Helping to speak the unspeakable

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Ten-year-old Barbara was abused for three years before she phoned ChildLine and began talking about a male uncle. His attempt to have intercourse with her had frightened her so much that she had to talk to someone. She had never told her parents as her uncle said they would have her "put in a children's home".

Her statements show the intense turmoil she endured: "I feel like I am to blame as well"; "He's always there in my dreams, I dread going to bed."

She found it difficult to concentrate in school and her relationships with friends and parents became increasingly tense. She felt they did not "understand", but she could not tell them why she was distracted and anxious.

Barbara spoke regularly with a counsellor for a year. Early in the counselling relationship, Barbara felt able to talk to her mother, the abuse ended, and her uncle was arrested and charged. By the end of the year Barbara was able to concentrate and was sleeping better, but there was a long way to go.

Barbara's story, recounted in ChildLine's report, Listening to ten-year-olds, published this week to mark the telephone help-line's tenth birthday, ends with some hope, but this was not the case for all of the 3,000 10-year-olds who rang in the year ending April 1995.

As the following examples show, schools could do more to help children explain what is happening to them: * Sam had talked to his headmaster about his father hitting him. His mum went into school and said everything was all right so the headmaster didn't believe him, said Sam.

* Heidi told her teacher her parents hit her and she didn't want to do PE as her bruises would show. The teacher "understood", but took no further action.

The report offers ideas for primary schools on how to provide space and opportunities for children to talk about their feelings.

"Children may choose inappropriate moments to talk to teachers about their concerns, but if a teacher can acknowledge that the child needs time to talk, and set a time for it, the child will feel heard, and will usually be able to wait," the report says.

Childline also suggests that staff consider how they can give children access to a private telephone - something rarely available to 10-year-olds.

Children can telephone ChildLine on 0800 1111

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