Family Violence: What to do about family violence
What can you do if you suspect or know a child has experienced family violence, abuse and neglect?
If a child or parent were to tell us about abuse, how should we react? What steps should we take if we think a child is being or has been abused?
A situation of child abuse or neglect may come directly to your attention from the child. When a child tells you about abuse or neglect:
- remain calm — do not express shock, panic or disbelief as the child may take this as a sign they have done something wrong
- believe the child, reassure them, let them know that telling was the right thing to do
- find a private place to talk
- use the child’s vocabulary and encourage them to discuss — or draw — their feelings
- reassure the child that it is not his/her fault and that other children share similar problems
- do not push for details of the abuse/neglect. The child will face interviews after referral to the relevant worker in a support service or protective service agency in your state/territory
- explain to the child what support and protection is available to them
- do not confront the parents or person you suspect
- do not make promises you cannot keep to the child, such as promising you will keep abuse a secret
- seek expert advice
- inform the child of the action you will take and let them know what is likely to happen
- be aware that the child may take back or change their story. This can happen for many different reasons and you should be prepared to believe the first time the child spoke to you.
A parent or carer may reveal their own abusive behaviour. Parents who admit that they have harmed a child are likely to feel shame and feel bad about themselves. It is important to get the message across to them that they are not alone in having these problems, that they have done the right thing in seeking help and that assistance is available.
Important points to consider in a case of child abuse and neglect:
- The highest priority must be given to the child. Children have the right to be physically and emotionally safe at all times. They are the most vulnerable members of our community. They do not have the power to stop abuse, and rely on us to do so.
- The general responsibility for ensuring that our children are safe from abuse is shared between the family, the community and the government. This includes people delivering services to children and families.
- Early detection and effective intervention may not only prevent further child abuse but can also reduce short and long-term effects, as well as help heal the children and families concerned.
- Child protection workers aim to keep families together wherever possible. Their aim is to assist children and families; not to pass judgment or blame.
- Much of the prevention of child abuse and neglect in the community is thanks to the help of nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers, neighbours, relatives and volunteers, and the staff of community organisations.
The timing and quality of intervention is very important in looking after the needs of victims and families.
Although the care and protection of children is a shared responsibility, some are required by law to report knowledge of child abuse and neglect. These people are known as mandatory notifiers or mandated parties, and the law and process is known as mandatory reporting.
Mandated parties and mandatory reporting varies between the different states and territories. These differences and details of who mandatory notifiers are, when and what circumstances they are required by law to report, and just who is covered in mandatory reporting are available from your local family violence service or:
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Secretariat
C/o FVPLS Victoria. 292 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford 3067
Telephone: 03 9244 3333
The purpose of making it a legal obligation for people to notify cases of child abuse and neglect is to expose serious hidden abuse. This enables:
- an investigation and assessment of the situation
- the protection of the child, where necessary
- planning for long-term help and protection of the child and their family. This may include liaison, joint decision-making and resource provision between the responsible department and other agencies including Aboriginal and Islander child care Agencies (AIccAs), health services, family and children’s services, child care centres, kindergartens and schools, police, community-based groups, and others.
Notifying the department responsible for child protection in your state is an important step in the general prevention of child abuse, even if you are not a mandated party. Reporting your belief of a suspected case of child abuse can be the first important step in stopping the abuse and protecting the child from further harm. Failure to notify child abuse may result in the continued abuse of a child.