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Group of people at training

25 March 2019

London Youth is supporting the Stop, Look, Listen campaign which asks organisations to Stop what they are doing, Look at their safeguarding policies, Listen to young people and take action. We would also like our members to take some time in National Safeguarding Week to do the same.

The ‘listen’ bit of the campaign really resonates with me.

Child abuse is a distressing topic that’s never easy to talk about and for children and young people who are victims of abuse, trusting and telling an adult can be one of the hardest things they’ll ever do.

Contrary to the assumption that young people who experience abuse don’t talk about it, recent research shows us that children do disclose. The big question we must ask ourselves, is: are we listening? 

It can take many years for young people to disclose abuse, so how can we ensure that we recognise abuse and do not miss opportunities for intervention? To do this, we need to pay attention not only to what the young person says, but also what isn’t said.

So, how do you encourage young people to speak up while reading the signs for those that have not found their voice just yet?

Be an active listener. The main reason young people give for not reporting abuse is the concern that they will not be listened to or that they will be misunderstood. To become a trusted support and be of greatest help to young people, you must first become an “active listener”. This means listening to your young person whilst providing feedback indicating that you both hear and understand what they are saying.

Be an empathetic listener. Remind your young person that it is not their fault. They did whatever they needed to, to cope. Empathy is a key attribute of active listening and will help build trust between you and your young people.

Be receptive and understanding of their view on the situation. It might be tempting to wade in with a suggested solution or your personal perception of the situation. But it is important to allow the young person to air their thoughts in an open and trusting environment.

If a young person says they want to speak to you but don’t want you to tell anyone you must make it clear that information may be shared. A good way of achieving this is to positively reinforce first, e.g: “I’m really glad you felt able to approach me and I am here to listen. I want you to know that if I think you are at risk I will share information.”

And remember, don’t panic. Feel honoured that this young person has trusted you enough to tell you about what has happened to them. You have the power to make a positive difference in this young person’s life.

A young person may be reluctant to talk, and we should remember that disclosure of abuse is a process – not an event.

Most victims will have developed their own coping strategies to deal with abuse and, in many cases, this means burying the experience and making the decision never to talk to anyone about it. This could be down to pressure from the abuser if the abuse if still occurring or, feelings of guilt or fear in the child that they will not be believed or will get into trouble if they do tell.

Do not put pressure on them or shift the discussion to sensitive issues before they seem comfortable. Denial is a very large part of the disclosure process and so it is vital that you’re patient and empathetic and ready to listen when it is the right time.

We are not ‘doing safeguarding’ – we are keeping young people safe. Whether this be keeping young people physically safe from harm whilst participating in an activity or protecting them from harm in other areas of their lives by recognising and reporting abuse.

Safeguarding is not something that sits on the side of youth work; it is a huge part of youth work.

Youth workers are often the adult that a young person will trust with information they would never tell another adult. Youth workers are the professionals who spot the signs that a young person is experiencing abuse. Youth workers listen to what young people do (or don’t) say and youth workers take action to keep young people safe.

This week, I’d encourage everyone to stop, look and listen.

– Christine Bass, Head of Safety and Safeguarding


National Safeguarding Week 2019 runs from 25th – 31st March 2019.

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