How to help a friend dealing with family abuse or neglect

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Kids Help Phone is here for you during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency services and child protection services are still available across Canada and mobile crisis support is also available in some areas. No matter what, you and your friend’s safety is a priority — it’s important to find ways to protect yourself, even while practising physical distancing.

Do you think a friend is experiencing abuse or neglect?

Maybe you sense that things aren’t right in your friend’s family. Maybe you witnessed something while you were at your friend’s house. Or maybe your friend told you about the abuse or neglect.

Even if your friend has sworn you to secrecy, it’s important to get a safe adult involved if someone you know is being abused or neglected. You can’t stop what’s happening to your friend by yourself.

What can I do?

  • Be there: being there for your friend is one of the best things that you can do during this tough time.
  • Listen: let your friend talk about what’s going on and be a good listener. Try not to tell them what they need to do, other than to get help.
  • Be supportive: encourage your friend to get support from a safe adult. Offer to support your friend if they’re worried about telling an adult about the situation. You can also be there for your friend when they call child protection services or the emergency services in your area.
  • Reach out: reach out to your friend if you think something’s wrong but they haven’t told you anything. You could ask about a specific incident and try saying something like, “She really grabbed you hard back there. Are you OK?” You could ask how things are going at home. You could say, “I’ve noticed that you seem down, and I’m worried about you. Is there anything that you want to talk about?”
  • Believe: believe that your friend is telling the truth.
  • Check in: call your friend to see how they’re doing. Understand that they may not always want to talk about it. Do things that will take your friend’s mind off of the tough stuff for a while. Activities like having a chat or playing online games together can help a lot.
  • Take care of yourself: supporting a friend is hard work, so be sure to look after yourself. You may want to talk to someone, such as a guidance counsellor or other safe adult.