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The story that helps children speak out about abuse

Some secrets are worth keeping. A surprise birthday party for Granny, absolutely. An uncle peeking under your dress, definitely not. That’s the clear message in Share Some Secrets, a book by children’s author Christina Gabbitas. The story has just been animated by students at Sheffield Hallam University and turned into a free online resource.

If the contents sound somewhat unequivocal, that’s the point. The book, illustrated by Leeds artist Ric Lumb, is designed to encourage children to identify the difference between good and troublesome secrets. In the story, a boy, Billy, encourages his sister, Milly, to tell a teacher about abuse she’s receiving at the hands of Uncle Peter after she reveals that his visits make her sad. In what could have ended up being a harrowing tale, Milly is praised by the teacher. The story ends with a party and the promise that Uncle Peter won’t be making a reappearance in Milly’s life.

The idea for the book, published two years ago, came, says Gabbitas, “after seeing and listening to harrowing stories on the news and speaking to various individuals”.

She says: “I started to look into available resources to try and educate early years and primary children. I noticed there was a distinct lack of books for a child to pick up without needing parental supervision.”

The problem, she says, is “there is plenty of stuff available to help pick up the pieces afterwards, but we haven’t done enough to educate children from a young age”.

So she did it herself. As head of her own publishing company, Poems and Pictures, and with a bunch of children’s books (including a People’s Book Prize winner) to her name, Gabbitas regularly visits schools and also set up a Children’s Reading Festival in her home town of Selby, North Yorkshire, earlier this year.

Gabbitas donated 100 copies of her book to the NSPCC schools service and produced a special edition for Barnardo’s. “If money was no object I’d make sure there was a copy in every primary school,” she says.

The large and colourful book is aimed at ages five to eight but, as children’s reading varies greatly at this age, Gabbitas (also a voiceover artist) produced a read-along audio to accompany it.

A chance meeting with James Richardson, global director of Sheffield Hallam University, on a plane led to her approaching the university’s animation department to bring the book to life. The students worked with animation and design studio Cosmic Monocle to produce an easily shareable video hosted on YouTube.

“A high percentage of abuse happens within the home environment,” says Gabbitas, “Many children have access to the internet and can view something like this without parents knowing.” To that end, the ChildLine number appears at the end of the video.

“Abuse isn’t an inevitable part of childhood,” Karen Squillino, head of the NSPCC’s schools service, said at the launch of the animation. “Every 25 seconds a child phones ChildLine and often they have already spoken to an adult and nobody’s listened. This is an excellent resource that children can access independently.”

Gabbitas has also organised a conference in Leeds in February 2018 – sponsored by the NSPCC, Sheffield Hallam University and others – on the importance of preventative resources in protecting vulnerable children. “Teachers are crying out for resources,” she says. “We need to not only talk about it, but also do something positive about it.”

By Hazel Davis

31 October 2017 

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