Child abuse victims ‘all too easily become invisible’ because teachers and social workers expect youngsters to tell them if they are having problems, the Children’s Commissioner is warning.
Adults in schools and other professional settings have a ‘duty to protect’ children – but too often they take a child’s silence or denials as ‘a reason for doing nothing further’, Maggie Atkinson said.
Young people often fail to seek help because they assume what is happening to them is normal, blame themselves for it or fear the consequences of speaking out, according to research commissioned by Dr Atkinson.
Common sense recommendations in a report accompanying the research include adults ‘not relying unduly on children telling them verbally before providing help’. The report, published today, follows a string of tragic cases where children have died after suffering appalling abuse at home
Dr Atkinson, a government-appointed adviser whose role is to champion the interests of young people, said: ‘Sadly, far too many children continue to suffer physical and emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of adults and far too many professionals with whom they come into contact, who have a duty to protect them, fail to do so. Children often don’t understand they are being abused. If they are old enough to do so, it takes incredible courage for them to overcome the barriers to talk to someone about it. So those with responsibility for protecting them must take heed of the practical advice and recommendations in this report and improve the way they identify and work with children who may be being abused.’ Dr Atkinson added: ‘Children all too easily become invisible. If children do not talk about abuse, their silence is not a reason to do nothing further. The onus cannot be on them to come forward.’
Researchers found the most common way that abused children came to the attention of their school or social workers was through their behaviour and attitude, rather than seeking help. The report said: ‘It is important for professionals to notice signs and symptoms of children and young people’s distress at any age and not to rely unduly upon the child or young person to talk about their abuse. A significant risk of reliance on verbal telling is that a child’s silence or denial means that abuse is not pursued.’
In the report, adults are advised to ‘be curious and concerned about young people who appear to be struggling’ and ‘be aware of the reasons why children and young people might avoid telling or deny that there is a difficulty’.