes place over a long period of time.
Children may disclose abuse in one or more of several different methods, each of which is likely to be very difficult for them and so when working with children, it is important to know how to support a child through what is likely to be a distressing time.
- Direct disclosure: this is a specific statement made by a child about the abuse that is happening to them.
- Indirect disclosure: one or more ambiguous statements, which imply that something is wrong.
- Behavioural disclosure: deliberate or inadvertent behaviour that indicates that something is wrong.
- Non-verbal disclosure: writing letters, drawing pictures or trying to communicate in any other way than verbal to let someone know that something is wrong.
Sometimes, a partial disclosure of abuse will take place but this does not mean that it should be taken less seriously than a full disclosure.
Recording concerns and disclosures
Details that are fundamental when recording concerns include:
- The child’s name, age and address (if known).
- Exactly what the child said in their own words.
- Any information that has been given about the alleged abuser.
If there is evidence of physical abuse on the child’s body, a body map can be used to identify where this is and what colour the injuries are.
Details should also be given about the circumstances of the disclosure and whether or not anyone else was present at the time that the disclosure was made.
Information should be signed and dated and always written in pen so that none of it can be amended or removed at a later time. Organisations will have procedures in place that dictate how written reports should be made and most will likely have a specific form that needs to be completed in order to capture all of the information that is needed.
The information should then be passed to the relevant person as quickly as possible and in a work setting, the employee is responsible for knowing who this person is, in line with their setting’s safeguarding policies and procedures.
How to report a concern
The ways in which a concern will be reported depend on the situation in which the suspicions of abuse or disclosures of abuse come about. For example, in settings where children are present such as a school, there will be designated procedures to follow but where the concern is from a general member of the public, there will be no formal procedure by the person who is reporting the concern.
In any instance, a referral that concerns a child’s safety must be taken seriously; failure to do so would not only be unlawful but it may put a child in danger and, in extreme circumstances, their life may be put at risk as a consequence.
Choosing the appropriate method of making a referral
In a setting where there is a designated safeguarding lead, the following would apply when reporting a concern:
- Calling 999 if the child is in immediate danger.
- Following the setting’s safeguarding policies and procedures as soon as possible if the danger is not imminent. The policies will state who the safeguarding lead is and who concerns should be reported to.
- Contacting the local child protection services who will be those which are in the setting’s local authority, where the local authority designated officer (LADO) will take action.
Settings where they will be a designated safeguarding lead include:
- Schools and other educational settings.
- Healthcare settings (such as GP surgeries and hospitals).
- Social care settings (such as a women’s refuge where children may be present).
Employees are required to know who their safeguarding lead is, in the instance that a safeguarding referral needs to be made.
Suspicions of abuse by the general public
Even without any form of disclosure, any person can report a suspicion of abuse although some people may not know who they should report their concerns to.
A concern may be told to:
- Health visitor
- Social worker
- Sports coach
- Police officer.
The information taken by any of these professionals will then go via the channel outlined in the previous section.
If a member of the public knows that they can directly contact their local authority about suspicions of abuse, they would do so directly and be sure to give as much information as they can:
- Age (if known).
- Address (if known).
- Why there are suspicions of abuse.
- Information about an alleged perpetrator.
The person who is reporting the alleged abuse will be asked for their identity but they do not have to reveal who they are. Some people will not want to do this for fear of the repercussions of others finding out that they have reported concerns.
The decision of Social Care
Once a referral has been received by the Children’s Services department of the local authority there will be a meeting to discuss what the next steps will be in response.
The details of those steps will be outlined in more detail in the next unit but in summary they will be one of the following:
- The child is identified as not being in need and no further action will be taken apart from perhaps to offer support and guidance to the family.
- The child is identified as being in need but not at risk of immediate harm.
- The child is in need and is considered to be likely to experience significant and/or immediate harm.
People who have been involved in making a referral may be contacted again about the case but, if the referral was made by a member of the public, they are not obliged to give any further details and they may not have given their personal information in the first place, meaning that they cannot be contacted again anyway.
Once a decision has been made by Children’s Services, in most cases parents do have the right to dispute it – again, this is something that will be considered in much more detail in the next unit.
Disagreeing with the decision of Social Care
A child or their parent can appeal against a care order but this must be done within 21 days of the order being made. A child, their parent or the local authority can apply to end the order or change it to another form of order (such as a supervision order) at any time.
Children and their parents are highly recommended to seek legal advice if a child has been taken into care or they disagree with the outcome of a child protection conference, as the legalities can be very complex.