Who hasn’t heard the stories, especially when they make the national news? Allegations of sexual abuse at a state school for the deaf or even in a neighborhood school make our stomachs knot with anxiety. It is a terrible reality that children with special needs are three times more likely to be a victim of child abuse or neglect, and when communication is a challenge, it makes this risk all the more horrifying. Would you know what to do if you suspected your own child or a child you know was the victim of child abuse or neglect?
Observing, Understanding, and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect for children who are deaf and hard of hearing are the main areas of focus for a project being jointly undertaken by Dr. Harold Johnson at Michigan State University and Hands & Voices, as we continue our efforts to increase parent and professional education in keeping our children safe from child abuse and neglect. We are challenging one another to spread the word about this important topic. Parent Guides from CO Hands & Voices Guide By Your Side are participating in a pilot project, keeping logs of the questions that arise, and sharing thoughts as they learn more about this topic.
There’s a lot more that we can be doing beyond wringing our hands in frustration. Below are resources that will be useful to parents in developing skills that will prepare us to share effectively with their own children. But don’t just stop at your own child or student, here are some things that you can do to help others be prepared:
- Pass-It-On: Share this article and the Parent Safety Toolkit written just for parents raising children who are deaf/hard of hearing with another parent or provider, and ask them to “pass-it-on.”
- Share the Story: Have a conversation with your child about abuse and neglect (see “Helping Parents Talk to Children” ) then share the story of how it went so that other parents can learn from your experience.
- Recognize the Best and Challenge Everyone Else: Ask the professionals who work with your child what they are doing to protect your child from abuse and neglect, then share what you learn with others so we recognize the best and challenge everyone else.
- Join us on at our Hands & Voices HQ site for more information.
Child Abuse and Neglect: Helping Parents Talk to Children
(adapted with permission from the National Exchange Club Foundation)
There are two aspects to keep in mind as we begin. The first is helping parents prepare themselves to talk with their children. Many parents hesitate to talk with their children about child abuse and neglect. Reasons for this vary widely, but include things such as:
- Fear children will see abuse or neglect everywhere
- Desire to maintain “childhood innocence”
- Fear children will accuse parents of abuse
- Fear children will be more anxious
It’s helpful to simply acknowledge these anxieties right from the start with parents. Tell them many parents, in the beginning, share these concerns. Our silence does not increase safety for children. Children will handle this topic as well as parents do and sometimes maybe even better, and it is important to share these things in an age-appropriate way.
The second aspect is finding the right words. Make it as simple and straightforward as possible. These tips may help:
- Keep it simple. Children don’t need many details. You don’t have to explain the details of physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
- If you are relaxed, your child will be relaxed. This can be easier if you pick a relaxed time to talk with them. Maybe over lunch, or while driving in the car or walking to the park. You can begin casually with introductory lines such as:
- “I read a story in the paper yesterday about a little boy who was hurt at home…”
- “You are good at looking both ways to cross the street. Another safety rule is about keeping your body safe….”
- “Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes, even parents…” (Kids love this one—they connect with honesty. They see adults make mistakes and break the rules, but grown-ups don’t admit this very often.)
- “Sometimes grown-ups don’t take care of children the way they should or maybe even hurt them…”
- If you feel nervous, tell them. Your child will sense it anyway. Explain that sometimes it’s hard to explain things or some things might feel sad to think about, but are important to talk about.
- Include this dialogue in the other “safety” talks you do with children, such as fire safety, traffic safety, and now, personal safety.
- Have the conversations regularly, not necessarily frequently, but regularly. We continually remind our children about crossing the street and not playing with matches, etc. It is ok to remind them that if anyone ever hurts them or makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell someone.
- The choice of language will assist in making it easier for you to say and easier for your child to understand. Some easy phrases could be:
- “Adults and parents are supposed to take care of children, but sometimes problems get in the way or make it difficult. There are some things you should know.”
- “Grown-ups make mistakes sometimes and they don’t always take care of children like they should.” If your child and you are ready to talk a little more about this you can use examples like not always having enough food for them, not helping them get to school, or not taking care of them when they are sick, etc.
- “Sometimes adults or parents might even do things that hurt children.” If you want to say more or your child doesn’t understand you could give some examples such as, “You know that you must be gentle with babies, but some grown-ups might not remember and are too rough or hurt them” or “A parent might be angry and make a mistake and hit a child.”
- “Everyone has private parts and grown-ups should not touch your private parts unless they are helping you clean or if you are sick.”
- “If anyone ever touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or weird or funny inside, you should tell me or another grown-up that you trust.”
- “If anyone ever hurts you or touches you and tells you to keep it a secret, you should tell me right away or tell another adult you trust. That’s not a good secret to keep. There is a difference between surprises (like birthday presents) and secrets. No one should ask you to keep a secret. It often means that someone is doing something wrong.”
- If you are really uncertain about making this about your child, start off by talking about a “what if” regarding a friend, such as “what if someone was touching your friend Shelby’s private parts, what should Shelby do?”
- Check-in regularly with your child about anything that is bothering them or that they have questions about.
- Always give your child options/scenarios of what to do if there is a problem.
- “You can always come and tell me.”
- “If Mom or Dad is not around, who would you tell then…”
- “Who is someone you see every day that you could tell if you had a problem….”. If your child has difficulty, remind them to tell their teacher, or a babysitter or a good friend or neighbor. Children name police officers and firefighters a lot as helpers, but they aren’t readily available.
- Always remind them that you will always try your best to make sure they are safe.
- Be ready in case your child has something to tell you.
- The first response is: “I’m so glad you told me. You did the right thing.”
- If you become upset, it’s okay. Tell your child, simply, how you are feeling. Remember that your child may think you are upset with him. You can say things like, “This makes me kind of sad (or mad), but I’m not mad at you. And now I’m glad I know so I can help.”
- Always tell your child that they did nothing wrong and it’s not their fault.
- If you are not sure what to do, it’s okay to say that. Tell your child “There are grownups that help parents and children with this and we will check with them about what to do. The important thing is that now I can keep you safe.”
Other things to remember
- If your child tells you something about themselves or a friend, please listen to them. As painful as the abuse may be, telling someone and not being heard is even more painful. On average, children try to tell their stories about abuse or neglect 7 times before an adult takes action.
- If you are not sure what to do, the Childhelp hotline listed below is a good resource to help you know who to call and what to say. Every county and state has a child protective service agency to respond to abuse and neglect. If you’re not aware of it in your area, call the police or check your local yellow pages.
- Remember to reassure your child often. They may think it’s their fault, and they will be worried about Mom and Dad being sad or angry.
- Don’t be afraid! Your child can be safe and secure.
- Don’t feel guilty if something does happen to your child. Take action.
- Get the help you will need.
- Remember children are incredibly resilient and when they see you handle this situation they will know you can handle any problem!
- You will be Super Mom and Dad!
Resources that can help!
Every county in every state in the United States has a child protective services agency. The names may vary, but they are responsible for dealing with child abuse and neglect. Check your local yellow pages or call one of the organizations below for assistance.
|Hands & Voices||303-492-6283||www.handsandvoices.org|
|National Exchange Club Foundation||800-924-2643||www.preventchildabuse.com|
|Friends National Resource Center||919-768-0162||www.friendsnrc.org|
|Child Welfare League of America||703-412-2400||www.cwla.org|
|Prevent Child Abuse America||800-244-5373||www.preventchildabuse.org|
Colorado Hands & Voices and Hands & Voices (HQ) are committed to making a difference and being a leader in bringing information and education to ‘our world’ about this important topic. For more information, contact us here.