Be Sure, BEFORE – Advice For Parents
Not all child abuse is preventable, but parents and caregivers can arm themselves and their children with information that will help to minimize the risks.
You can never tell who is likely to abuse children by looking at them – there is no uniform or sign that will identify them. They do not always lurk in shadows or appear sinister. They are more likely to be people you trust and/or respect.
Abusers come from ALL walks of life, all races, all religions, all classes, all genders; the rich, the poor, black, white, policemen, teachers, priests, the unemployed, criminals, lawyers, doctors…child abusers do not fit a particular stereotype. Only a small percentage of people will abuse children, but those abusers can be of any status in society.
Abusers are generally devious, manipulative liars. They have to be, because they must hide their true nature, to attain a victim and to hide what they are doing from you and the authorities. They can wear the mask of sincere kindness when you are there, and switch when your children are alone and defenseless. They will groom, coerce, manipulate, scare, threaten and intimidate your children into silence, highlighting the importance for every parent to cultivate an open and trusting relationship with their children.
Take the time to get to know a new partner or friend before you trust them with the most precious things in your care: your children. The better you know them, the better you are to judge their ability to properly care for your children.
Some Facts About Child Abuse
• When you leave your child with your partner or babysitter, you expect them to care for your child just like you would, but that is not always the case.
• Children who live with adults not related to them are 20 times more likely to be abused, and nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents.
• Many children who die from physical abuse are killed by a non-biological parental partner.
• People under the influence of drugs/alcohol, who are very tired, stressed out, emotionally immature or not used to children can get angry over minor things that all children do, like crying or spilling something. This anger can put your child at risk of being hurt.
• When someone lets anger get out of control, it only takes one hard shake or one hard hit to the head or body to kill an infant or child.
NOTE: Different children/abusers will develop different ways of coping/methods of abusing, and so ‘signs’ may be different in each case. Because abusers can be so manipulative, there might not be signs at all. YOU know your child, YOUR INSTINCTS and OBSERVATIONS are the most powerful protection you have against abusers. These are some things you can be aware of and look out for, a child may display none, some or all of these.
Ask yourself these questions:
Does your partner/babysitter:
• Expect your child to do things that are not realistic for his/her age?
• Overreact when your child breaks rules or does not follow directions?
• Show anger or impatience when your child cries or throws a tantrum?
• Call your child bad names or say mean things to your child?
• Think it is funny to scare your child or be cruel?
• Say you are a bad parent and not strict enough
• Hurt your child or punish them in any way you are not comfortable with or have not agreed to?
• Handle guns and knives around your child?
• Think your child is a bother and gets in the way?
• Drink alcohol in excess or use drugs around your child?
• Have experience of or know how to take good care of a child?
• Have any history of violence or aggression?
• Hurt, be cruel to or neglect animals?
• Have the maturity required to care for a child?
Does your child:
• Seem unhappy or uncomfortable in any way around your patner/babysitter?
• Change demeanor or behaviour around or immediately after being with this person (eg becomes louder/quieter, becomes disruptive/withdrawn, speaks about inappropriate things etc)
• Feel unable to talk to you about a problem (if age appropriate)?
• Have limited or no awareness concerning what is acceptable/unacceptable treatment?
If you have answered YES to even one of these questions your child could be at risk.
Do not EVER allow ANYONE to watch your child if you are not 100% certain that they will care for your baby as you would. If you are not certain, YOU COULD BE MAKING A DEADLY MISTAKE.
Children who live with adults not related to them are 20 times more likely to be abused and nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents.
It is a sad fact that although the vast majority of step-parents develop nurturing and loving bonds with their step children who’s lives are enriched for having their step-parent in, many children who die from physical abuse are killed by the mother’s boyfriend, or by the fathers girlfriend.
1-4 children die every 10 days in the UK as a direct result of child abuse or neglect, and around 90% of children who are sexually assaulted know their attacker. Deciding who should take care of your children in your absence really is a crucially important decision that should NEVER be taken lightly.
Enough children have died at the hands of stepfathers or boyfriends of mothers to call for such cases to be categorized and addressed in the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee’s annual report. In the 2009 review, which identifies 192 child abuse or neglect deaths in Florida, the report says:
“Crying, toilet training and feeding are the most common triggers of physical abuse in young children. Additionally, the state committee identified common factors and characteristics that are present in the physical abuse deaths of these children. These factors include young males ages of 18 to 30 who are unemployed and often providing primary childcare while the biological mothers work.”
Spend time observing your partner/babysitter with your child before leaving them alone together. Watch the interaction. Make sure you and your child are comfortable and the interaction is appropriate. Take enough time to properly assess the situation; leaving your child with anyone is a serious decision that could prove deadly if you are mistaken.
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme
Did you know that across 43 police forces in the UK, the child sex offender disclosure scheme allows parents, carers and guardians to formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offenses?
If you are concerned about sex offenders in your area, click here for help with getting information from the police.
Parents Protect is a website ran by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, and has a wealth of information to empower parents and children to be better protected against sexual assault. All sorts of help and advise on keeping your kids safer is available there.
What Can You Do To Minimise The Risks?
Before you leave home:
• Leave your mobile phone number and other emergency numbers. Leave an alternative emergency number ( a friend/grandparent etc) just in case for some reason you are uncontactable.
• Let your partner/babysitter know it is okay to call you for help. Check in several times while you are away.
• Leave a note with any relevant tips/routine outline for your child.
• Make sure there is food/nappies etc
When you get home:
• Ask your partner/babysitter what they did while you were away.
• Ask your child if they liked your partner/babysitter after they leave.
• Observe your child’s behaviour, and that of the babysitter, especially an infant or toddler. Does your child seem peaceful and happy?
• If you suspect something is wrong with your child or if they have been hurt, do not put yourself and your child in further danger by confronting your partner/babysitter. Instead, leave if possible, and get help right away form the police/social services.
• Believe your child.
Teach your child:
• The name of a trusted neighbor close to home who they can call or go to if they think they are in danger.
• How to call 999 in an emergency.
• How they can expect to be treated.
• That it is okay to talk to you about any problems or concerns they might have about your partner/babysitter, and make sure there is private time when they can talk to you if they need to.
• Practice ‘What If …’ situations. ‘What if you are lost in town, what would you do? Who is a ‘safe stranger’ – like a policeman, a shop assistant or someone else your child can ask for help in an emergency? What if the babysitter gets angry and you feel scared, what do you do?
• Teach your children the difference between ‘safe secrets‘ (ie a surprise birthday party)(, and ‘unsafe secrets’ – things that make a child feel unhappy or uncomfortable.
• Practice safe/unsafe situations (Is it safe when a teacher pats you on the back because you did well in your exam? Is it safe if your relative walks into the bathroom uninvited when your teenager is showering?) with your child. Avoid over simplified, in-complete blanket safety rules that often create an incomplete picture and mislead the child and create more risk than previously existed. Only telling your child ‘don’t talk to strangers’ is dangerous because it implies that only ‘unknown’ people are dangerous, this is entirely untrue, and children have different concepts of what a ‘stranger is’, for example, if your child meets a person once, they may then believe them not to be a stranger and therefore to be safe, making the child vulnerable to abduction etc. This kind of incomplete picture is very dangerous. Also, if a child is lost and needs to approach a stranger for help, they may be too afraid to.
•Tell your child they should never go with or get into a car with ANYONE, even a friend, without first asking/telling you where they are going and who with. Help your child to develop an instinct for what is safe/unsafe, and what choices to make in an emergency. Teach them to trust their instincts.
Things a partner/babysitter should know before caring for your child:
Coping with Crying
•What works best to help your baby stop crying. Show your partner/babysitter how to soothe your baby before you leave.
•To put a baby in a safe place and call right away, if the baby will not stop crying.
•What your child likes to do and what toys he likes to play with. Show your partner/babysitter how you and your baby like to play together.
•Your child’s sleep routine
•Your baby always sleeps alone and should never sleep with an adult or another child.
•Your baby always sleeps on their back in a crib/bassinet and should never be put to sleep on a couch, chair, waterbed or any other kind of soft bedding.
•Always to watch your child while in the bathtub, at the swimming pool, near any bodies of water or other things filled with water.
• Unless it is absolutely necessary by a close/well-known/well-trusted family friend/babysitter, only parents should bathe children.
•Never spank, yell, throw things, shake or hit your child.
•Make sure your partner/babysitter knows how s/he can discipline your child if needed (ie toy confiscation/time outs etc), and to ask you about any clarification they might need, and that they can contact you any time if they cannot cope.
•How to toilet or diaper your child. Let them know it is ok if your child has an accident.
•Have clean clothes and diapers on hand.
•How much your child usually eats and that it is okay if your child does not eat everything.
•That food messes are okay!
•Your child’s likes/dislikes, routine, anything else particular to your home or child.
Keeping Your Kids Safe
Do not become paranoid – most people will not hurt children. But be smart, be vigilant, make informed and carefully considered choices when it comes to who you invite into the lives of your children.
Talk to, LISTEN to, and believe your children.
Find out what you can about the reality of child abuse, so that you can be better prepared to protect your family from it.
Possible Signs Of Abuse To Look Out For From KidsScape:
NOTE: This is by no means a conclusive list. A child may exhibit some or all of these symptoms, or other symptoms not listed, and some victims are able to completely hide their abuse and so exhibit no signs (detachment). It is just meant to give an idea of some signs of potential abuse. A child may be subjected to a combination of different kinds of abuse.
- Being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child’s age
- Medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal diseases
- Other extreme reactions, such as depression, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses, anorexia
- Personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
- Regressing to younger behaviour patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys
- Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
- Being isolated or withdrawn
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of trust or fear of someone they know well, such as not wanting to be alone with a babysitter or child minder
- Starting to wet again, day or night
- Become worried about clothing being removed
- Suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
- Trying to be ‘ultra-good’ or perfect; overreacting to criticism
- Unexplained recurrent injuries, bruises or burns
- Improbable excuses or refusal to explain injuries
- Wearing clothes to cover injuries, even in hot weather
- Refusal to undress for gym
- Bald patches
- Chronic running away
- Fear of medical help or examination
- Self-destructive tendencies
- Aggression towards others
- Fear of physical contact – shrinking back if touched
- Admitting that they are punished, but the punishment is excessive (such as a child being beaten every night to ‘make him study’)
- Fear of suspected abuser being contacted
- Physical, mental and emotional development lags
- Sudden speech disorders
- Continual self-depreciation (‘I’m stupid, ugly, worthless, etc’)
- Overreaction to mistakes
- Extreme fear of any new situation
- Inappropriate response to pain (‘I deserve this’)
- Neurotic behaviour (rocking, hair twisting, self-mutilation)
- Extremes of passivity or aggression.
- Constant hunger
- Poor personal hygiene
- Constant tiredness
- Poor state of clothing
- Emaciation (underweight)
- Untreated medical problems
- No social relationships
- Compulsive scavenging
- Destructive tendencies
If a child tells you about abuse:
- Stay calm and be reassuring
- Find a quiet place to talk
- Believe in what you are being told
- Listen, but do no press for information
- Say that you are glad that the child told you
- If it will help the child to cope. say that the abuser has a problem
- Say that you will do your best to protect and support the child
- Seek medical help and contact the police or social services
- If your child has told another adult, such as a teacher or school nurse, contact them. Their advice may make it easier to help your child
- Determine if this incident may affect how your child reacts at school. It may be advisable to liase with you child’s teacher, school nurse or head teacher
- Acknowledge that your child may have angry, sad or even guilty feelings about what happened, but stress that the abuse was not the child’s fault. Acknowledge that you will probably need help dealing with your own feelings
More useful information from Kidscape.
Grooming – Need To Know
Becoming knowledgeable of the “Grooming Process” and recognizing the danger signs of “grooming” are the first steps in arming yourself with the information needed to reassure yourself and protect your child from sexual predators. For more information go here
What is “Grooming”?
- A process of identifying and engaging a child in sexual activity.
- It involves an imbalance of power and elements of coercion and manipulation.
- It involves motivation and intent to sexually exploit the child.
Who is targeted?
Predators typically target children with obvious vulnerabilities, but may target any child:
- Feels unloved
- Seeking attention and friendship
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Isolated from peers
- Spends time alone
- Often unsupervised
- Experiencing family problems
- Looked-after children and children in care.
How are victims approached by predators?
- Typically presents self positively to child.
- Exhibits interest in the child.
- Is complimentary.
- Learns child’s habits, likes, dislikes.
- Pretends to share common interest, backgrounds, experiences, etc.
- Often approached online in chat-rooms or on social networking sites (facebook, twitter etc) as well as in real life.
What is the purpose of grooming?
- The perpetrators goal is to MAKE A VICTIM by increasing access to the victim and decreasing the likelihood of their intent being discovered by others, including the victim.
- The perpetrators goal is also to make the potential victim feel comfortable enough to be close with the offender, to be alone with the offender, and to keep the sexual behavior a secret.
Be sure, before.
If you are concerned for a child, YOU MUST REPORT IT.
The NSPCC Helpline – UK – 0808 800 5000