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Professionals risk failing to spot abuse if they rely on children talking about it

Practitioners' need to build trusting relationships with children emphasised by research project

The research, 'It takes a lot to build trust': Recognition and Telling: Developing earlier routes to help for children and young people conducted for the Office of the Children's Commissioner by the University of East Anglia (UEA) with Anglia Ruskin University, looked at young people's recognition of abuse and neglect, and of getting help from family, friends and professionals. It found that children face many barriers to recognising they are being abused or neglected, telling someone about it and getting help.

Those barriers include: not being aware they are being abused until they understand their experiences are different from others; feeling fearful; and blaming themselves.

Building relationships with practitioners they can trust helps children to confide more about their experiences. Teachers, social workers, youth workers, and other trusted professionals with whom children come into contact play a vital role in helping children and young people with abuse and neglect. The research found that children value access to trusted practitioners who respond sensitively and show concern, and that they may then begin to talk about underlying problems.

The report includes a framework for understanding recognition, telling and help from a child's perspective. It recommends promoting discussion of abuse and neglect in the schools and colleges linked to learning about healthy relationships; providing information to young people about what could happen next if they report abuse or neglect; structuring services to maximise the potential to build and sustain lasting trusting relationships between professionals and young people; and considering the impact of cuts to pastoral support and youth services on the most vulnerable young people in the community.

The report's lead author Jeanette Cossar, of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at University of East Anglia, said:

"It is extremely difficult for young people to recognise abuse and neglect and to tell people who can help them. Young people need others to notice the signs that they are struggling and to respond sensitively, showing that they care about them. This research should give practitioners a renewed sense of the value of building trusting relationships with children and young people. It should alert policy makers to the importance of protecting services so that adults working in schools, youth services and in specialist services can give children and young people the time and attention they need to build that trust."

The executive summary of the research paper can be downloaded from this page.