In last month’s blog I offered that while parents play a crucial part in keeping their children safe from sexual abuse, education for parents on this topic is woefully lacking.

Here are a few tips to help parents get started:

1. Educate yourself on the facts.

Educating yourself on the facts helps get you past your biases and defense mechanisms. Nobody wants to believe there could be abusers in their trusted communities, but facts are facts. (For some basic facts on sexual abuse, see last month’s blog post)

2. Ask the tough questions.

I often hear parents say they feel uncomfortable asking organizations and caregivers questions about sexual abuse safety and prevention. While it may be uncomfortable for you, remember that it’s impossible for your child. The truth is that YOU are your child’s best advocate.  Asking the tough questions sends a message that you know this can happen anywhere–and that you will not ignore it.

But what do you ask? 

Even if you have the courage to ask, it’s not intuitive what, exactly, you should be asking of your child’s school, camp, daycare, etc. The following questions, while not exhaustive, will help get you started. I’ve also included a few helpful pointers. 

  • What is the policy on staff being alone with children?
    • There should never be a written or unwritten policy that allows staff to be alone with a child. 
  • Does the school/camp/house of worship/playspace run background checks (state and federal) for ALL STAFF in the building? 
    • This is not just for teachers, but also custodians, librarians, and administrative staff, just to name a few.  Anyone who could come into contact with a child should go through a background check.
  • Do they have a policy to address suspected inappropriate contact between staff and students? 
  • Do they have a policy on contact between employees and children outside of school/camp including via social media and texting?
  • Do they do training on appropriate boundaries and relationships between staff and children?
  • Have they ever had to engage any of their policies? 
    • If an organization has had policies on the books for a while and has never had to use them, it would make me wonder: are they taking the policies seriously?

Asking tough questions of those you entrust with your children is a vital step in making your children into tough targets. You’ll learn how to trust your gut when an unsatisfactory answer raises red flags. Tough questions can also help organizations recognize their own blind spots and push them into action.  

Important notes and takeaways:

  1. No organization can mitigate all risk.  By having appropriate training, guidelines, and policies in place, and by showing they will put them into action, organizations can at least show that they are prepared to deal with the issue in a serious and appropriate manner.
  2. Trust your gut.  Even if you get what seems to be a perfect answer to every question, if you feel something is wrong, trust yourself.  You know that feeling when you think you aren’t hearing the whole truth, that you’re just being told what you want to hear, or that something just feels…off. Even though it can be hard to justify and impossible to prove, I encourage you to trust that feeling. For the sake of your children, give yourself the benefit of the doubt.