In light of the bushfires that have devastated our country and unfortunately continue to do so, it is important to keep children’s safety in mind, as children are more vulnerable to abuse in times of disaster. "Anecdotal evidence and a small number of systematic studies indicate that intimate partner violence, child abuse and sexual violence are highly prevalent after disasters."
Given the increased needs of families and communities during this time of crisis, health professionals may have greater contact with children in regards to both their physical and mental health. Health professionals therefore have an important opportunity to safeguard children and ensure trauma-informed responses which help children to trust and feel safe.
How you can help keep children safe from abuse during a crisis
If you are a health professional working with children and young people, or in an area where children and young people may be present, here is what you can do to help keep them safe:
1. Be vigilant.
Look out for any suspicious activity or people spending time around children. Trust your gut feeling. Some perpetrators offend simply because there is an opportunity to do so, which is known as opportunistic abuse. If you feel unsettled or are concerned about suspicious behaviour, don’t disregard it – make sure you act on it.
2. Know the signs.
Do you know the physical and behavioural indicators of child abuse? Would you be able to recognise the signs of an adult grooming a child? Being able to identify the signs and respond immediately may prevent further harm. Consider undertaking child safety training if you feel unsure, need a refresher course or feel like you need to improve your knowledge and skills in this area.
3. Respond appropriately.
Make sure you are aware of the child safety reporting policy and procedures within your organisation. Reporting information for each state and territory is listed here. If you think a child is in immediate danger, please call the Police on 000.
4. Be prepared for disclosures.
Depending on your level of engagement and contact with children, you may find yourself in a situation where a child or young person discloses to you that they have experienced abuse or are currently afraid. Disclosures of abuse can be very confronting and challenging to deal with, so it’s important that you are mentally prepared. Most of all, it’s important to believe children who disclose abuse, as research and history show that children are often not believed when they first disclose.
Show them that you care and that you’re listening, as this can be scary for them. Let them go at their own pace, only ask open ended questions and let them use their own words. They could be testing the water, so show you understand by going through what they told you already.
5. Work with your team.
Is there a designated child safety officer in your team? Would you know who to go to if you are concerned about the safety of a child? Does your organisation have a child safety policy, a code of conduct and any other processes and procedures to ensure the safety of children?
Child Wise has worked closely with healthcare providers, including the West Gippsland Healthcare Group (WGHG), to ensure an organisation-wide approach to child safety is implemented in line with relevant legislation. Contact us to speak to one of our child safety advisors to see how we can help your organisation become a child safe environment.
 Lori Peek. (2008). Children and Disasters: Understanding Vulnerability, Developing Capacities, and Promoting Resilience — An Introduction. Children, Youth and Environments, 18(1), 1-29. Retrieved February 3, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.18.1.0001
 World Health Organisation. (2005). Interpersonal Violence and Disasters. Retrieved February 4, 2020, from https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/violence/violence_disasters.pdf
 More information about trauma-informed service responses can be accessed at www.blueknot.org.au