Child Abuse Help: How to Help an Abused Child
Help for an abused child is needed when, unfortunately, steps taken to prevent abuse have failed. This is shockingly common as more than half-a-million children were confirmed victims of child abuse in 2010, according to Child Protective Services. In the United States1 , child abuse help is critical for these abused children so that their healing can begin and they can again return to a normal childhood.
How to Help an Abused Child Who Discloses to You
The first step in child abuse help is in properly dealing with the allegations of the abused child. It's imperative to handle this situation correctly in order to make the child feel safe enough to report the child abuse to the authorities. Mishandling a child's outcry can make a child recant; which makes helping the abused child impossible.
If an abused child reports the abuse to you, you should:2
- Remain calm
- Reassure the child they did nothing wrong, it is not their fault and they will not be punished
- Reassure the child you believe them and that you are glad they told
- Offer comfort – tell the child you will help
- Ensure the safety of both you and the child
- Understand that the child may express him or herself with language appropriate for their age and may not know the proper terms for body parts or specific acts. Do not correct a child's use of language.
- Tell the child that you cannot keep this information secret (in many countries and states this is the law)
- Report the child abuse to the authorities immediately
To help an abused child you should not:
- Interrogate the child
- Make suggestions as to what happened
- Act shocked, disgusted or doubtful of the abuse. This may make the child uncomfortable and less likely to talk.
- Accuse them of lying or try to change their mind
- Blame the child
- Use words that may frighten the abused child like "rape," "child abuse," or "jail"
If a child does "take back" (or recant) what they have said about being abused, it may be because they don't feel it's safe enough to come forward. These children continue to need love and support and if abuse is still suspected, the authorities should be informed.
Help for Child Abuse
Once the abused child has told about the abuse, it's important to start focusing on how to help the abused child. Child abuse help needs to take into account injuries that are physical, psychological and even spiritual in nature. This will likely mean that a team of people needs to be involved in helping the abused child. Persons on this team will likely include:
- Friends and family
- A child psychologist or other mental health professional
- A doctor
- A faith leader, if appropriate
The families of the abused child may also need their own treatment services to help get the family through a tough event that can affect everyone.
Treatments that help abused children and their families include:
- Therapeutic day school programs
- Day hospital programs
- Residential programs
- Home and clinic setting treatment
- Group and family therapy
Last Updated: 16 November 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD