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Child protection work with children and families where child sexual abuse has occurred can be very demanding. A child who has been sexually abused faces challenges around how much they can say. This is often to do with their development and because they are worried about what might happen if they speak out. People who hear the child’s disclosures may not always receive the information in a way which supports the child into the immediate and longer term future. These difficulties are compounded when the child has other vulnerabilities, for example a disability or previous experiences of abuse and neglect.
This part provides some information about how children commonly experience sexual abuse. It describes practical ideas and strategies about how to notice and respond when children talk about their abuse. The contents of this part can be used for every stage of the case work process, from the initial safety assessment through to case closure.
There will be times when concerns about child sexual abuse will not meet the threshold for the QPS to charge the abuser. The decisions by the QPS about whether they pursue a criminal investigation or press charges in relation to child sexual abuse does not change the requirement for Child Safety to undertake an assessment of risk and harm for the child.
“I asked you to believe me
And you said you did
Then you took me to court
Where lawyers put me on trial
Like I was a liar
I can’t help it
If I can’t remember times or dates
Or explain why I couldn’t tell mum
Your questions confused me
My confusion got you suspicious
I asked you to put an end to the abuse
You put an end to my family”.
Written by a 12 year-old girl and read by the then NSW Assistant Commissioner of Police. Aired on ABC Radio in 2004.
- Understand the ways in which alleged abusers or offenders may gain access and opportunity to sexually abuse children. Focus on building relationships with the child, their family and community, and actively develop safety and support networks which promotes the child’s safety, wellbeing and belonging.
- Children may not tell people about their abuse for a variety of reasons including because they may feel ashamed or scared of disclosing the sexual abuse.
- The people that children disclose their sexual abuse to may struggle to recognise the child's cues or understand what the child is saying.
- Children often need help and support to continue to tell their story and so it is important that practitioners understand and respond to help-seeking behaviour and non-verbal or partial disclosures.
- It is not enough to educate children to recognise behaviours that constitute sexual abuse, then tell them to tell someone if they are being sexually abused. Adults need to be aware of signs and behaviours which indicate a child has been sexually abused. Practitioners can play an important role in helping the people around the child to notice disclosures and respond supportively and calmly.
- Children are more likely to disclose to their parents, friends and other adults they trust and see regularly.
- Disclosure takes time. Wherever possible, practitioners can continue to visit the child and build a relationship with them.
- A child protection practitioner’s most important job is to keep children safe and not to gather evidence for criminal proceeding or 'catch' an alleged abuser.
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