Recognizing and responding to a child’s disclosure of abuse.

Children disclose abuse in a variety of ways.  They may disclose through very direct and specific communication; however, that is not usually the case.  More often, the child will disclose abuse through indirect means such as: “Our neighbor wears funny underwear,” or “My brother bothers me at night,” or by asking that you promise not to tell if a secret is disclosed.

It is important to listen, encourage, and assure the child.  Ask questions if the child’s comments seem to be covering up an underlying problem.  Let the child know you cannot promise to keep it a secret if something or someone is hurting the child.

Occasionally a child will disclose abuse during a project or program.  It is important for the agent/volunteer to acknowledge the disclosure but not discuss it in front of the other youth. After the program, the agent/volunteer should talk with the child in a quiet, private place.

Below are some suggestions for responding to disclosure.


  • Believe the child.
  • Find a quiet, private place to talk to the child.
  • Take a positive approach to the problem—Reassure the child that he/she has done the right thing by telling someone.
  • Listen to the child without interruption; let the child talk openly about the situation.
  • Rephrase important thoughts for clarification—use the child’s vocabulary.
  • Ask only for information that will clarify your suspicion.  Do not ask “leading” questions or put words into the child’s mouth.  The proper authorities will gather the detailed information.
  • Tell the child that there is help available.
  • Reassure the child that you will do your best to protect and support him/her.
  • Let the child know you must report the abuse to someone who has helped other children in the same situation.
  • Report the incident to the proper authorities.
  • Let the child know what will happen when the report is made (if you have appropriate information).
  • Seek out your own support person(s) to help you work through your feelings about the disclosure (if needed).


  • Promise confidentiality.
  • Express panic or shock.
  • Convey anger or impatience if the child is not ready to discuss the abuse.
  • Make negative comments about the perpetrator or launch into a moral lecture about the incident.
  • Disclose the information indiscriminately—Tell only those adults who need the information to protect and support the child.


  • The report should be made as soon as there is reason to suspect abuse (review indicators list).
  • The report is NOT an accusation against a parent or child, but merely a report of a suspicion.  The report should be handled in a sensitive, non-judgmental manner.
  • If a person fails to report, it leaves the child (or other children) potentially at risk for future abuse.
  • The person who reports “in good faith” is immune from liability, both civil and criminal.
  • Kentucky State Law KRS620.030 states that is the duty of anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that a child is “dependent, abused, or neglected” to report this information to the police or Cabinet for Families and Children.  The abuse hotline is (800)752-6200.

Instructions for Reporting Child Abuse

Who is required to report alleged child abuse?

Extension staff and volunteers are mandated to report suspected or observed child abuse or neglect by Kentucky Revised Statute 620.030

When should alleged child abuse activities be reported?

Immediately.  Whenever you have reasonable cause to suspect or have observed child abuse or neglect.

Extension staff and/or a designated volunteer should remain with the abused youth, separate and apart from the abuser, friends and the 4-H activity.  If medical attention is necessary, the child / youth should be taken to a local physician or emergency medical facility.

To whom should an alleged child abuse report be made?

Regardless of the accusations, the Extension agent or volunteer should contact the local Cabinet for Families and Children Office.  After hours, the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children Child Abuse Hotline may be accessed at (800) 752-6200.

If there is concern about physical violence, contact the Kentucky State police and/or local law enforcement officials.

If the abuse or neglect occurred within Cooperative Extension Service programs, the county Extensionagent responsible for the program should also be notified.  The county agent should in turn report the incident to the appropriate district director.

The Extension agent should notify the youth’s parents unless the parent(s) are the alleged abusers and:


  1. Factually and succinctly explain the situation.
  2. Indicate the steps that have been taken and will be followed.


What should be reported?

A Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Suspected Child Abuse / Neglect Form should be completed and placed in a secure location.

The Cabinet for Families and Children will also need information to complete a Suspected Abuse / Neglect, Dependency or Exploitation Reporting Form DSS-115 Form.  This report contains the verbal information that will be requested when a call is placed to (800) 752-6200.  It will include questions such as:

  • The child’s identity, including parent’s name(s), age, gender and type of abuse.
  • Name and address of the alleged perpetrator
  • The nature and extent of the abuse or neglect
  • The name and address of the person reporting the abuse, if you choose to give it.
  • Where the child can be found.

What happens if you don’t make a report?

The child(ren) may be subjected to further abuse and neglect.  Also, KRS 620.990 states that failure to report child abuse and neglect can result in criminal charges being filed against the person failing to report.

What about liability?

The person making the report may be asked to testify in court; however, civil and criminal immunity from prosecution is given to any person making a report of child abuse or neglect (and assisting with authorities), as long as that person is acting in good faith.

What steps should be taken if a Cooperative Extension Service employee or volunteer is under suspicion?

The same procedures are followed if a Cooperative Extension Service employee or volunteer is under suspicion.  Extension personnel or volunteers must maintain confidentiality while the investigation proceeds.  The person under suspicion may be asked to withdraw from activities involving children, be reassigned, or be required to always have another adult present when interacting with children.