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.
The CAC now offers Stewards of Children sexual abuse and prevention training in a virtual format. Learn more about this interactive training here.
Hiring a babysitter or caregiver
Many parents may have to hire a sitter or caregiver because of school and daycare reduced schedules, closures, or virtual format. 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.
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 - 6:00 pm and Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 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.