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Handling Disclosures of Child Abuse

Only a minority of children and young people actively disclose abuse. Most child abuse is disclosed accidently or though observation by an adult of a child or young person’s behaviour, words and physical appearance.

When a child or young person discloses abuse, this needs to be taken very seriously. It is important that any disclosure is dealt with appropriately, both for the wellbeing of the child or young person, and also to ensure your actions do not jeopardise any legal action against the abuser.

There are a number of basic guidelines that should be followed to ensure the safe handling of any disclosures of abuse from a child or young person:

  • Don’t panic
  • Remember the safety and well-being of the child or young person comes before the interests of any other person
  • Listen to the child or young person and accept what they say
    • Look at the child or young person directly, but do not appear shocked
    • Don’t seek help while the child or young person is talking to you
    • Reassure them that they did the right thing by telling someone
    • Assure them that it is not their fault and you will do your best to help
    • Let them know you need to tell someone else
    • Let them know what you are going to do next and that you will let them know what happens
    • Be aware that the child or young person may have been threatened
  • Write down what the child or young person says in their own words – record what you have seen and heard also
    • Make certain you distinguish between what the child or young person has actually said and the inferences you may have made. Accuracy is paramount in this stage of the procedure
  • Tell your manager or supervisor as soon as possible
  • Refer to Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children, or the Police
  • After making the referral to Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children, or the Police, look after yourself. Discuss the matter with your manager, supervisor or relevant person

Important notes:

  • The same action should be taken if the allegation is about abuse that has taken place in the past, as it will be important to find out if the person is still working with or has access to the child or young person.
  • Dealing with an allegation that a professional, staff member, foster carer or volunteer has abused a child or young person is difficult but must be taken seriously and dealt with carefully and fairly.


  • Attempt to deal with the situation yourself
  • Formally interview the child or young person:
    • Never ask leading questions
    • Never push for information or make assumptions
    • Only necessary relevant facts should be obtained
  • Make assumptions, offer alternative explanations or diminish the seriousness of the behaviour or alleged incidents
  • Keep the information to yourself or promise confidentiality
  • Take any action that might undermine future investigation or disciplinary procedure, such as interviewing the alleged victim or potential witnesses, or informing the alleged perpetrator or parents/carers