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Talk with the child, parent and alleged abuser or offender to assess safety and develop the safety plan

Talk with the child to assess safety and develop the safety plan

It is never reasonable to expect a child to ‘just say no’ to the alleged abuser or offender or be responsible to self-protect. Wherever possible, ensure all children in the household, including children who have not made disclosures, have a clear understanding of Child Safety’s worries. Involve the children in safety planning and help them understand the things adults will do to keep them safe. The strength of a child’s relationship with their parents, their siblings and the safety and support network have a significant impact on the child’s safety. These relationships also impact on the child’s ability to tell someone if they feel unsafe or confused, or tell someone if the alleged abuser or offender abuses them again or tries to influence their disclosure.

Practice Considerations Conversation ideas

Is the child fearful of :

  • the alleged abuser or offender
  • their parents or siblings
  • being blamed by their parents or siblings for the sexual abuse concerns
  • negative repercussions from community members as a result of talking about their worries?

“What do you think [parent / alleged abuser or offender] might say if I tell them I am worried about you?”

“How do you know when you are in trouble with [parent / sibling / alleged abuser or offender]?”

“What does [parent / sibling / alleged abuser or offender] do when they are angry with you?”

Does the child understand what ‘safety’ means?

“Tell me what ‘safety’ means for you? What are some things that make you safe?”

“Is there anything that makes you feel unsafe?”

Can the child identify someone they feel safe with?

Can they tell this person if they feel worried, unsafe or if the alleged abuser or offender spends time alone with them?

Using the ‘Three Houses’ tool:

“Have you told anyone about the things inside your house of worries? What do they say or do?”

“Have you ever told [parent] about feeling scared, not liking [alleged abuser or offender]? What helped you do that? What did they say / do?”

“What can you do if [alleged abuser or offender] wants to spend time alone with you? How will you tell [parent]? Is there anyone else you could tell?”

Does the child agree that the people in their safety and support network who will monitor the alleged abuser or offender are safe?

“What would be the good things about [suggested monitoring person] staying at the house? Are there any bad things?

What does [parents / sibling] do when [suggested monitoring person] comes over? What does [alleged abuser or offender] do?”

How does the parent believe their extended family or community will respond to the child protection concerns? Are they fearful of retribution from family / community members?

“How do you think your family will respond to our worries? What might they do? What might they say?”

“We have spoken about our worries about the kids today. Are there other people you know who might share our concerns? What have they said to make you think that? What have they done?”

“Looking at the Circles of Safety and Support tool, who do you think you could tell about the concerns we have raised today? How would they respond to the concerns? What would they do to support you? What would they do to support [alleged abuser or offender]?

What would they do to support the kids?”

Practice prompt

While the term ‘alleged abuser or offender’ is used in these conversation ideas, the child will not know them by that phrase. Use the child’s words when talking about the alleged abuser or offender and acknowledge the role they have in the child’s life if they are a   parent, family member or friend.

There may be times where a child cannot identify anyone they feel safe with. This information is a clear indication that the child is feeling isolated. Continue to be curious about people in their life and explore possible connections to develop a safety and support network.  Keep this exploration broad and consider people who might have helped the child in the past as well as people who are currently in the child’s life. For example, ‘Are there any adults that you used to like or trust? Where are they now?’

Note

Be curious about cultural norms and protocols, and seek to create cultural safety when working with culturally and linguistically diverse children and families. Children say cultural consultation when safety planning is important.

 “If you speak to adults, make sure they (practitioners) understand your family and religion and they don’t take things the wrong way. Like, sometimes, goray (white people) will not know about izzat (honour) and shame and they can do things that bring shame on the family. You are left without any help or support from the community.”

16 year old South Asian girl on working with child protection.

Talk with parents to assess safety and develop the safety plan

Be realistic about the impact that serious and persistent mental health issues or alcohol and other drug use can have on a parent’s relationship with their child, their ability to supervise the alleged abuser or offender, and their ability to respond protectively if the alleged abuser or offender does not follow the safety plan. The parent’s capacity to respond to their child and supervise the alleged abuser or offender can be further compromised by domestic and family violence. If a parent is intimidated or frightened of the alleged abuser or offender it is not reasonable to expect that they can supervise them.

Note

Many parents who are confronted with allegations of child sexual abuse move between denial and belief. Acknowledging this experience may help them to listen to the concerns and be active in the safety planning, even when they are wavering in their belief.

Practice Considerations Conversation Ideas
Is the parent able to demonstrate that they have managed mental health or alcohol and other drug use  previously so that these issues did not affect the children’s safety?

“We all have tough times and times when we feel it is hard to cope. I imagine that it’s really hard to hear about my worries for the kids. What do you notice about yourself when you are having a tough time? What do you do?”

“Can you tell me about your alcohol / drug use / medications? How much do you [drink / use drugs or medication] on a [weekday / weekend / at a party]? Where are the kids when you are [drinking / using]?”

“What are your current mental health diagnoses? How do you maintain your mental health?”

Is the parent worried that their child has been sexually abused?

Is the parent able to understand why Child Safety is worried about child sexual abuse?

Can the parent describe how the sexual abuse, and/or sexual abuse concerns could be impacting on their child?

“What do you know about child sexual abuse? Can you tell me your ideas for how to keep the kids safe?”

“On a scale of 1 -10 with 1 being not at all important that [alleged abuser or offender] is not alone with the kids and 10 being it is extremely important that [alleged abuser or offender] not to be alone with the kids, where are you sitting today? Why are you sitting there? What is stopping you being a [lower number]? What would need to happen for you to be a [higher number]?”

“What have you noticed about your child since the worries about [alleged abuser or offender] have been spoken about?”

Is the parent able to describe their child’s cues of distress or discomfort that may indicate they are feeling threatened, intimidated or coerced by the alleged abuser or offender?

“What do you see that makes you think the kids are feeling upset or worried?”

“Have you ever felt scared of [alleged abuser or offender]? What do you do when you feel scared of [alleged abuser or offender]? What do the kids do?”

Is the parent able to monitor the alleged abuser or offender’s interaction with the child and respond protectively if the alleged abuser or offender does not adhere to the safety plan?

“What happens when you and [alleged abuser or offender] disagree on something to do with the kids? What do you say? What do you do?”

“How would you respond if you found [alleged abuser or offender] alone with the kids? What would you say? What would you do?”

Is the parent able to identify and plan for times when they are not able to supervise the alleged abuser or offender (work commitments, social commitments, times of day / certain days in the week)?

“Tell me about the times when you are not with [child]. Where are they? Who is looking after them?”

“Is it hard to always keep your eye on the kids? Is there anyone who helps?”

Practice prompt

When talking to parents it is important to take the time to understand the impact of the sexual abuse concerns on them. A supportive, empathetic approach that normalises their responses can help them to support their child. ‘I wonder what it is like for you - trying to keep your kids safe while you are still working out what has happened’.

Talk with an alleged abuser or offender to assess safety and develop the safety plan

Attention

The vast majority of alleged abusers and offenders will continue to deny and minimise their sexual abuse of children. This does not mean the abuse did not occur. Similarly, acknowledgment of the abuse does not mean safety for the child.

Past behaviour is an important predictor of future behaviour. Always search for and understand the alleged abuser or offender’s history of violent or sexual offences against children and adults before deciding to safety plan. The alleged abuser or offender’s mental health and alcohol and other drug use may impact significantly on their capacity to agree to and follow the steps in the safety plan. Their use of violence or coercion and control affects their ability to accept any boundaries and limits put in place by the parent and Child Safety.

Practice Considerations Conversation Ideas
Is the alleged abuser or offender able to understand why Child Safety is worried about them having unsupervised contact with the child? Do they understand why Child Safety want the parent or safety and support network member to supervise them?

“I am here today as Child Safety have worries about the safety of [child]. These worries are about information we received that you [describe behaviour]. I am here to sort through what needs to happen next and how to keep everyone but most importantly [child] safe.”

Is the alleged abuser or offender able to nominate occasions where they have previously accepted the supervision of the parent or other safe person?

“Has there been a time when you have followed rules that [parent] has put in place even if you didn’t agree with them? Tell me about those times.”

“Do you think you will be able to follow a safety plan even if you don’t agree with all of it? How will you go about doing that? How will it be for you that the safety plan will be monitored by a number of people?”

Is the alleged abuser or offender denying that they are a risk to children? “You have told me that there is no basis for the worries that Child Safety have about [child] having been sexually abused by you/being at risk of sexual abuse. Child Safety work from a position of believing children who disclose sexual abuse. Our job is to ensure that children are safe – this is different to that of police whose job is to decide if they have enough information to convict someone. Even if we don’t agree on what has happened, can we agree that we each want to make sure your children feel safe and aren’t sexually abused?”

Attention

Be realistic about the capacity of the alleged abuser or offender to adhere to the safety plan, and the safety and support network’s ability to ensure the safety plan is adhered to. A safety plan does not mitigate the risk in all circumstances.

Practice Considerations Conversation Ideas

Is the alleged abuser or offender able to identify times when their ability to follow the safety plan or be closely supervised might be compromised? Can they talk about these times and plan for them?

For example: If they are intoxicated, sedated, aggressive, agitated, experiencing hallucinations?

“What impact do you think [drinking / using drugs or medication] might have on your ability to follow the safety plan?”
Can the alleged abuser or offender identify coping strategies?

“Having Child Safety involved in your life can be stressful for lots of people, especially when talking about concerns that you have hurt a child. What might help you cope?”

“Have there been any other allegations like this before? How did you respond? What helped you to cope?”

Can the alleged abuser or offender nominate appropriate people who understand Child Safety’s worries to be included in the safety and support network to help supervise them and support the parent? (Note: the parent and child should agree that this person is appropriate).

“When concerns like this get raised it is very important to involve other adults who can help to supervise and support the kids. These adults need to be told about our worries for the kids. Do you have anyone who could help supervise the kids? What do you think they would say about our worries? How do you think they would help?”

Have there been past allegations?

Who knew about the allegations and what did they do?
“Did anyone know about the concerns that you had sexually abused [child]? What did they say? What did they do? What didn’t help?”

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