Keeping child-focused

Child Sexual Abuse


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Child centred practice is a core principle that underpins the Community Services Care and Protection Practice Framework.

Child centred practice

The Institute of Child Protection Studies outlines four useful themes for defining child centred practice:

  1. recognising children’s development needs and critical time frames for intervention
  2. taking children’s needs into account in all interventions
  3. allowing children opportunity to participate in decisions that affect them
  4. promoting collaboration to strengthen children’s networks.

In cases of child sexual abuse, keeping these themes and children at the centre of the work is essential.


Adopt an ecological perspective

  • Start with the child at the centre, consider who is around the child and in their immediate environment (parents, carers), expanding to their neighbourhood,(school, friends, other carers and supports) and the wider community.
  • Who do children say they have a significant relationship with and how can these relationships help keep children safe?

Explore beliefs about child sexual abuse

  • Remember children cannot stop their abuse. Children rely on adults to keep them safe. We need to explore the beliefs and attitudes of parents, children or significant adults and professionals about child sexual abuse and how these can inform prevention strategies.
  • Children are the experts – they know the most about their abuse, the abuse behaviours, the abuse patterns and when and where they feel safe or are at risk.
  • Get on the same level as children and try to understand their reality – think about what the world is like for this child.
  • Try and understand the child’s experience as a whole, not just their experience of one event. What does a week, or month look like for this child?
  • Enable children to have a presence –
  • sit back, listen and be curious. Children are interesting little people who can tell or convey a lot of information.
  • Don’t see conversations with children as one-offs. They may share little bits of information over time that, when strung together give you a more complete picture of what is happening in their lives. Be patient and have little conversations often.

Understand children’s experience of the perpetrator

  • Engage in general conversation. Understand the child’s experience of the perpetrator – remember their experience of the perpetrator may not have always been bad.
  • Ask children what type of things did s/he do with the family? What activities did s/he do especially with them? What did they like about him/her? What did they not like? When did they have
  • good times with them? When were times not so good?
  • Practice active listening: when a child talks lean in, nod, smile, show that you care about what they say and how they feel. Never assume you heard it correctly the first time.

Observe the unspoken

  • Children have their own language including non-verbal cues. It is important to observe the unspoken and use this to inform your reasoning and assessment of what might be happening. Children may tell us much through play, dance, drawing or general discussion.

Family life

  • Get to know the culture and language of the family. What do they do? What are their habits and routines? What do they talk about and to whom? How do they describe events and other people?
  • Ask children questions about their routines such as: Who takes care of you when mum is at work? Who baths you? Who puts you to bed? Use this context knowledge in your discussions with children and adult family members.

Build a joint  vision  for the child

  • Children’s safety should be the underpinning of inter-agency co- operation.
  • Together with health, education, police and other services, confirm a joint vision to keep the child and other children in the house safe.
  • Share risk across agencies; let the child’s safety guide your co-operation and interaction.
  • Get to know different provider’s knowledge of and attitudes towards child sexual abuse. Build relationships with people whom you think have a good understanding of the dynamics of child sexual abuse.

Break down the child’s isolation

  • Look for opportunities to break down the child’s isolation and connect them with others.
  • Make contact with different agencies and get to know available supports for children that will help them contradict the idea that relationships are not safe.
  • Where can they have a safe experience? What types of activities and groups may make them feel safe or validate their experience? What activities will make children visible and noticed in the community?
  • Watch a video on keeping child focussed from the Research to Practice seminar.