Keeping Our Kids Safe During Emergencies
by Teresia Smith
As schools have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countless parents are struggling to find childcare right now. Many will need childcare at some point during this time of social distancing and isolation as some are still required to work outside their home. Numerous individuals are offering to help with childcare, posting on community group pages or other websites. However, we urge you to carefully investigate these offers and safeguard your children against any would-be predators using this emergency as an opportunity.
Anytime we must make quick decisions about our children, it’s natural to wonder whether we’re doing everything we can to keep our children safe or if there is anything we may be missing. Some parents may feel desperate and pressured to make a hasty choice of care for their children and not have many options. Unfortunately, extended family may not always be available so we must look for help from outside our social circle. Securing safe care options for our children in an emergency where our normal caregivers are not available can feel overwhelming. And if you yourself are a survivor of childhood abuse or assault, you may experience heightened anxiety during this time.
How can you assess and ensure your children’s well-being when they need emergency care? StopItNow.com offers some tips to help you feel more at ease as you make those choices:
• Select someone already known to you and/or your family if possible. Seek recommendations from people you know, as opposed to responding to posts on social media and networking groups. It may seem incredibly generous, kind and even “too good to be true” when a neighbor offers to watch your children – but even as busy and distracted as we might get in these anxious times, we have to pay attention to red flags to help us better assess someone’s safety potential.
• Most importantly, parents need to trust their intuition. If you have an uncomfortable feeling about someone – trust that. Sometimes the unconscious mind can pick up on things we aren’t aware of.
• Get references. Even if you or your family knows the person offering to watch your children, ask if you can have a quick call with someone who has worked with this person or knows them beyond your social circle. Find out about their experience being with children, either personally or professionally, and ask whether there are any concerns about this person being responsible for children. Statistics show that about 93% of children who are abused know their abuser so just because you know them is not a guarantee your child will be safe.
• Talk about safety planning with anyone who is responsible for watching your children. Have a conversation that clearly describes the rules in your home – review your family’s safety rules around boundaries and privacy. Let them know that you have reviewed these same safety rules with your children and that you regularly talk with them about safe and unsafe behaviors. Show this person that you are an involved and vigilant parent.
• Avoid situations that isolate a caregiver and your child. Inform your caregivers that you will be in regular contact, how you will stay in touch and that you look forward to checking in with your child regularly as well. If possible, have other friends or family do check-ins, either in person or through video chats. Look for opportunities, even while you might be at work, to stay engaged in your child’s day and activities.
• Provide as much structure as possible. Prepare activities and determine allowable video content in advance. Clearly identify where your child is allowed to go and what activities they are able to participate in.
• Talk to your children and review safety rules regularly. Talk about safe behaviors and identify safe people for them to talk to more frequently during these temporary, emergency situations. Remind them that they are never in trouble for talking to you about anything that worries them. Even young children are able to understand private areas of their body and they need to know what touches are not okay.
• Make use of daily check-ins with your children. Ask questions that help them talk more in-depth about what they enjoyed, what was difficult or confusing, what activities they did, etc. Ask questions about their care provider, such as what was their favorite thing and least liked thing they did together.
• Listen to your children. While children may respond adversely in any new situation, pay attention to warning signs in children that could indicate that their safety is at risk, and ask them questions when they tell you they don’t like their new babysitter or seem hesitant to stay alone with someone.
Childcare during this difficult time can certainly be more stressful and complicated. Parents have many decisions to make and have to weigh various needs and options. However, we must be vigilant to not take shortcuts, not overlook things we know to be red flags or take an easy offer from a stranger as these things put our children at risk. Ask questions, follow up on any concerns and practice increased watchfulness. Above all, protect your children.
If you, at any time in your life, have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to support you. While we are not in the office daily during this isolation period, we are still available via phone, email, or video chat for crisis counseling, referrals, or just to talk. You may reach our office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.