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Guidelines for Appropriate Physical Contact with Children and Young People

It is hard to conceive how you can be a nurturing, caring worker with children and young people without some physical contact happening at least occasionally!  For example, if a child or young person is distressed it is natural to put an arm round their shoulder. It could even be thought of as abusive not to respond by touching a child in such circumstances. However, we must be conscious that what to most is an innocent touch may have another, more sinister meaning for children who have experienced abuse. We must also be aware that some people use the opportunity of physical contact with others not as a way of conveying love and support, but as a means of satisfying their own cravings.

The following guidelines are helpful when considering whether or not touch is appropriate in any given situation.

  • For whose benefit is this taking place?

    • Is it for the sake of the child or young person or is it for your own benefit?

  • If no-one else is present, it is always advisable to avoid physical contact.

  • Use physical contact in a way that conveys appropriate concern but in a way that is least likely to be misconstrued. For example, an arm around the shoulder standing by the side of a child or young person may be more appropriate than a full ‘hug’.

  • Remember that not all express friendship or affection in the same way and some people (children included) find excessive touching an infringement of their personal space.

  • If you find that the child or young person is cringing or responding in a negative way to being touched, then stop immediately and find an alternative, non-tactile way to convey your concern.

  • Workers should be prepared to be accountable to fellow workers for their use of touch and physical contact and should listen to the concerns of others if it is felt that boundaries are being crossed.

 
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