Safeguarding disclosure - We have been looking at how to help your staff and young people with issues regarding peer-on-peer abuse, and safeguarding disclosures. In this issue, we will look at what to do if someone discloses a safeguarding issue, some of the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in these situations, and what happens afterwards.

What does a safeguarding disclosure look and sound like?

It is very unlikely (although not impossible), that someone who has been suffering from some form of abuse or neglect, will walk up to you, arrange a meeting and then tell you directly what has been happening. As we learned in the last issues, many victims feel that they are somehow responsible for the abuse they have been suffering and often feel guilty despite it not being their fault. Younger children may not have the words or understanding to explain what is happening, and older young people may feel ashamed or that they are to blame. Many, never disclose anything to anyone, ever!

Whilst a direct safeguarding disclosure may be rare, what is more likely is that the victim may intimate or try to mask the disclosure in an indirect way. This can often take the form of:

  1. Ambiguous verbal statements - such as “I don’t like staying over there because my uncle snores” or “I’m going on a special family holiday for the summer but I don’t really want to go for so long.”
  2. Communication through behaviour – this is a classic way that children show that their needs are not being met or that there is something wrong. It can take many forms which can be confusing to decipher, such as overly friendly behaviour, overtly sexual behaviour, withdrawn behaviour, or large changes in behaviour.
  3. Communicate through non-verbal means – an example of this might be a child who draws only in one dark colour, or is always drawing the same image or who re-enacts things through play with dolls/puppets etc.

So, the real issue here is for your staff to be well trained in how to spot these ways of communicating, ask appropriate questions to try to ascertain if there is a concern, and making sure they take any concerns to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) if there are.

Not all things that children and young people say and do mean that there is a safeguarding concern, but it is better to be safe than sorry and to check rather than not. For example, a teenager may well not be looking forward to a 3 week ‘family’ holiday abroad, and it may be an innocent remark based on them not wanting to be away from all their friends in England; on the other hand, they may be trying to warn you that they are worried that they are being taken abroad for FGM surgery in a country where it is allowed and promoted, which is a criminal offence in the UK.

What NOT to do with a safeguarding disclosure

If someone starts to disclose something, then there are a few hard and fast rules that you must not do:

  • Do NOT promise to keep anything secret – if there is a safeguarding concern, you have a duty to pass it on to the DSL and/or police/other agencies
  • Do NOT ask closed or leading questions which could result in any evidence being inadmissible in any subsequent court case. Examples of leading questions are things like “who hit you?” or “did your uncle do this to you?” They are leading questions because there is a presumption on the part of the questioner as to what happened. A non-leading question would be “how did that happen?” or “can you tell me how you got that bruise?”
  • Do NOT immediately start to write things down in front of the child/young person – this would be very clinical and very disconcerting for them. You need to give them your full attention and support
  • Do NOT promise things that you cannot know – you cannot say that someone will be brought to justice or that they will end up in prison, for example. This is something you could not know and would depend on many other factors
  • Do NOT try to talk to the alleged abuser or investigate anything yourself. This is not your remit. Your DSL will know what to do following a disclosure and will contact any other agencies that are necessary such as children services, hospitals or police
  • Do NOT relay details to other people whether in your organisation or not, other than the DSL. If other people need to know, it is the DSL’s job to inform any relevant parties but there are confidentiality issues surrounding disclosures that need to be upheld

The right things to do if someone discloses abuse/neglect

If someone makes a safeguarding disclosure whether directly or indirectly:

  • Listen fully, be supportive, take them seriously and offer your full attention
  • Let the child/young person lead the conversation
  • Reassure them that it is not their fault
  • Ask open questions, not closed or leading questions
  • Reflect back what they’re saying – this is important as it gives them a chance to clarify if you have misunderstood something, and for you to remember what has been said
  • Be honest that you can’t keep it confidential
  • Be clear about what you’ll do next and how you can support the child/young person (e.g. “I will speak to the DSL (use their name)”, or “I’ll pass this on to people who can help”
  • Tell the DSL in person, or in writing in a timely manner
  • As soon as practical, record the conversation either on a safeguarding log, or on paper in a factual way. Use the young person’s own words as much as possible and avoid conjecture and personal thoughts or assumptions
  • Take immediate action if someone is in immediate danger such as calling 999

What does a good safeguarding report look like?

A good safeguarding report can be typed directly into a specialist safeguarding software such as MyConcern, or it can be made verbally and in writing to the DSL, typed or hand-written.
To be a good report, it should:

  • Be made immediately after safeguarding disclosures or incidents
  • Include the date and time
  • Say who was there, and where it happened
  • Describe what happened in as much detail as possible
  • Be fact based, with no personal interpretation
  • Include the child’s words, where possible

Think: Who? What? When? Where?

It is the DLS’s job to decide what happens next, which might include different agencies such as the police or children’s services. This can usually include offering them or their family additional help, ensuring the child/young person is in a safe place/situation, or in extreme cases, following through with a prosecution.

If you have been affected by abuse, then help is available here or by calling the police on 121 or in an emergency, on 999.


Take a look at some of our other safeguarding blogs here: 

KCSIE updates 2023

Safety and safeguarding: IICSA summary

Safeguarding: self-harm


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