Child Protection is Children’s Business
While early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings have a moral and legal mandate to be child safe organisations, and to advocate for the protection of children, the bulk of this work is undertaken by adults.
In this piece, Early Childhood Consultant & Advocate Nicole Talarico encourages a different take – that child protection is equally the business of children, and that they should co-construct many elements of the curriculum, including child protection.
Organisations are encouraged to create a culture of child safety, one that encourages all adults to act as agents for social change, however we need to ensure this includes children themselves. While our role, as early childhood professionals, mandates us to report any suspected harm to children, if we are to truly fulfil our roles as protectors of children, then we must take the time to inform them of their right to feel safe & be protected.
A contemporary approach to curriculum views children as co constructors of the content that is covered when they are learning. This learning can and should include elements of social justice, and this includes the right to be safe.
When educators work with children and each other to create an environment of trust and inclusion, children feel empowered to ask questions and speak up if they are worried or feeling unsafe.
By collaborating with children, and seeking their views about what makes them feel safe & unsafe, educators can begin to lay a scaffold onto which a curriculum of child protection which is meaningful and inclusive can be built.
In such a space, children should be actively involved in decision making to demonstrate the value of their opinions and so they have an active role in deciding the measures in place to keep them safe.
Advocating for children is one thing, but supporting them to advocate for themselves, and each other, from their position as our youngest citizens is both powerful and necessary.
If we are going to be attentive to children, and tune in and recognise signs of abuse, it is important to know what forms of abuse are, and the significant indicators relevant to each type.
The following types of abuse are sadly present in the lives of many Australian children, with up to one in four children being subject to abuse, according to recent figures:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Family violence
- Self harm
As well as being attuned to the signs of each type of abuse, ECEC professionals should be aware of the various ways in which children may disclose abuse and neglect.
Responding to abuse and neglect
Disclosures can occur several ways and many of those ways are indirect and accidental. Disclosure as a process may mean children might just “give a hint” through their drawings, play or behavioural changes, or opting to choose a noisy and busy location to start talking.
In the event that a child makes a disclosure, in any form, educators should view this as a sign of the significant trust a child has in them.
It is important for ECEC professionals to remember that their reaction to disclosure can have a significant impact on a child’s ability and willingness to seek further help.
When making a disclosure, children may not yet realise that abuse doesn’t happen to all other children. The role of the professional in this situation is to listen without investigating, and to document information to enable the relevant authorities to follow through.
If the person of interest in the child’s disclosure remains an immediate danger to the child, action must be taken to keep them and the child separated. In reporting Child Sexual Abuse, in the immediate risk of harm, individuals should call 000 to make their report.
Listen, Reassure & Respect
Three responses which can be can followed if a child discloses information of concern:
Listen: Make sure the child has your full attention. If noisy, ask them if you can move to a place you can hear them properly. Some localities may trigger uncomfortable memories or reminders of abuse so let the child decide where the best place is. Be calm and patient. Let children use their own words as it minimizes their discomfort.
Don’t ask if they are telling the truth as they may think you don’t believe them. After listening supportively, clarify “Are you saying…” so you do not assume the child means what you are thinking. Don’t ask them to repeat too many times or they may feel you doubt what they are telling you.
Reassure: Acknowledge it is hard to talk, it is okay and they have done the right thing by telling you. Reassure them that they are not to blame (and not the cause of any obvious distress to you from hearing this information)
Tell them what you will do next – let them know you want to protect them so you will need to speak to someone else who will be able to help keep them safe.
Respect: Children may only reveal some details. Acknowledge the child’s bravery & strength. Avoid making promises you can’t keep, children may ask for secrecy so you need to manage the child’s expectations ”I can’t promise that but I can promise I’ll do my best to keep you safe”
Your Reassurance when children disclose their needs, to feel in control of situations, will support them to regain power lost through being violated.
Making a difference
ECEC professionals have a vital role in identifying, reporting and facilitating children’s recovery in the event that they experience trauma.
By working collectively, the ECEC profession can create better conditions that reduce the likelihood of maltreatment to children.
Children are competent and capable and know what, when and how they feel safe & unsafe so lets include them in their protection.
For additional information and support on teaching protective behaviours to young children in ECEC settings, please see here.