Why children reveal abuse
There are lots of reasons why a child or young person might to tell someone they're being abused, including:
- realising the abuse is wrong
- not being able to cope any more
- the abuse getting worse
- wanting to protect other children
- wanting the abuser to be punished
- trusting someone enough to tell them
- someone asks them directly.
It can be very hard for them to open up about what's happened to them. They might be worried about the consequences or that nobody will believe them. They might've told someone before and nothing was done to help them. Sometimes they might not know what's happening to them is abuse and struggle to share what they're feeling. Some children don't reveal they're being abused for a long time, some never tell anyone.
What to say to a child and how to respond
- Listen carefully to what they're saying
Be patient and focus on what you’re being told. Try not to express your own views and feelings. If you appear shocked or as if you don’t believe them it could make them stop talking and take back what they’ve said.
- Give them the tools to talk
If they're struggling to talk to you, show them Childline's letter builder tool. It uses simple prompts to help them share what's happening and how they're feeling.
- Let them know they've done the right thing by telling you
Reassurance can make a big impact. If they’ve kept the abuse a secret it can have a big impact knowing they’ve shared what’s happened.
- Tell them it's not their fault
Abuse is never a child’s fault. It’s important they hear, and know, this.
- Say you'll take them seriously
They may have kept the abuse secret because they were scared they wouldn’t be believed. Make sure they know they can trust you and you’ll listen and support them.
- Don't confront the alleged abuser
Confronting the alleged abuser could make the situation worse for the child.
- Explain what you'll do next
For younger children, explain you’re going to speak to someone who will able to help. For older children, explain you’ll need to report the abuse to someone who can help.
- Report what the child has told you as soon as possible
Report as soon after you’ve been told about the abuse so the details are fresh in your mind and action can be taken quickly. It can be helpful to take notes as soon after you’ve spoken to the child. Try to keep these as accurate as possible.
How to report child abuse
If a child reveals abuse to you, it's important to take it seriously, listen and report. And it's vital you take the next steps to help keep them safe.
You can contact us online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our telephone lines are open Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm and 9am – 6pm at the weekends.
It's normal to feel anxious, nervous or unsure about getting in touch with us. We're here to help and take that worry from you. Letting us know you're worried about a child could be the first step to helping protect them from a lifetime of abuse and neglect.
What happens when you report abuse
If you want to report the abuse to us, you can contact us or children's services where the child is living.
If you contact us, a helpline counsellor will speak to you about what the child or young person has said and advise you on what needs to happen next. If the child is at risk of harm we'll:
- ask you to share their name, age and address and any information you have about the alleged abuser
- take detailed notes on what you tell us
- share this information with children's services and, if necessary, the police
- give you advice on any other support available.
Our helpline team is here to make your contact as stress-free and comfortable as possible. Finding out what happens when you get in touch can help put your mind at ease about the process.
A call handler will answer the phone and ask a few basic questions to help them understand your worries. They might give you answers to specific questions you have. If you’re worried about a child or need parenting advice, they’ll put you through to a helpline counsellor.
A helpline counsellor will listen to your concerns and ask you any questions they might have. This helps make sure they understand the information you’re sharing, assess the situation, offer advice and make decisions about the next steps to take.
They’ll also explain how you can remain anonymous.
When there’s a serious concern about a child, and if you’ve shared information about the child’s identity, the helpline counsellor will take the next steps. This is called "making a referral". The helpline team will make a report and share information with social services. They might also contact local police if the child is in immediate danger.
If the helpline don’t need to make a referral, they’ll give you advice on what you can do or information on local services.
No matter the outcome of your contact, we always encourage you to get in touch again if you need to. We'll pass on any further information you or anybody else shares about the chid or young person you're worried about.
We understand that you might want to know what happens to the child or young person. But we have a duty to protect the privacy of those involved and won't be able to share that information.