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Helping children and young people to Speak up and make a complaint

  • Guide

Adults play a critical role in helping children and young people know their rights and supporting them to raise concerns. Feedback from children and young people during the development of these resources found that children and young people are most likely to find a trusted adult to help and guide them through the complaints process. It is critical that adults are prepared to support and encourage children and young people to speak up and progress complaints.

The Helping children and young people to Speak up and make a complaint resource includes ten steps designed to help adults understand:

  • their role
  • actions they should take, and
  • how they can support children and young people to make a complaint.

This resource should be read with the Speak up resources designed for children and young people.

Scenario Video 1 — how to support someone who has spoken up

Teacher: I’m going to sort you each into groups so that we can start rehearsing the first few scenes. Stephen, if you can hop into a group with Liam and Kayla. Josh, I’ll get you to go with Felicity. Just practise your parts ok; mistakes don’t matter just have fun with it. Hey, Stephen. Can you come and help me out with something before you get started? I just wanted to check in. It looks like you’ve got something on your mind?

Stephen: Yah, um I guess.

Teacher: I’m here to help. What’s up?

Stephen: It’s actually about someone here.

Teacher: Sure; you can tell me. Like the poster says, speaking up is really important.

Stephen: Liam’s been having a go at me for weeks. Doesn’t matter what I do, he finds some way to pick on me. Last week when we were doing the activities and role plays he was saying things to make me sound stupid. If I say anything to him about it he just makes a joke out of it or says ‘toughen up’. He doesn’t stop, not even when I ask him to.

Teacher: Well, firstly Stephen, thank you for telling me. No-one should be made to feel like that. Can you tell me what sort of things he does?

Stephen: Well, when I talk, he’ll sometimes copy me but in a dumb voice. If I say my ideas, he’ll just say things like, ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.’ Or he’ll be really sarcastic to me. He calls me all sorts of names as well.

Teacher: So it sounds to me like Liam is bullying you, and won’t stop when you ask him to and that makes you feel really bad. Is that right?

Stephen: Yes-yes, that’s it.

Teacher It’s so important that you told me. It’s hard to talk about these things – even adults struggle. But it’s the right thing to do, and it’s actually very brave too. You have the right to feel safe, respected and included.

Stephen: Thanks.

Teacher: How about for today I put you in a different group and then we can catch up later and have more of a chat about it – I really don’t want you to have to feel like this. [Steven nods]

What about Josh and Felicity? Are you happy to go with them?

Stephen: Yes, they’re ok.

Teacher: I’m going to keep a close eye on Liam for this class, and then I’ll check in with you after class to see how it all went. How does that sound?

Stephen: Ok. Thanks.

Voice over: Being proactive and checking in with children and young people helps them to speak up about concerns. Taking action and following up is really important too.

You can do this by contacting their parents or carers and talking about the ways they can raise their concerns. Most importantly, continue to support children and young people through the process, including by keeping the conversations going.

Scenario Video 2 — how to support someone who has spoken up

Michael (Camp Leader): Hey everyone, we will be going in about 10 minutes. Grab all your stuff so you’re ready when the bus gets here ok?

Hi Taylor.

Taylor: [Very quietly] Hi

Michael: What’s up? Do you need to chat?

Alright, why don’t we head over this way, where it’s quieter?

Hey, take your time, tell me what’s going on for you?

Remember our camp rules, it’s important you feel safe and supported. I’m here to listen.

Taylor: So yeah, something did happen, just now.

Michael: Okay, can you tell me what happened?. I want to help if I can.

Taylor: [Takes a deep breath] So I went to the toilet and I thought I locked the door, but just as I went to put my bag down, I felt the door swing open. And there was Frank standing there just looking at me.

Michael: Frank, the camp volunteer?

Taylor: Yeah, he said he was just coming to check on me. I told him ‘I’m fine’, and he just stayed there, so I asked him to leave and he wouldn’t – he said he was going to wait until I was done, then walk back with me. So I freaked out and went to rush past him and get out of there, but then he grabbed me and touched me.

Michael: And then what happened?

Taylor: He touched me [pause] my chest and then I got past him.

But I don’t feel safe now. I don’t even know what to do. No-one’s ever made me feel that scared before. I don’t want to go near him again.

Michael: Okay. Thank you so much for telling me, it can be scary to speak up but you have done the right thing. You have the right to feel safe and supported and I’m just going to say, honestly, that I think this is a very serious matter. What happened to you is absolutely not okay and I need to do something about it

Taylor: Please can you promise not to let anyone else know about this? It would be too embarrassing and if he finds out too, I’m worried he’ll get angry, and I have no idea what he’ll do then.

Michael: I can’t promise that Taylor, I have to tell some other adults to make sure you and all the young people are safe and feel respected.  I will let you know who I have to speak to and make every effort to do so as privately as possible.

Taylor: Ok.

Michael: We will have to contact your parents, and I will need to tell my manager.

Taylor: Ok. But what about today?  I’m really scared.

Michael: Firstly, I will make sure Frank does not go on the excursion today. There are a few options for you but let’s ring your parents and talk with them too about what is possible and what you would prefer. For example, you can stay close to me throughout the day here at the base, or go on the excursion with the others, or we can check out if it’s possible to head home for the day or do you have any other ideas about what will make you feel safe today?

Taylor: I think calling Mum and seeing if she can get me would be good.

Voice over Noticing and responding to changes in a child or young person’s behaviour and their demeanour is important. You can help by creating an opportunity for them to speak up privately. There’s no need for you to quiz them for details about what happened. Be calm and reassuring and plan the next steps with the child or young person.


If you or a child are in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).

Information on reporting child safety concerns can be found on our Make a report page.

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The information on this website may bring up strong feelings and questions for many people. There are many services available to assist you. A detailed list of support services is available on our Get support page.