Working with young victims of crime

Children and young people are disproportionately more likely to be victims of crime, particularly the most serious crime. They often experience these crimes in their homes, schools and communities, in places and sometimes by people that should keep them safe. Therefore, it is highly likely that children you work with may be affected by crime or are at high risk of becoming victims of crime, particularly in relation to:

  • child sexual exploitation
  • child abuse
  • violent crime
  • gang-related crime
  • domestic abuse
  • robbery/theft

Identifying warning signs

Often if children become victims of crime, even if they don’t realise they are a victim, there can be tell-tale signs. Not all young people will react in the same way, and victims and witnesses of crime of all ages may go through different emotions, from shock and anger to denial and depression. You may notice they have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite, feel scared or have panic attacks.

If you or someone you know would like support after crime, contact us for help.

Talking to a child

There are some strategies that will help you when thinking about talking to a child about any concerns you might have.

Don’t highlight the need to talk to the child in front of others. Find a suitable time to pull the child aside without drawing attention. Think about the child and when they are more likely to talk – is it in the morning or afternoon?
Think about the space – you want them to feel comfortable and to be at ease to talk. Taking them to a formal office space to chat might cause them distress. Think about the chairs you choose to sit in. You might feel it is a cosy chair to relax in, but if they feel dwarfed they may not respond. Sitting at the child’s level is often a better option.
Chatting just before school or your session is due to end is not a practical time as they will be aware that their parent/carer will be due to pick them up and may not want to be seen; you may also feel pressured as you need to leave quickly too.
This can be a good way to start the conversation. Remember to use open-ended questions (what, when, who, how, tell me, describe, explain), which prevent the child from giving a closed answer and can help to get them talking. Try to avoid ‘why’, as this can sound like you are judging them.

Some children prefer to tell through play or through drawing rather than speaking out loud. You will have an idea, through working with the child, what they like doing. Use this to start the conversation.

Don’t try to finish their sentences for them; if they struggle getting their words out be encouraging through body language (nod of the head, an encouraging smile, eye contact). Let them know there is no rush.

Body language can say a million words, so be open in your approach, and don’t sit with your legs or arms crossed. Don’t invade their space and remember personal boundaries. Keep eye contact but be mindful of not staring.

This will help you to explain exactly what they are saying and be able to stick to facts rather than opinions. You might have heard a similar experience but the way that person experienced it can be completely different to how this child is experiencing it.

What the child tells you could be potentially shocking or upsetting. Remember it is a big thing for the child to be open with you so try not to show any reaction, as that could upset the child and stop them from talking any further.
Reassure the child that it was a good thing for them to tell you; the child will need that reassurance.
You may not know the full story or reasons behind what has happened. Remain neutral in your expression and judgement.
The child may not be sure, but it’s important to ask them what they want from you. This gives them some control over the situation. Be prepared for the fact that they may not want you to do anything, just telling you for now is all they can cope with.

Let them know they did the right thing, and do not promise anything you can’t deliver or have any control over it.

If you need to inform other people because you are worried about them, you need to tell the child, explain the reasons for it and reassure them. It is important you follow your own agency’s safeguarding policy.

Explain that everything you are doing is to keep the child safe as that is the most important thing. Let them know what is going to happen next and when, so that the child is prepared for the next steps. Never promise the child that you will not tell anyone, and reassure them that they are doing really well and you want to help them.

Remember: Don’t be quick to tell the child that everything is going to be alright, as you can’t guarantee that. Children have said that they want adults to be truthful with them.

It’s important to offer ideas and solutions and to know the agencies in your area that could help the child. It may be appropriate to inform parents of the situation. It’s important that you explain to children early on in the conversation if you would need to do this and ask how they would like this to be done.

If it isn’t a safeguarding issue or something that can be resolved quickly, ensure that you check in with the child every now and then to see if they are ok and whether there are any interventions that can be put in place to make the child feel happier and supported.

Information and support for parents of children who have been affected by crime.

Resources for teachers and professionals to help support children and young people.