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Responding to disclosures

How to support schools to respond to students who disclose violence

Schools and early childhood services who deliver respectful relationships education (RRE) or other violence prevention activities create a safe environment where both staff and students feel more comfortable to talk about their experiences of family violence or sexual assault.

These disclosures may be about their personal experience of violence, perpetration of violence or their family situation. Children and young people may disclose to any staff member that they trust, not necessarily the staff member who has been trained in responding to these disclosures. It is therefore imperative that all staff have an understanding of how to safely respond to a disclosure from a colleague or a child/young person.

The importance of specialist professional development

Schools and early childhood services have a responsibility to ensure all staff are trained and confident in talking to children and young people in their care as well as their families and other staff about violence and know the referral pathways for both victims and perpetrators. Providing additional specialised training to student wellbeing or leadership staff and developing partnerships with family violence and sexual assault services can help provide further in-house support to students and staff who disclose.

For more information about training, see DVRCV’s training page.

Responding to disclosures

How educators respond to a disclosure will impact on the victim/survivors comfort and willingness to proceed with seeking help. Below are some suggestions of what to do – and what not to do – if a colleague or student discloses an experience of family violence or sexual assault.

What to do in responding to a disclosure

  • Actively listen, without interruption, giving the victim/survivor time to share their experience
  • Show that you believe what the victim/survivor is saying to you
  • Affirm that they have done the right thing in disclosing their experience
  • When responding to disclosures from children and young people, uses a child centred and strength based approach in responding. Let them know how courageous they have been in coming forward and highlight their strengths.
  • Take their fears or concerns seriously
  • Emphasise that they are not to blame for their experience
  • Be clear about the limits (if any) to confidentiality and when responding to disclosures from children or young people be clear about your legal responsibilities, including the possibility that you might have to share some of this information with other people if you believe that there is an immediate risk of harm
  • Provide information about what you will do in response to the disclosure and that you will continue to support them in your role
  • Provide information about referral pathways within the school/service or external services (including websites, phone numbers and details of support services)

What not do in responding to a disclosure

  • Talk about your own experiences of violence
  • Ask a lot of questions to try and find out details
  • Judge or criticise their choices
  • Make comments that imply there’s something the victim/survivor could have done to ‘protect themselves’
  • Promise the victim/survivor you will keep their confidence (if you’re not able to do so as a mandated professional)
  • Get angry or frustrated at the victim/survivor or their experience
  • Try to ‘fix’ the problem for them
  • Tell them what to do
  • Talk negatively about the perpetrator
  • Try and force them to disclose information – let them guide what they tell you
  • Provide counselling
Remember, the three most important things you can do are to:

  1. Listen, without interruption or judgement
  2. Believe and validate their experiences
  3. Provide information that will support the victim/survivor to make their own choices (as much as possible) in what happens next

Self care for educators

Listening to and supporting a colleague or a child or young person through a disclosure can be confronting and potentially distressing. Remember that educators may not have a lot of experience in managing these issues, and may need support or supervision following their experience of working with a victim/survivor of family violence. Where you can, encourage educators to seek internal or external support to debrief following a disclosure.

Referral and support services

For information about Victorian family violence and sexual assault services please visit DVRCV’s Victorian Services registry.

For information about National family violence and sexual assault support and services please visit DVRCV’s National Services registry.

VICTORIAN SERVICES NATIONAL SERVICES

Community agencies working in partnership with schools also need to ensure that they are aware of Departmental policy around mandatory reporting and the Child Safe Standards. PROTECT is the Department of Education and Training’s primary response to the implementation of the Child Safe Standards and advice for schools about mandatory reporting can be found in the School Policy and Advisory Guide.

Acknowledgement of country

DVRCV and the PiP network acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of the lands and waters throughout Australia.

PiP is resourced by