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Be vigilant for when a child makes a covert disclosure

Children making disclosures about problems at home won’t always be direct about it – sometimes a face-to-face chat isn’t the best way to glean information

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Children making disclosures about problems at home won’t always be direct about it – sometimes a face-to-face chat isn’t the best way to glean information

Jonny was a sullen little Year 7 with a poor grasp on grammar. However, his descriptive writing about a forest was extremely evocative.

He introduced a scary man who had power over the narrator. The final line of the piece was: “He told the boy never to tell anyone and to this day I never have.”

Even as an inexperienced NQT, this didn’t sit quite right with me, so I passed the story over to the child protection lead. Jonny missed school for a few weeks, and when he came back, staff were briefed that he was going through some things at home. Whether it was consciously or not, I suspect that Jonny was disclosing to me with that piece of writing.

When it comes to disclosures, not all children will be direct about it. Some will be far more covert in their appeal for help.

Like most child protection leads, I’d rather work through a stack of over-cautious referrals that lead to nothing than miss something because no one wanted to bother me. It is always worth considering the ways that a child may covertly disclose.

Harrowing monologues

Another example: after throwing a calculator at her maths teacher’s head, Romi was sent home for a few days of reflection. Her mum was poorly and was unable to collect her, so I drove her. Sitting in the back, with a colleague beside her, Romi became increasingly agitated as we approached her home. Finally, while looking out of the window, she began one of the most harrowing monologues I have ever heard: “Please don’t take me home. My mum will be drunk and will beat me. She will invite her boyfriend and his friends over to punish me.”

Trying to keep my tone light, I asked Romi if she would rather go to the police, and she nodded, still looking out of the window. Years later, I was called to testify in a court case that sent four people to prison, including Romi’s mum.

This is not uncommon – children often disclose when they don’t have to look at you and don’t have to see your response. Children who were walking our school dog with an adult would often simply start revealing information they wouldn’t ordinarily; so much so that we referred to it as our “disclosure dog”.

It is worth always being vigilant. Your child protection leader would rather you were cautious. And when you’re told that a child may have reasons for their poor behaviour or is having trouble at home, try to bend with it – don’t just assume that we’re making excuses.

Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets at @keziah70

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