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Talking with children, parents and the alleged abuser to set up the safety plan

Beginning to safety plan

Part of gaining an understanding of the family’s existing routines and patterns in order to develop a meaningful longer-term safety plan requires practitioners to learn about the existing general rules the family have in place to keep their children safe. In collaboration with the family, develop “safe family rules” that build on the child and parents’ strengths and current family practices. This is also a good time to find common ground with the parent and the alleged abuser so that the safety plan is firmly embedded in a shared desire to keep the child safe. This shared focus on the child’s safety also makes it easier for the parent and alleged abuser to discuss the child protection concerns with their formal and informal support networks.

Practice prompt

The meaning of ‘family’ may be influenced by the child’s cultural background.

Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners or other cultural leaders is vitally important to help practitioners identify culturally competent and sensitive ways to discuss the safe family rules and work with the family. Refer to the practice kit Safe care and connection, including information on 'Women’s business and men’s business' for further information on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Practice considerations Conversation ideas

Talk with children about:

  • general rules they have in their family
  • who makes the rules and who enforces the rules
  • how they have responded to unsafe situations in the past
  • how other people have helped them respond to unsafe situations.

“Lots of kids have rules they follow in their family, like who cleans up after dinner, what time kids need to be home or what time kids go to bed. What are some of your rules? Who made those rules? Who tells you to follow those rules? What happens if you don’t follow the rules?”

“Have you ever felt unsafe or unsure in the past? What made you feel unsafe? Who did you speak to about feeling unsafe? What was that like?”

Talk with the parent and alleged abuser separately about:

  • general rules they have in their family, who makes the rules and who enforces the rules
  • their willingness to supervise the alleged abuser/ be supervised by the parent or members of the safety and support network
  • goals that are shared with child protection.

“The kids told me that one of your family rules is that they have to be home before it gets dark. Who decided that rule? What happens if [the child] doesn’t follow the rule? What happens if [sibling] doesn’t follow the rule?”

“How willing are you to put in place some extra rules to keep the children safe while we work together to understand what is happening for [sibling]? On a scale of 1- 10 1 = not at all willing 10 = very willing. What is stopping you being at a lower number today? What would help you get to a higher number?”

“I’m aware that you have said you have been wrongly accused of sexual abuse. We don’t have to agree on that today. Today we all need to be sure the kids are safe. I am aware that you want to keep living at home but the priority for all of us is to be sure that the children remain safe. By following these rules you will be able to live at home with the kids while we continue to work out what is happening for them.”

Throughout the process of developing and monitoring the longer-term safety plan, remain aware of the common techniques that the alleged abuser may use to prevent the child from telling others about the abuse and that minimise discovery of the abuse:

  • Making threats:  ‘Do you want me to go to jail?’
  • Discrediting the parent:  ‘You know your mum doesn’t think I have done anything to you - she even told the caseworker that.’
  • Making the child less credible to others: ‘He always lies and exaggerates to get attention.’
  • Providing rational explanations: ‘He is highly sexual - his disability makes him sexually inappropriate.’

Reviewing the safety plan

A safety plan is only effective if it is closely monitored. Because a safety plan is created around the details of daily life, it would be very difficult to monitor the specific circumstances of the child and family. A practitioner’s role when working with the parent and their safety and support network is to partner with them with the shared goal of keeping children safe. The safety plan is monitored jointly by the practitioner, the parent and members of the safety and support network regularly.

Practice considerations Conversation ideas

When you are reviewing the safety plan talk to the child, parent and safety and support network about:

  • any changes they have noticed in the child / alleged abuser/ parent
  • any times they have noticed the child was distressed and how they responded
  • other people who could be involved in supporting the family and monitoring the safety plan

“What changes have you noticed in [the kids / alleged abuser / yourself] since the safe family rules have been in place? Why do you think those changes have happened?”

“Most children feel upset or worried at times like these and they might blame themselves. What have you noticed about [child] lately? Do you think he is more sad / happy / relaxed / angry than usual? What do you do when your child is behaving that way?”

“What do you notice about [child] when [alleged abuser] is around?”

“What has been the hardest thing about following the safety plan?”

“What do you think the hardest thing will be about following the safety plan for another [number] days?”

“Looking at the Circles of Safety and Support Tool, is there anyone else you could invite into the ‘people who know everything’ circle?”

Before you finalise the safety plan, talk with the child, parent, safety and support network and alleged abuser about:

  • what they hope to achieve by implementing the safety plan
  • indicators that the safety plan is being followed.

“I can see you how much you love and care about your kids and want to keep them safe. What do you think you will need to see to be confident that [child] isn’t feeling scared or worried about [alleged abuser]?’

“How will you know that [alleged abuser] is following the safety plan?”

“When I come back to visit you [tomorrow/next week] how will I know that the safety plan is being followed? What might you and I notice about the kids? What will [safe person] tell me?”

Before you finalise the safety plan, talk to the parent about indicators that the safety plan is not being followed.

“What things might you notice in [child] that would make you worried that he is feeling [scared/worried/anxious] again?

“What might you notice in [sibling]?”

Further reading

Read the Working with children part to recognise when a child may be disclosing sexual abuse. Some children tell us about sexual abuse through their behaviour, by using drawings or statements that indicate general worry or distress. It is important that adults recognise these cues and ask children about them.

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