by Teresia Smith
Many parents are struggling to find the right childcare situation as summer vacation from school is upon us. Numerous individuals offer 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 your need as an opportunity.
Anytime we must make 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 can feel overwhelming. And if you yourself are a survivor of childhood abuse or assault, you may experience heightened anxiety during this time.
If using a sitter, 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 we have to pay attention to red flags to help us better assess someone’s safety potential.
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. 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.
Talk to your children and review safety rules regularly. Talk about safe behaviors and identify safe people for them to talk to. 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.
If you feel your child is old enough and mature enough to stay home alone, there are also safety concerns to be addressed. The big question is if your child is ready and responsible. While these questions are not foolproof indicators, they do give some guidance.
Here are some standards to examine to determine if a child is ready to be home alone:
• Do they complete homework and chores, and follow directions?
• Do they understand and follow rules and safety measures?
• Do they stay calm in unexpected situations?
• Do they make good judgments and decisions in other areas?
If you believe your child is ready to be home alone, make sure they are prepared. Set clear rules and make sure the child understands those rules. Keep open communication. Talk to your child about safety. Remind them of simple rules such as always lock the door, never open the door for strangers, don’t tell anyone they are home alone, establish rules if you allow friends over while you are gone and set parental controls for internet and TV access. Make sure firearms and medications are locked away. Post an emergency contact list by the phone. Make sure your child has memorized their full address and phone number. Teach your child about fire and storm safety. If your child will be allowed to cook, make sure they know safe cooking techniques. By having boundaries in place and continuing the conversation, you are giving your child tools to be successful.
Finding good childcare can certainly be 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.
Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. We are available via in-person, 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.