COVID-19 has put many families and caregivers in challenging situations. Childcare may not be available or limited. Older children may be home unsupervised. Or you may be home with your kids all day everyday. It is important to protect your family from COVID-19. It is also important to protect them from child sexual abuse. Below are tips and resources to help caregivers navigate these challenges.
Hiring a babysitter or caregiver
With schools and day care centers temporarily closing their doors, many parents have to hire an individual caregiver. Below are some tips.
Ask for references and follow-up with a phone call. Explain to the reference that you have rules in place to protect your child’s boundaries and prevent abuse. Ask the reference if the caregiver has ever done anything that felt like a red flag.
Let the caregiver know that you will make unscheduled visits and check in with the kids.
Be clear about your family’s safety rules, including physical boundaries, personal and physical care, and discipline.
Be wary of someone who is over eager to watch your kids, such as offering to babysit for free or to just “give you a break.”
Ask these same questions regardless of the age of the caregiver. In 40% of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is an older or stronger youth.
When you can't be with your kids
If you have taken our Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training, you know that more than 80% of abuse happens in isolated, one-on-one situations. Predators are opportunistic. Here are some ways to decrease opportunities for kids to be sexually abused.
Prevent isolation. Keep doors open. Make some rooms, like bedrooms and basements, off-limits. Encourage activities that require more than two participants.
Check in randomly, without notice. If you’re away, call your kids or have another trusted adult drop by. Make sure your kids know the rules before you leave.
Talk about ground rules with the sitter. Let them know you’ll be in contact with the kids while you’re away. Also, let them know that your kids have been trained to tell you about uncomfortable touch, secrets, and gifts.
Talk with your kids about uncomfortable touch. Let them know they’ll never be in trouble if they come to you with questions or concerns.
When kids are out of school, their social media and online presence increases. Following are some ways to keep your kids safe from online predators.
Have regular conversations with your child or teen about predators who approach kids online. Let them know that online predators sometimes pose as another kid.
Just as you want to know who your child spends time with in person, you need to know who they spend time with online. Let your kids know you’ll be checking their devices.
Your child or teen needs to know that anything that is texted or sent online cannot be taken back. If you text or share a photo of your body parts, those images have become permanently public.
Enable parental controls/restrictions on devices.
Be aware that unwanted online sexual communications with kids happens a lot more than most people know. For kids between the ages of 10 and 17, 23% will experience unwanted exposure to pornography and 9% will receive unwanted sexual requests while on the internet.
Connect Safely has parent guides on many popular social media applications and internet safety in general.
NetSmartz has targeted animated videos for kids and information for adults about internet safety.
Play the “What If” game. Give your kids a variety of safety scenarios, including situations dealing with personal safety or boundaries. Ask them questions like, “What would you do if someone was seriously injured?” “What would you do if you saw one of your favorite celebrities in the grocery store?” “What would you say if someone want to give you an unwanted hug?” and “Who would you tell if someone wanted to touch you in your private areas?” Let kids brainstorm and gently respond with suggestions.
Take your kids for a ride. Turn it into a scavenger hunt by asking them to spot specific items on the landscape (an out of state license plate, a person walking a dog, a billboard with a face on it).
Have family phone or Facetime visits with relatives and friends—especially those who are older, at higher risk, or living alone.
Fill out the census. It is critical, especially now, that everyone fills out the census. An accurate census count of adults and children ensures that our community gets its fair share of federal dollars for roads, schools, and programs to help those in our community who really need it. Teach your kids it is our right and our obligation.
Read about celebrities doing online videos of themselves reading books to kids.
Check out gonoodle.com for some fun activities to do with kids.
Commonsensemedia, for caregivers and educators, features reviews, advice and helpful tools on movies, TV shows, apps, books, and more. You'll also find Wide Open School and COVID-19 resources on the site.
Read "My Hero is You" to your kids. Published by the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee, this book is a story about how kids can fight COVID-19.
Don't hesitate to ask for support
Let’s face it—sometimes our kids can drive us a little crazy. Even during these uncertain times, there are resources to help. If you are feeling stressed and could use some support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Below are some numbers you can call for assistance.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services's Family Resource Guide lists a variety of services and resources to assist families.
Kindred Place helps kids and families who are at risk or have experienced abuse, domestic violence or other issues. Call them at 901.276.2200, Monday – Thursday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm and Fridays, 9:00 am - 12:00 pm. They are accepting calls from any parent or caregiver; you don’t have to be an existing client.
CALL4KIDS Hotline. Call the Memphis Crisis Center 901.274.7477 if you need to talk about parenting stress, or just stress in general. You don’t have to wait for a crisis, either. Their trained volunteers are there to help.
LINC 2-1-1 The Library Information Center at the Memphis Public Library is a central source for information about all types of community resources. Just dial 211. They're available Monday - Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm and Saturday, 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.
For free, anonymous, evidence-based screenings for anxiety, depression, trauma and more, visit Mental Health America. Parents can take a screening to determine if a child is showing symptoms of anxiety, etc. Additional resources and self-help exercises are also available.
Darkness to Light has developed a video for parents and caregivers. Check out Protecting Kids During a Crisis for tips on keeping kids safe during COVID-19 restrictions.
*Thanks to Darkness to Light and the Urban Child Institute for many of these recommendations.