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Practice guide for workers and organisations

Engaging with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse: A practice guide for workers and organisations

An Australian Government initiative 

The National Office for Child Safety engaged the National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence (NASASV) in partnership with the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at UNSW, Sydney, to develop a practice guide for workers and organisations when engaging with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

Engaging with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse: A practice guide for workers and organisations: An Australian Government initiative is intended to promote and support accessible, high-quality, trauma-informed services that support all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse of all ages and as their needs change over time. It builds off the NASASV Standards of Practice Manual for Services Against Sexual Violence (3rd Edition), refocused to services engaging with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. 

The guide aims to assist all workers engaging with victims and survivors, including specialist sexual assault services, generalist service providers and other frontline organisations that engage with children, young people and adults. It is part of a suite of resources that the National Office is developing to support the sector.

Read the practice guide for workers and organisations

How to use this guide 

We know that children, young people and adults who have experienced child sexual abuse may seek help from, and engage with, a wide range of services and organisations, at different points in their life. 

This guide provides you with evidence-based information and identifies the knowledge and skills you need to provide a service to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse of all ages, appropriate to your current work context, whether you work in specialist sexual assault services, generalist and mainstream services or are employed by organisations of different sizes and types and operating in urban, regional or remote areas.  It includes comprehensive resources to help shape how you will respond. 

Practice areas

The guide is structured into 6 practices areas. Each practice area draws out themes to guide you or your organisation to engage with people who use your service. The practice areas are: 

  1. Working safely with trauma 
  2. Embedding cultural safety 
  3. Responding to child sexual abuse disclosures across the lifespan
  4. Being victim and survivor-centred and building trust for healing and recovery
  5. Coordinating service systems and developing partnerships 
  6. Prioritising workforce development and wellbeing 

Three-tiered approach

Recognising the wide range of workers and organisations that respond to children, young people and adults who are victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, the guide takes a three-tiered approach. Each tier has a specific set of knowledge and skills appropriate to your role and the purpose of your organisation. 

Tier 1 – provides the foundational knowledge and skills that all workers need to have as a minimum. This allows you to provide an initial response to victims and survivors.

Tier 2 – incorporates and builds on this foundation, providing you with additional knowledge and skills where your role means you have a higher likelihood of engagement with victims and survivors. 

Tier 3 – assumes that you are in a specialist role and will be providing a response to victims and survivors as core business. It assumes you already have Tier 1 and Tier 2 knowledge and skills and reinforces and extends your specialist practice. 

Use the following decision tree to work out which tier best fits your role.

Decision Tree Graphic - Practice guide for workers and organisations

Practice area summaries

The summaries below provide a snapshot of the different knowledge and skills under each practice area. Please refer to each practice area within the guide for comprehensive practice responses and resources.

 

Practice Area 1: Working safely with trauma

Being trauma-informed means your responses are grounded in an understanding of trauma and its impacts, including understanding that a traumatic experience may have lasting adverse effects on a person’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

  • You understand child sexual abuse is prevalent, can have lifelong adverse effects and that experiences of trauma impact on how people react and respond in many situations.
  • You improve the physical environment of your organisation, as well as processes and procedures, to help people feel physically, emotionally and culturally safe.
  • You understand that victims and survivors of all ages may manage their emotional and psychological response to child sexual abuse with a range of coping strategies and you discuss alternatives that may be helpful.
  • You provide victims and survivors with culturally, developmentally and age appropriate information about the traumatic impacts of child sexual abuse and referral options for support and healing, and involve families, kin and supporters as appropriate.
  • You use a trauma-informed approach to support victims and survivors and their family, kin and support networks, where appropriate, to make decisions about referrals and offer a warm or facilitated referral to help overcome any barriers.
  • You build a trusting relationship with victims and survivors of all ages, and demonstrate reliability and predictability.
  • You draw on your knowledge about the dynamics of child sexual abuse in different contexts and work successfully with victims and survivors with complex trauma, and adapt usual practice to accommodate complex needs.
  • You recognise the need for collaboration between service providers when working with complex cases and can facilitate coordination of care.
  • You recognise the role and value of different interventions in overcoming the impacts of trauma and implement the most appropriate option in collaboration with the victim or survivor.

Practice Area 2: Embedding cultural safety

Cultural safety is the positive recognition and celebration of cultures. It empowers people and enables them to contribute and feel safe to be themselves. Cultural safety is important for many people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse backgrounds, people with disability, and people from the LGBTQIA+ community. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultural safety includes the importance of understanding the ongoing and intergenerational impacts of historical, collective and cultural trauma, and the need to centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives to create safe healing spaces.

  • You reflect on your own biases, assumptions, stereotypes, and power differentials, and recognise and challenge discrimination on the basis of age, gender, ability, race, culture, language, religion and faith.
  • You offer choice and control to all victims and survivors, and convey a sense of belonging, safety and positivity.
  • You understand the importance of taking additional time to build a relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims and survivors, family, kin and supporters to build trust.
  • You work in a holistic way in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations where appropriate, to reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on social and emotional wellbeing.
  • You engage with victims and survivors about their cultural context and what is important to them to ensure support and referral is appropriate.
  • You initiate and participate in conversations within your organisation about cultural safety for victims and survivors of diverse cultural backgrounds, and adhere to the expectations of your organisation or professional body to ensure cultural safety.
  • You privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and culture in responses to child sexual abuse including policy, sharing power and resources and critical reflection to address racism.
  • You recognise that Western models of counselling and support may not be appropriate or helpful and incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing approaches into therapeutic work with guidance from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
  • You recognise concerning or harmful sexual behaviours displayed by children and young people and consult clinical or therapeutic guidelines to inform your work.
  • You recognise when intersecting identities create barriers to help seeking and accessing services, and advocate to overcome these barriers.
  • You access supervision or additional professional development to increase skills and knowledge when working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, including seeking cultural consultation to increase the cultural safety of interactions with victim and survivors.

Practice Area 3: Responding to disclosures across the lifespan

For many victims and survivors, disclosure will be a complex and lifelong process. Partial disclosures are common, and negative experiences of disclosure can be re-traumatising, as can having to repeat disclosures. An effective response to a disclosure of child sexual abuse is helpful, supportive and offers referral as appropriate.

  • You stay calm and use trauma-informed responses to tell people you believe them. You respond in compassionate ways that build trust with victims and survivors, their families, kin and supporters.
  • You understand all applicable legislative reporting obligations and know who to ask for help, both in responding to a disclosure and managing your own emotional response.
  • You ask if someone wants a referral to a support service and recognise when urgent referrals are needed or when someone requires medical care.
  • You assist victims and survivors to identify the support they need to prioritise healing and wellbeing and you can provide support or referrals as appropriate.
  • You know how to address safety concerns and understand legislative requirements in your jurisdiction, including mandatory reporting and failure to report offences.
  • You know how to discuss confidentiality and its limitations with children, young people and adults in a clear and accessible manner.
  • In situations where you need to make a report, you allow victims and survivors space and time to discuss their responses, feelings and concerns.
  • You work with victims and survivors with complex needs to assist them in managing traumatic impacts, including working therapeutically to identify the dynamics of child sexual abuse and grooming tactics which may have made it harder for them to disclose.
  • You consider when victims and survivors have other needs which should be addressed prior to engaging in child sexual abuse specific-work, and provide appropriate referrals in these circumstances.
  • You take disclosures about children or young people displaying concerning or harmful sexual behaviours seriously to reduce the risk of harm to all children and young people.
  • You increase the capacity of workers in your service and others to respond to disclosures of child sexual abuse by sharing resources and practice wisdom, and you can provide debriefing and support to other workers who have received disclosures of child sexual abuse.

Practice Area 4: Being victim and survivor-centred and building trust for healing and recovery

Being victim and survivor-centred means organisations and programs need to be designed and delivered in a holistic and flexible manner and be informed by the voices, views and experiences of victims and survivors, as well as the perspectives of their family, kin and supporters.

  • You understand services should be safe, accessible, flexible and responsive to victims and survivors’ needs and choices, and you know the importance of timely responses, respectful engagement and being transparent about your role.
  • You know the importance of supportive relationships, and that healing is not always simple or linear.
  • You listen to what victims and survivors tell you and can help people find the right support.
  • You know victims and survivors have the right to choose the services they engage with and you can provide information about your service or organisation, and how personal information is collected and used.
  • You provide help and information to family, kin and supporters to both support victims and survivors, and to access help themselves.
  • You recognise and respond to people's intersecting needs, and take a strengths-based approach to healing and recovery.
  • You sensitively and skilfully respond to people of all ages with diverse communication styles, lifestyles and choices while being trauma-informed and person-centred.
  • You work with victims and survivors to involve family, kin and supporters in ways that work for them, and can manage confidentiality and information sharing, including when working with children and young people who are victims and survivors.
  • You help victims and survivors identify their hopes for recovery and encourage and support them to engage in activities that make this possible.

Practice Area 5: Coordinating service systems and developing partnerships

Outcomes for victims and survivors can be improved when services and workers communicate and co-operate to provide holistic, integrated, person-centred and where appropriate, family-focused responses. Victims and survivors may have a range of needs across multiple service systems including health, legal, child protection, housing, employment, financial, drug and alcohol, family violence, and justice and corrections services.

  • You work with victims and survivors to consider their preferences, and adapt processes to minimise distress where possible.
  • In accordance with your role, you share information with consent and within legal requirements, help people navigate the service system and provide referrals to other services, which helps minimise the number of times a person needs to repeat their disclosure.
  • You understand that seeking justice and redress can be stressful and distressing for victims and survivors. Justice can also mean different things to different people. You can provide support and prioritise victim and survivors’ wellbeing during these processes.
  • You listen to victims and survivors to understand their choices and needs, and work collaboratively with other organisations to ensure these needs are at the centre of responses.
  • You support victims and survivors to navigate complex systems and help them implement strategies to manage challenging emotions.
  • In consultation with victims and survivors, you develop and implement joined-up care, including with other service providers. This includes proactively engaging with other services in instances of recent child sexual abuse and/or harmful sexual behaviours displayed by a child or young person.
  • You support other workers and build knowledge for yourself and others of intersecting issues.

Practice Area 6: Prioritising workforce development and wellbeing

Workers and their managers need to have the appropriate knowledge and skills to best respond to the diverse needs of victims and survivors. It is equally important that organisations support the safety and wellbeing of workers who provide responses to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, as it can impact mental and physical wellbeing.

  • You understand it is normal to feel distressed after hearing about someone's experience of child sexual abuse. You can recognise when this is impacting you and affecting your response to victims and survivors.
  • You ask for help and can implement self-care strategies that work for you.
  • You know what options for support your organisation provides and how to access training and development opportunities.
  • You understand and recognise that trauma exposure in the workplace and personal stressors affect one another and you can develop self-care plans specific to your needs, including debriefing, accessing supervision or additional professional development, and seeking assistance to manage vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue as needed.
  • You promote cultural safety and respect for diversity, and request cultural or specialist supervision when working with priority population groups.
  • You understand your professional and ethical obligations to work within your professional competencies and you prioritise ongoing leaning to enrich your work, and fill gaps in your knowledge and skills. You share your knowledge with others.
  • You understand the importance of your own wellbeing and how it impacts on your work and can advocate for support and supervision that meets your needs.
  • You work towards a balanced caseload and understand the importance of diversity of tasks for yourself and others.
  • You appreciate the positive aspects of working with victims and survivors.

Developing the guide

Research

This guide is informed by comprehensive research, including a literature review of the evidence base of current best practice in responding to children, young people and adults with lived and living experience of child sexual abuse.

The literature review was completed in September 2022 and reflects research and evidence available at that time. We acknowledge there has been additional research since this time which has contributed to the evidence base. This includes the Australian Child Maltreatment Study, which is the first national study of the prevalence, nature and impacts of all 5 forms of child maltreatment, including child sexual abuse. We note some external links in the literature review have been updated to ensure accessibility. We also acknowledge language and terminology is ever-evolving and more information on appropriate language, including language to avoid, can be found in our Language and terminology guide.

Read the summary of research that informed the guide

Consultation

The 6 practice areas in the guide were identified from a comprehensive analysis of Australian and international evidence on responses to child sexual abuse, as well as an extensive consultation process. This guide is informed and enriched by the insights, practice wisdom and lived and living experience of the 60 individuals from more than 50 organisations who provided feedback on draft versions of the guide. We wish to acknowledge and thank all stakeholders who participated in the consultation process.

Components

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

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