Behaviour: Top tips for what to do if a child makes a disclosure to you
Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management
Every classroom is thin slice of the demographic from which it springs, which means it contains representatives of all kinds of human conditions and situations. Simply by appealing to statistical probabilities, it is likely that some of the children you teach are suffering from some kind of abuse, degradation or privation that would warrant an intervention.
Do not be fooled into thinking these problems are the preserve of the poor or the dislocated; abuse can strike in every circle of the demographic. In the years that I have been teaching, I have encountered a number of children who have approached me with stories that were enough to temporarily shake my faith in human nature, even in the most agreeable of settings. If you have never come across such a thing then I would suggest this is merely because it has not been exposed to you, rather than because it isn’t present. Depressing, tragic and true.
If a child approaches you to make a disclosure, then there is nothing more important. Drop everything, both in school and in your life, to do your duty to this child. If it means cutting a class, do so; if it means staying late, do so. If it means calling a colleague at home, do so. This is one of those instances when the job bleeds into your world and overrules it.
This means what it says. If a pupil trusts you enough to tell you something that has been tormenting them, perhaps for years, then listen to them . Do not judge them or swamp them with advice, but listen. That means shutting up until they are finished. It means shutting up some more, even when you think they have finished. Just stay silent and wait to see if they have anything else left to say. Doctors know this. Patients will come in with a trivial complaint, but the real worry only comes out as they walk towards the door.
Don’t promise not to tell anyone
You can’t, however hard it is, however tempting it is. Because you might have to break that promise, and many times you should. This isn’t a confessional; you aren’t their priest. You are the conduit to what might be the biggest intervention in their lives. Say to them, ‘I’ll listen, but I may have to tell someone depending on what you say to me.’ Remember that they might be coming from a position where they have never been able to trust an adult in their lives. You must be an example of an adult that they can trust, and that might mean telling the truth about what you’ll do.
Contact the Child Protection Officer in your school
Immediately. Find them wherever they are and outline the situation to them. They will then make a judgement about the next step. They might be familiar with the situation already; there may be an existing process in place. But the important thing is to give them the information they need to make the next judgement. They have been trained to deal with these issues and know who to contact next. If you don’t already know who the CPO is in your school, make it a matter of urgency to find out before you need to.
You might be the most important person in this child’s life. If you take it seriously, you might even be helping to save them from a lifetime of abuse or deprivation. Treat it lightly, and the alternative might be horrific. There is nothing more important than this.
Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter
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