You have started your shift for the day and a young person comes to you asking if they can ‘tell you something in confidence.’  Although you really want to hear what the young person has to say you must establish from the beginning that it might not be possible to keep what they say confidential. 

It is essential to be honest from the start.

The one thing you cannot do is make a promise that you can keep the matter confidential.  This can be difficult for a young person to hear but you can frame this in a way which says,

“I want to hear what you have to say but that might mean I HAVE to share what you tell me with someone who can help me best help you.”

If the young person does not accept that you cannot offer total confidentiality, they may say “It doesn’t matter” and disengage from you.  You MUST still report the matter to the designated safeguarding lead in your service.

Key points to remember

You do want to support the young person but,

  • Don’t promise anything that you cannot deliver like total confidentiality. You HAVE a duty to share the information and then the child/young person’s trust will be broken, perhaps permanently.
  • Be supportive and encouraging, but do NOT probe for information. Questions like “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” are fine, questions like “What did s/he do to you next?” are not because they are leading questions.

  • Tell the young person you will need to make notes of what is said and also note anything you see (bruises, marks, etc.) but don’t conduct a physical examination.
  • Stick to the facts. Relate what the child/young person said, not what you think they meant to say.
  • Refer to the designated safeguarding lead for your service as soon as possible.

Things To Consider

  • This may be nothing at all, but on the other hand, something serious may have happened or be happening.
  • The young person may have gone through a torment of indecision before deciding to approach you, and they will have approached you because they TRUST you.
  • Young people choose who to make disclosures too and when to make them. Sit with them and be reassuring.
  • The young person trusts you and you may be the go-between at least at first. The young person may even request that you are there when the matter is investigated further. This is a position of trust and you should feel good that the young person trusts you.

Next Steps

  • If the discussion turns out to be a disclosure, the matter will be investigated and appropriate action taken. You must trust others to make the right decisions. If the Police or Social Services become involved (as they will in cases of serious abuse or possible criminal activity), they will make the decisions and determine the most appropriate course of action.
  • Let the young person know that you are only part of the picture in getting them the help that they need. Letting them know that there are other people who are just as concerned with their welfare as you are should feel reassuring.

The full procedure for dealing with disclosures from children and young people can be found in our policies and procedures packages.


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