8 Tips for Social Workers Dealing With Abused Children

Dealing with abused children is a heartbreaking and seemingly impossible task. Before a child even has a chance to develop a level of trust in the world, the trust that exists is shattered. A child's sense of safety is gone and as a social worker you are attempting to be part of the process of the child learning to trust and feel safe again. These tips will help you on your journey.

Realize That Physical Age And Psychological Age Are Not Always The Same

The mental and emotional development of a child may be slowed or halted because of abuse. Do not expect a child to act their age for they may not have reached that level of development yet because of the abuse. This is not meant to excuse any behaviors but to provide an understanding of what may actually be the case in a child's mind.

Create A Safe Space

Before any progress can occur you need to create a safe space for the child. Whatever you are trying to do, creating a feeling of safety is paramount. Without it, the child is likely to be distant and still experiencing the feelings of the abuse.

Give Them Control While Keeping Control

When children are abused they lose control. You want to give them some control back even as you maintain control of the interaction. This may sound difficult or even like a contradiction but it is immensely helpful. The child must feel like he or she has control over the events of life and they must feel that they are safe when you are in control.


You will, of course, talk to the child but sometimes you just want to listen without saying much of anything. Sometimes in trying to be helpful you will ask questions and try to lead a child to talk when this can actually prevent the child from saying what they really want to say. Give the child plenty of silence to fill up any way they please.

Use Playtime And Art As Alternatives To Talking

Talking is not always the best way to deal with issues of abuse or to connect with children who have experienced abuse. Often playtime activities and freeform art projects can help a child with self-expression.

Don't Be Like The Abuser

This may sound ridiculous but you need to look at it from the child's perspective, not yours. If you are loud and always trying to get the child to do this or that then you may come across as demanding. Pay attention to how a child reacts to you and realize that the simplest things could be triggering memories of abuse. Stop doing them.

Trust What The Child Says

Trust what children say. They won't always be honest but an abused child often fears, and has often been told, that they will not be believed. Showing that you trust a child will show that child that you are worth trusting.

Always Be Strong And Supportive

You always want to be strong and supportive. The child wants to feel like the world is a safe place and if you react to everything that happens then they may not feel that way. You need to stay strong and supportive regardless of what happens and especially if the child says or does something that is meant to provoke a reaction. This gives the child a desperately needed feeling that no matter what happens everything will be okay.

T. Rheinecker enjoys writing about how to enroll in masters of social work programs online.