Recognising Abuse Guidance


The Protection of Children Standard


This chapter provides detailed guidance on the meaning and recognising of Significant Harm (Child Abuse), it also provides guidance on caring for/treating Children and young people who have been abused.

For procedures regarding the reporting of concern, see Child Protection Referrals Procedure.


Working Together to Safeguard Children


Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy

Allegations Against Staff Procedures


Section 7, Sexual Abuse and Section 8, Bullying (including Online/Cyberbullying) were reviewed and completely updated in June 2019.


  1. Childhood First Communities
  2. The Concept of Significant Harm
  3. Recognising Significant Harm
  4. Child Abuse as a form of Significant Harm
  5. Neglect
  6. Physical Abuse
  7. Sexual Abuse
  8. Emotional Abuse
  9. Bullying
  10. Who causes Abuse (Significant Harm)
  11. Caring for Children who have been abused
  12. Allegations

1. Childhood First Communities

Childhood First Communities at present are all mixed gender - they cater for girls and boys living together. Boys and girls deliberately live together in the same community and part of the treatment to help them relate better together including across the genders. Many of the issues which arise in daily living and therefore are part of the group treatment programme concern the differences and difficulties between boys and girls.

Most children who come to Childhood First facilities have suffered abuse and their experience of adults of the same or different genders to themselves has been difficult. At Childhood First we attempt, as far as we are able, to provide the children with a good mix of people looking after them. Ideally we would provide men and women in equal numbers but this is not always possible - the residential sector has had difficulties recruiting and retaining men for some time. Teams are always mixed and where possible are led by a mixed gender pairing. Communities have a mixed gender leadership pairing where possible. Our treatment document (Integrated Systemic Therapy Policy- IST) explains more about this methodology.

2. The Concept of Significant Harm

The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of 'Significant Harm' as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children; the act places a duty on local authorities to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Harm is defined as the ill treatment or impairment of health and development. This definition was clarified in section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (implemented on 31 January 2005) so that it may include, "for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another" (for example in the case of a child who witnesses domestic abuse).

Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Emotional Abuse and Neglect are all categories of Significant Harm.

There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Sometimes a single violent episode may constitute significant harm but more often it is an accumulation of significant events, both acute and longstanding, which interrupt, damage or change the child's development.

3. Recognising Significant Harm

In making your judgment about whether or not the concerns you have about a child and their family meet the criteria for likely or actual suffering of significant harm, it is more than likely you will have some information but not the whole picture.

Abuse or neglect is not always easy to identify.

The first indications that a child is being abused may not necessarily be the presence of a severe injury. Indicators can present in numerous ways to the public and professionals alike:

  • By remarks made by the child or his/her parents or friends;
  • By changes in a child's behaviour or demeanour which may indicate abuse;
  • By indications that the family is under extreme stress;
  • By a series of events which, whilst not necessarily of concern in themselves, are significant if viewed in their entirety.

Initially, the situation may not seem serious but it should be remembered that prompt help to a family in trouble may prevent minor abuse escalating into something more serious.

4. Child Abuse as a Form of Significant Harm

There are four categories of child abuse, which are assumed to be forms of 'Significant Harm':

Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institution or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They maybe abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.

5. Neglect

Neglect may occur/involve:

  • During pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse;
  • Parent/carer failing to provide adequate food and clothing, shelter including exclusion from home or abandonment;
  • Failing to protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • Failure to ensure adequate supervision including the use of inadequate care-takers;
  • Failure to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment;
  • May also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to a child's basic emotional needs.

Warning signs include:

  • Non-organic failure to thrive, i.e. where there is poor growth for which no medical cause is found, especially with a dramatic improvement in growth on a nutritious diet away from home;
  • A consistently unkempt, dirty appearance;
  • Unmet medical needs, e.g. failure to seek medical advice or attend appointments for illness, severe untreated nappy rash, missed immunisations where they have not been refused on other grounds;
  • Developmental delay without any other clear cause;
  • Lack of social responsiveness;
  • Self-stimulating behaviours such as head banging or rocking (note that some special needs children may exhibit this behaviour due to their disability but this should also be evaluated for context);
  • Repeated failure by parents/carers to prevent injury;
  • Consistently inappropriately clothed for the weather;
  • Hazardous living conditions.

6. Physical Abuse

Physical Abuse, is a form of Significant Harm which may include hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child, including fabricating the symptoms of, or deliberately causing, ill health, to a child.

Harm maybe caused to children both by the abuse itself, and by the abuse taking place in a wider family or institutional context of conflict and aggression, including inappropriate or inexpert use of physical restraint. Physical abuse has been linked to aggressive behaviour in children, emotional and behavioural problems, and educational difficulties. Violence is pervasive and the physical abuse of children frequently coexists with domestic violence. Physical Abuse may involve hitting, shaking, scolding, suffocating or poisoning and it may cause the following injuries:


Symmetrically bruised eyes are rarely accidental, although they may occur where there is a fracture of the head or nose and blood seeps from the injury site to settle in the loose tissue around the eye. A single bruised eye may be the result of an accident or abuse. Careful consideration is required whenever there is an injury around the eye. It should be noted whether the lids are swollen and tender and if there is damage to the eye itself.

  • Bruising in or around the mouth (especially in small babies);
  • Grasp marks on legs and arms - or chest of a small child;
  • Finger marks (e.g. you may see three or four small bruises on one side of the face and one on the other);
  • Symmetrical bruising (especially on the ears);
  • Bruising behind the ears;
  • Outline bruising (e.g. belt marks, hand prints);
  • Linear bruising (particularly on the buttocks or back);
  • Bruising on soft tissue with no obvious explanation, e.g. inner aspect of thigh;
  • Bruising of different ages.

The following are uncommon sites for accidental bruising:

  • Back of legs, buttocks, except occasionally along the bony protuberances of the spine;
  • Mouth, cheeks, behind the ear;
  • Stomach, chest;
  • Under the arm;
  • Genital, rectal area;
  • Neck.

Babies or others who are not yet mobile, i.e. are developmentally unable to move on their own, should not get bruises or other injuries. If they have bruises or other injuries, these must be adequately explained before they are accepted as accidental.


Seemingly trivial injuries should not be ignored because abuse can and does sometimes escalate against a child if it goes unchecked. They should be noted and collated in the child/ren's records.

Most falls or accidents produce one bruise on a single surface - usually on a bony protuberance. A child who falls downstairs generally has only one or two bruises. Children who fall usually fall forwards and therefore, bruising is most often found on the front of the body. In addition, there may be marks on their hands if they have tried to break their fall.

Bruising may be difficult to see on a dark skinned child. Mongolian blue spots are natural pigmentation on the skin which may be mistaken for bruising. These purplish-blue skin markings are most commonly found on the backs of children whose parents are darker skinned.


Children may have scars, but notice should be taken of a large number of differing age scars (especially if coupled with current bruising), unusual shaped scars (e.g. round ones from possible cigarette burns) or of large scars that are from burns or lacerations that did not receive medical treatment.


These should be suspected if there is pain, swelling and discoloration over a bone or joint. Fractures should be suspected if the child is not using a limb, especially in younger children. The most common non-accidental fractures are to the long bones in the arms and legs, and to the ribs. It is very rare for a child under one year to sustain a fracture accidentally. Fractures also cause pain and it is very difficult for a parent to be unaware that a child has been hurt.


It can be very difficult to distinguish between accidental and non-accidental burns; however, burns or scalds with clear outlines are suspicious as are burns of uniform depth over a larger area.


A responsible adult checks the temperature of the bath before a child gets in;

A child is unlikely to sit down voluntarily in too hot a bath and cannot accidentally scald its bottom without also scalding its feet;

A child getting into too hot water of its own accord will struggle to get out again and there are likely to be splash marks;

Small round burns may be cigarette burns (but may be friction burns, and accidental, if along the bony protuberances of the spine). Small round marks can sometimes be due to a skin condition - medical assessment will assist with differential diagnosis.


These can leave clear impressions of the teeth. Human bites are oval or crescent shaped. If the impression of the bites is more than 3 cm across its width, they must have been caused by an adult or older child with permanent teeth.

Other injuries which may be deliberately caused:

  • Poisoning;
  • Ingestion or other application of damaging substances, e.g. bleach;
  • Administration of drugs to children where they are not medically indicated or prescribed;
  • Female genital mutilation, which includes female circumcision, excision and infibulation, is physical abuse and an offence regardless of cultural or other reasons. The only exception is if surgery takes place for medical reasons.

Injuries may also be caused as a result of a parent fabricating or inducing illness in a child.

7. Sexual Abuse

Childhood First believe children need a good experience of men and women working and relating well together. We are clear that children who have been damaged in the ways these children have, including sexually, will have complex problems relating to adults, both adults of the gender who hurt/neglected them and adults of the opposite gender who may have been experienced as complicit or too weak to prevent the abuse/neglect. Children with complex experiences may confuse sex and love, and when they feel an attachment are likely to sexualise it as this is what their experience has 'taught' them to do.

Sexual Abuse, involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.

Sexual abuse can take place online, and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Sexual abuse can have a long-term impact on emotional, social and educational development and is linked to the development of mental health issues in later life.

Most child victims are sexually abused by someone they know - either a member of their family or someone well known to them or their family. It can be the most secretive and difficult type of abuse for children and young people to disclose.

Both boys and girls of all ages are abused and the abuse may carry on for many years before it comes to light.

Initially children and young people may not recognise themselves as victims of sexual abuse - a child may not understand what is happening and may not even understand that it is wrong especially as the perpetrator will seek to reduce the risk of disclosure by threatening them, telling them they will not be believed or holding them responsible for their own abuse.

Abusers may be both male and female.

It is important to note that children/young people are also capable of sexually abusive behaviour.

Recognition of sexual abuse generally follows either a direct statement from the child (or very occasionally from the abuser), or more often, as a result of concerns about the child's behaviour, or because of physical symptoms or signs.

Indicators that a child has been sexually abused include:

  • Changes in behaviour, including becoming more aggressive, withdrawn, clingy;
  • Problems in school, difficulty concentrating, drop off in academic performance;
  • Sleep problems or regressed behaviours i.e. bed wetting;
  • Frightened of or seeking to avoid spending time with a particular person;
  • Knowledge of sexual behaviour/language that seems inappropriate for their age;
  • Physical symptoms including pregnancy in adolescents where the identity of the father is vague or secret, STIs, discharge or unexplained bleeding;
  • Poor hygiene, which often leads to social isolation in school;
  • Injuries and bruises on parts of the body where other explanations are not available especially bruises, bite marks or other injuries to breasts, buttocks, lower abdomen or thighs; and
  • Injuries to the mouth, which may be noted by dental practitioners.

Child sexual exploitation is also a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. See also: Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation Procedure.

8. Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse, is a form of Significant Harm which involves the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying),causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

It is not usually indicated by a specific incident, but is observed in the interaction with the child. One child may be scapegoated or treated completely differently to their siblings.

Parental behaviours associated with emotional abuse

The following may identify parental behaviours which, if persistent, may be emotionally abusive. What is inappropriate will often depend on the child's developmental stage:

  • A persistently negative view of the child, particularly as inherently bad, often combined with "deserved" harsh punishment;
  • Inconsistent and unpredictable responses particularly where there is threat to or rejection of the child;
  • Expectations which are inappropriate for the developmental stage of the child, either too high or too low, over protective or under protective;
  • A lack of emotional availability or responsiveness to the child;
  • No respect for personal boundaries of the child; not seeing the child as an individual;
  • Promoting mis-socialisation or poor social adaptation;
  • Contradictory, confusing or misleading messages in communicating with the child which seriously distort reality for the child or promote confusion;
  • Serious physical or psychiatric illness of a parent including periods of hospitalisation;
  • Induction of a child into bizarre parental beliefs;
  • Breakdown in parental relationship with chronic, bitter conflict over contact or residence (this would also include situations where there is domestic violence);
  • Major emotional rejection of the child and parental inability to perceive his/her needs with any objectivity;
  • Major and repeated familial change, e.g. separations, reconstitution of families;
  • Parental drug and/or alcohol misuse;
  • Entrenched offending behaviour which may be criminal and which might also lead to a term of imprisonment.

Behavioural signs in children

Behaviour in a child which may indicate emotional abuse includes:

  • Very low self-esteem, often with an inability to accept praise or to trust;
  • Lack of any sense of fun, over-serious or apathetic;
  • Excessively clingy or attention seeking behaviour;
  • Over-anxiety, either watchful and constantly checking or over-anxious to please;
  • Developmental delay, especially in speech;
  • Substantial failure to reach potential in learning, linked with lack of confidence, poor concentration and lack of pride in achievement;
  • Self harming; compulsive rituals; stereotypic repetitive behaviour;
  • Unusual pattern of response to others showing emotions.

There are separate procedures in Part III of this manual which describe other potential areas of concern; for example, on matters relating to Domestic Violence or Fabricating or Inducing Illness - to follow.

9. Bullying

Also see: Countering Bullying Procedures.

Severe or persistent forms of bullying can result in Significant Harm, which is why the Children’s Homes Regulations require that the registered person must ensure that procedures for dealing with allegations of bullying are in place, and staff have the skills required to intervene, protect and address bullying behaviours effectively. Bullying is defined as 'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the victim.

It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying or online bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or can be because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.

It can take many forms, but the three main types are:

  • Physical - for example, hitting, kicking, shoving, theft;
  • Verbal - for example, threats, name calling, racist or homophobic remarks;
  • Emotional - for example, isolating an individual from activities/games and the social acceptance of their peer group.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology. Whether on social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites, the effects can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle.

Bullying often starts with apparently trivial events such as teasing and name calling which nevertheless rely on an abuse of power. Such abuses of power, if left unchallenged, can lead to more serious forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.

Bullying is a type of behaviour which needs to be defined by the impact on the child being bullied rather than by the intention of the perpetrator.

10. Who Causes Abuse (Significant Harm)

For procedures regarding the reporting of concerns, see: Child Protection Referrals Procedures.

There is no 'typical' situation or environment in which child abuse may occur although many children are abused by parents.

Parental responses to allegations of abuse which directly implicate them are very varied. The following do not indicate either that abuse has taken place or that no abuse has taken place, but should raise concern.

  • There may be an unequivocal denial of abuse and possibly non-compliance with enquiries or requests, for example, for the child to be medically assessed;
  • Sometimes parents may react aggressively to a suggestion that they may be responsible for harm to their child;
  • There may be reluctance to give information or explanations may be incompatible with the harm suffered by the child or explanations may be inconsistent over time;
  • Parents may display a lack of awareness that the child has suffered harm or that their actions may be harmful;
  • Parents may seek to minimise the severity of the abuse or not accept that their actions constitute abuse at all;
  • Blame or responsibility for the harm may be projected on to the child (i.e. the victim) or a third party;
  • Parents may seek help from any of the statutory or relevant voluntary agencies on matters unrelated to the abuse or its causes. This may be to draw attention to concerns other than those being presented;
  • The parents may disappear.

Children may also be abused in an institution or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. For example, children may be subject to ill treatment or abuse in the following settings:

  • Where they are looked after by the council in local authority or in independent residential or foster homes;
  • Whilst 'in care' children may be abused or mistreated by staff, visitors or by other children;
  • By teachers in day or residential schools in the public, private voluntary or charitable sector;
  • When placed in secure accommodation, prison or custody,
  • When participating in clubs or associations;
  • At leisure or sporting facilities, events or activities;
  • Children may also be coerced into prostitution, sexual exploitation or pornography;
  • They may be severely bullied or abused by other children at school, whilst playing, at clubs or in residential or foster care;
  • They may be enticed or befriended by 'strangers' whilst away from home;
  • Which can include children who have run away or are missing from home or care;
  • They can be subject to organised abuse by groups of adults who may be relatives, friends of the family or professionals;
  • They may be placed at risk resulting from domestic violence or from parental drug and alcohol use;
  • Children may also be subject to risk caused to the mental illness of parents.

11. Caring for Children who have been abused

This is generic guidance and advice for staff caring for Children who have been abused, it is not intended as being specific care management guidelines for individual Children. If Children have been abused or mistreated to the extent they require specific treatments or counselling, this should be addressed in their Placement Plans, agreed by the Placing Authority/Social Worker.

In the absence of such a plan, the following may be useful as general guidelines.

11.1 Children who have Suffered Sexual Abuse are Survivors

Children who have suffered sexual abuse are survivors; not only have they experienced family, society, adult/child relationships being breached, but every taboo this society holds as a basic right to be safe.

Survivors should not be treated as 'victims of sexual abuse' but people and children in their own right. It is important to 'look past' any label which might have been placed on them.

That said, sexual abuse can be very psychologically damaging, as can any form of child abuse. Child sexual abuse is often linked and involved the suffering of physical, emotional abuse and neglect too.

11.2 Behaviours which Might be Associated with Sexual Abuse

There is no definitive list of behaviours that suggest abuse may have taken place, but the following may be indicators (also see guidance above relating to specific forms of abuse e.g. Neglect or Physical Abuse).

  1. Mistrust of adults (either gender);
  2. Difficulty in establishing close human relationships;
  3. Sexually promiscuousness;
  4. Sexually precociousness;
  5. Withdrawn;
  6. Eating disorders;
  7. Violence;
  8. Offending;
  9. Fire lighting (Helen Kenwood made this association);
  10. Poor educational performance;
  11. Absconding (from care / Home / school etc.);
  12. Exhibitionism;
  13. Preoccupation with cleanliness;
  14. Poor personal hygiene;
  15. Disturbed sleep pattern;
  16. Rocking (rhythmic swaying either during night or day time);
  17. Self harm;
  18. Poor self-image;
  19. Low self-esteem;
  20. Attention needing behaviour;
  21. Delayed speech or poor vocabulary;
  22. Destruction of belongings / environment;
  23. Hiding clothes especially underwear;
  24. Hiding food;
  25. Stealing food;
  26. Encopresis (incontinence of faeces);
  27. Enuresis (involuntary passing of urine);
  28. Constipation.

Indeed, many more behaviours can also be connected to sexually abused children, some of which involve stimulation of genitalia for self-gratification or solace (often not age appropriate), or exposing themselves to others.

11.3 "Day Landmarks"

Areas of the day such as meal times, evenings, bedtimes etc. may be associated with the time abuse was suffered. It is important to be sensitive to this and emphasize that their environment is now safe. Much reassurance might be required.

11.4 Health Issues

Children can often be very worried about their physical health, not only in their genital region.

Children who have been sexually abused might suffer from:

  1. HIV;
  2. Venereal disease;
  3. Urinary tract infections;
  4. Damage to genitals;
  5. Digestive disorders;
  6. Incontinence;
  7. Thrush;
  8. Other genital infections;
  9. Hypochondria.

The above might cause the child much distress, anxiety and worry. A medical to prove 'everything's O.K.' is often ignored and that this should not be assumed happened at investigation or disclosure stage.

11.5 Self Image

Children often suffer from a 'used goods syndrome'. They feel worthless, unwanted, unloved, cheap etc. Staff should praise and help children 'find themselves' over time.

11.6 Relationships

Often the child / adult relationship has been damaged. A feeling of mistrust, in that 'you are only be nice to me so you can abuse me' is evident.

Children may never feel safe in an adult/s company, which can be demonstrated in anti-social behaviours e.g. violence, abusive language, panic etc.

Trust might be very hard to achieve but only time and proof of security will facilitate this. Therefore it is very important that sexually abused children are not 'let down' and promises are kept etc.

Additionally all children who are Looked After elsewhere than with their birth mother or father will have feelings about mothering and fathering which they will work through using the men and women around them. Because of this our care is not gender neutral - that is we are clear that each child will relate in a particular way to men and in a different way to women. Placement Plans may well outline in what ways children need to be helped to relate better to a particular gender.

Additionally, children (especially towards adolescence, but often before) naturally have sexual feelings about staff members - these may be about either gender, but are more often than not expressed towards the opposite gender. Adults need to be aware of this, and very sensitive about the issues which emerge. Often children from these circumstances may be adept at relating sexually. Adults should enlist the help of their supervisors and peers to ensure that a child is helped to manage their feelings and the adult is helped to manage the situation appropriately. It is of course never appropriate for staff members to reciprocate sexual feelings.

It is recognised that adults may on occasion have sexual feelings towards children. This is problematic as the role of staff is to be there to meet the children's needs, not their own. Such feelings must never be acted on, and must be talked about immediately.

11.7 What Forms can Child Sexual Abuse take?

  1. Inappropriate verbal interaction;
  2. Inappropriate non-verbal interaction;
  3. Witnessing adults involved in sexual acts (deliberately);
  4. Access to pornographic material (magazines, computer disks, videos, audio tapes etc.);
  5. 'Hands on abuse' where inappropriate touching occurs e.g. sexual intercourse, fondling etc.);
  6. Abusive telephone calls;
  7. Witnessing others being abused;
  8. Incest;
  9. Sibling abuse;
  10. Invasion of 'personal space'.

11.8 Self Protection

It is important the child can be encouraged to protect themselves. There is no 'standard format' of attempting this self-protection work but needs to be specific to the particular child, perhaps using examples from their own experiences/ behaviour. Specialist advice should be sought as appropriate.

11.9 Realisation

Child abuse doesn't go away. The more knowledge a child obtains about sexual relationships and society values in general the more a child realises just what has happened to them. Therefore at some stage in their development it might appear not to be a big issue, whereas later difficulties may again come to the fore. Sensitivity and compassion are needed to cushion these hurtful rationalisations and honesty of reply and interaction are needed. Someone available to listen will be very valuable and specialist help should be sought.

Consistent development monitoring should be an integral part of any treatment programme. Paediatric care, speech therapy, physical and / or occupational therapy, special educational help and various forms of therapy or individual psychotherapy are many of the therapies often indicated for abused children.

11.10 Family Ties

When a child discloses it can be likened to a balloon. If the situation is handled carefully the balloon deflates at a steady pace but sometimes the balloon will burst if the situation is not handled with care and sensitivity. Likewise disclosure is a traumatic experience for a child / young person as they are sharing their most private sexual experience with someone.

After disclosure children can be told, often in anger, such things as:

  1. "How could you say such a thing about your father";
  2. "You're a liar, an evil person";
  3. "You've broken your family up now" etc.

Often, therefore, many children who are looked after suffer remorse, guilt etc. Not only because of seeing the traumatic consequences of their disclosure, but also being 'cast out' by their families, the ones who should (and perhaps still do) love them the most. Again, sensitivity and compassion to help bridge building (if possible) into broken relationships might be appropriate at some stage, but only at the child's pace.

Some children recreate the dynamics of their families and invite harm by 'playing the victim' often incurring further abuse from peers or rejecting carers. Where possible therefore, specific provisions for children should be offered in the context of a carefully devised intervention plan for the whole family.

11.11 Sexual Abuse Doesn't Stop

Child abuse is very difficult to prove in Court, especially sexual abuse. Often before disclosure children are involved in offending, excluded from school and are disruptive at home. This scenario can be 'set up' by abusers. "Oh this is the next thing s/he's done, look how s/he behaves usually!". Abusers organise a mantle of protection around themselves. They might appear to be very respectable people in their own community e.g. Church attendants, fund raisers, youth club helpers etc. "How could anyone say such a thing about Mr. or Mrs. Bloggs, they're so nice!".

Abusive families and people continue to place responsibility for disclosure on the child. Even when they are in care, in prison or even dead! The 'mantle' of we or I'm a safe person continues to occur and breaking this cycle of 'closed awareness' is often impossible. Staff should always try to actively be aware of this e.g. stopping distressing phone calls etc.

In conclusion, as in many areas of social work there are no 'quick fixes' in this area. The most important factor must always be to support the child, emphasise the positives and keep the child's welfare as paramount.

This guide is just that not an answer but hopefully will provide Staff with landmarks to help children whilst they are in the Organisation's care.

12. Allegations

As touched on in other policies it is quite possible for children to falsely accuse adults of having sexual feelings and acting on sexual feelings. To protect themselves and the community all staff members must ensure they never act in a sexualised manner towards children, that if they observe others doing so they discuss it with a senior member of staff in supervision. Staff should avoid leaving themselves in isolated situations with children who may be prone to such allegations (there are clear and comprehensive policies to protect children from real abuse). It is essential that the policy about allegations about staff members is followed on all occasions.

See: Allegations Against Staff Procedure.