It is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. In review, my last post, Child Abuse - Part 2, touched on subjects such as who are the abusers, who are the victims, and why we should not be teaching "stranger danger".
Many ask the question, "What should I do if a child in my care comes to me about being abused or is showing signs of abuse?" While there is no list to go through and neatly check off steps when trying to appropriately handle these types of situations, there are tips that I can provide based on my personal experience and also knowledge I have gathered along the way while walking with others through their life journeys of healing.
I touch on this in my book, Yet Still I Stand. Kids may have difficulty trying to show you or tell you that they have experienced something that hurt them or made them feel uncomfortable. This can be due to not having an understanding of what actually occurred or what they feel, not having the vocabulary to tell you, not being developmentally able to do so, etc. However, it can also be due to fear. Often, abusers either shame victims into believing what has happened is their fault and/or by telling them that either the victim or the abuser will get into trouble if they tell someone. Another tactic used by abusers is to scare the victim to ensure they do not tell by threatening to hurt a person, multiple people, and/or a pet the victim cares about if they ever tell someone what happened.
Understanding that is very important because it should impact your interactions with the child. The child may be hesitant in talking about what has happened. The child may lie and state that nothing has happened. The child may act differently than you may imagine they should when you are trying to help keep them safe from an abusive situation.
So, what can you do? These are shared to provide a starting point, not an all inclusive list of what to do in these situations.
The most impactful thing that you can do is to establish a relationship that feels safe before anything happens so that the child knows they can trust you.
Recognize potential signs (stay tuned for Child Abuse - Part 4)
Listen without asking leading questions
Do not respond in an overly emotional way
Tell them they did the right thing by talking to you
Assure them that what has happened is not their fault and that they will not be in trouble
Report what you have been told/shown
If you are are the primary guardian, consider working with a professional to help the child and yourself in your healing journeys.
*See more details in Yet Still I Stand, 2022.
Next up: What are the potential signs/indicators of child abuse?