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Putting safety plans in place

This part focuses on the development of medium to long-term safety plans that look at the safety of the child into the future, and provides guidance on developing effective safety plans when the alleged abuser or offender or the parents are denying or minimising the sexual abuse allegations. While the practice considerations in this part largely relate to longer term safety planning, depending on the nature of the worries, some considerations are applicable when engaging in immediate safety planning. Refer to the part 'Develop an immediate safety plan' in Carry out a safety assessment in the procedure Investigate and Assess for procedural guidance on developing immediate safety plans.

Develop individualised safety plans with the family

Safety plans are only effective when they target the specific circumstances of each child and family. The information below contains suggested rules and areas for practitioners to consider when talking to children and families. It can be helpful to acknowledge that these topics may be uncomfortable for the family.

Robust longer-term safety plans:

  • are developed with the child, other children within the household, parent, alleged abuser or offender, safety and support network members
  • respond to the specific circumstances of the child, the parent and the alleged abuser or offender  and focus on the minutiae of their daily life
  • have clearly articulated bottom lines explained to the family at the beginning of the safety planning process
  • support the parent to take charge of the household
  • provide monitoring of the alleged abuser or offender 
  • allow the child to inform somebody if the safety plan is not being followed or they feel unsafe
  • give the parent space and time to adjust to the news that their child may be at risk of sexual abuse or has been sexually abused.

Practice prompt

Stating ‘the alleged abuser or non-offending parent requires supervision around children’ does not provide enough detail for longer-term safety planning to be robust and responsive. Best practice requires practitioners to work closely with the family and safety and support network to understand the smallest details about the family’s daily life, their specific circumstances and living arrangements. Respond specifically to the allegation in the safety plan, for example:

  • the time of day / location where the alleged abuse occurred
  • information about the way the alleged abuser or offender has manipulated or coerced the child, parents or community
  • any specific fears or concerns raised by the child or reporter
  • information provided in any previous allegations.

Explore supervision of the alleged abuser or offender

Talk with the children:

  • How did you wake up this morning? How did you get ready for school? How did you get to school? How did you get home? What happened when you got home from school? How do you get ready for bed? How do you get to sleep at night?
  • When do you spend time with [alleged abuser or offender]? What do you do together?

Talk with the parent:

  • Talk me through a regular weekday. How do the kids wake up? How do the kids get ready for school? How do the kids get home from school? What do the kids do when they get home? Who helps with homework? How do the kids get bathed? How do the kids get ready for bed?
  • Who makes the dinner? Who is with the kids while dinner is being made?
  • Are there times when you and [alleged abuser or offender] are in different rooms in the house? Where are the kids when this is happening?
  • When is [alleged abuser or offender] likely to be at home with the kids? What help do you need to make sure he is never alone in the same room as the children?
  • What will happen while you are sleeping? How will you know [alleged abuser or offender] is not alone with the kids?

Practice prompt

Multiple questions can be overwhelming for children and parents. Try to break them up, chat freely in between, be natural and warm and use your judgement about whether they need a break or a change of subject to regain focus.

Explore rules about nudity / sexualised environments

There is to be no adult nakedness / near nakedness around the children - this includes wearing underwear only. The children will only be naked / nearly naked around the parent if it is necessary and developmentally appropriate. The alleged abuser or offender will never be around the children if they are naked or near naked.

Talk with the children:

  • When are you naked? Who is there when you are naked?
  • How do you go to the toilet? Do you need help wiping your bottom?
  • What do you know about sex? (This question will need to be altered to suit the developmental age of the child).

Talk with parents / alleged abuser or offender:

  • Can you tell me how nakedness / near nakedness is managed in your family?
  • When are the kids naked / nearly naked?
  • Do you have rules about children entering rooms where adults are naked / nearly naked or toileting?
  • When is [alleged abuser or offender] naked / nearly naked?
  • Do the kids see any other adults naked / nearly naked?
  • What do you think your kids know about sex? How do they know that?
  • Can you think of times that your kids might have seen anyone having sex?

Practice prompt

Talking about child sexual abuse, nakedness and intimacy can be very confronting for most parents. It may make them feel nervous and they might have trouble talking openly. It can be helpful to warn the parent that the questions you are about to ask will probably be uncomfortable. Try to slow the conversation down and notice and acknowledge the parent’s discomfort. It can be helpful to intersperse your questions with chatter about other topics.

Explore rules about pornography in practice

Talk with the children:

  • When do you look at the internet? What do you like to look at? Who do you like to look at the internet with?
  • Have you ever seen pictures of naked people? Where was it? Was anyone else there?
  • What does alleged abuser or offender/ mum / dad look at on TV / the internet?
  • Are there things that [mum / dad / alleged abuser or offender] look at / watch that are only for adults? How do you know that they are watching / looking at adult things?

Talk with the parent:

  • Do you know if the kids have ever seen pornography in magazines, on the internet, on TV? Who did they look at the pornography with?
  • Some adults look at pornography or adult movies. Do you or [alleged abuser or offender] look at pornography / adult movies? Where do you look at pornography / adult movies? Is it possible the kids may see or hear this?
  • How do the kids access the internet? Where do the kids access the internet? How do you control their access to the internet? Do you use parental controls?

Attention

Pornography should not be seen by children by accident or on purpose. This includes legal and illegal pornography in magazines, on the internet or on television.

Practice prompt

It can be helpful to understand how commonplace the use of pornography is in the general community.

How does this use of pornography impact on how sex is talked about in front of children and what children know about sex?

Explore physical contact

Physical contact with a child and the alleged abuser or offender is always supervised very closely. The type of contact allowed will depend on the relationship the child has with the alleged abuser or offender, the nature of the allegations and the specific circumstances of the child and family. As a general rule, any physical contact should be instigated by the child and be developmentally appropriate. For example, it is not appropriate for an older child to sit on the alleged abuser or offender’s knee but it may be appropriate for a much younger child, only if it is safe for this to occur.

Talk with the children:

  • How does [parent] let you know they love you? Are there things you like about that? Are there things you don’t like about that?
  • How does [alleged abuser or offender] let you know they love you / care about you? What things do you like about that? Are there things you don’t like about that?
  • How do you let [parent / alleged abuser or offender / other safe person] know when you want a cuddle? What do you do? What do they do?
  • How do you let [parent / alleged abuser or offender / other safe person] know when you do not want a cuddle / to be touched? What do you do? What do they do?

Talk with parent / alleged abuser or offender:

  • How do you show affection to your kids?
  • How do you show affection to your parent or other adults you’re close to when the kids are around?

Practice prompt

Alleged abusers or offenders can intimidate, control and coerce children without any physical contact. Consider this when planning for safety.

Talk to the parent about how they think the alleged abuser or offender may respond to the worries and the safety plan. This can help them understand and be alert to the alleged offender’s behaviour and the child’s responses.

For example, ’We have spoken about the fact that [alleged abuser or offender] might be quite angry with [child]. How do you think that anger might make [child] feel tonight? How will you know if [child] is upset or worried? What rules do you think we should put in place to prevent [alleged abuser or offender] from frightening [child]?’

Other items for discussion

Assess the impact of the issues below on the child and family and determine if they need to be included in the safe family rules:

  • Discipline - how do the children know when they are in trouble? Who normally disciplines the children? What kind of discipline is used? How do the children respond to this discipline?
  • Privacy - who is allowed in the children’s rooms? Are the doors open or closed?
  • Physical contact with other adults - are there times when the children have cuddles with other adults? What happens if they don’t want a cuddle? How do they let you know? What do you do?
  • Responding to and managing overtly sexual behaviour towards other adults / children - have you noticed [child] behaving in a sexual way towards other children or adults? What do you do when this happens? (Refer to Working with children who display sexually reactive behaviours for further information on these behaviours).
  • Contact that the [alleged abuser or offender] may have with other children at school / clubs / any other activities - are there other places or times that the [alleged abuser or offender] spends time with children?
  • Extraordinary gift giving, money, treats, outings unless previously approved by the parent - when was the last time [child] was given a treat or gift from the [alleged abuser or offender]? What about the other children in the home?

Practice prompt

Children should not be forced to have physical contact with any adults, even those close or related to them. Allow children to decide who they wish to have developmentally appropriate physical contact with.

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