As youth leaders, it can be challenging to know what to do or how to react when a young person discloses to you that they have experienced abuse, maltreatment, or inappropriate conduct. The steps below can help guide activity leaders in addressing and supporting disclosures from children and youth.
- Take immediate steps to protect the young person. If necessary and safe to do so, intervene and help the child or youth out of immediate danger, or call the police and report the situation if not.
- Document the disclosure, word for word, as soon as possible. Document the time, date, and who was involved. Make notes immediately after your conversation with the child so the information stays fresh in your mind. This process may also include documenting comments or concerns made by the young person’s parents, caregivers, other leaders, or anyone else relevant to the situation.
- Be aware of your initial reaction. During this process, provide a safe, secure environment to share what has happened by focusing on staying calm and setting your personal feelings of fear, disbelief, anger or sadness aside. Know that support and resources are available to you to process the disclosure and your next steps by contacting the Canadian Sport Helpline by calling 1-888-83SPORT (77678) or emailing email@example.com, available 7 days a week from 8 am-8 pm ET.
- Listen and believe. Whether you suspect abuse and ask the child about it, or they disclose it to you, as soon as the child or young person starts talking about it, stop asking questions. Let the child continue to talk. Keep providing support, but don’t prompt or ask further questions. Reassure the child that telling you was the right thing to do. Explain that you believe them and will need to tell someone who can help them.
- Report your concerns immediately. Always report incidents of abuse to your organization and contact your local child protection agency and/or local police service. Within your duty of care is a legal duty to report suspected child abuse. You do not need proof, just a reasonable suspicion. You do not need permission to report, nor can anyone prevent you from reporting. The report must come from the person who receives the information first-hand, not a third party.
- Know the difference between reporting abuse and reporting inappropriate conduct. If the disclosure reported is inappropriate conduct but not abuse, it may be warranted for the organization to meet with the accused to discuss the allegations and concerns and their response to the allegations, without disclosing the source. This step only applies if there is no immediate risk of harm to the child or youth involved and no abuse of any kind has been reported. With this information, the head of the organization may choose how to proceed with handling the disclosure, either directly with the volunteer and employee, the young person, and their parents or caregivers, or through formally reporting the incident to the authorities depending on the nature of the allegations.
The information above has been adapted from the following resources from the Respect in Sport for Activity Leaders program:
- Steps for Reporting Inappropriate Conduct Infographic
- Steps for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse Infographic
- Steps for Reporting Abuse or Maltreatment Handout
More information about our programs can be found through the links below: