How can we tell if a babysitter has acted inappropriately with our kids? It’s painful even to think about this, but we have reasons for suspecting that our babysitter may have abused our young child. What would you suggest we do in such a case? Are there “red flags” or tell-tale signs that we should look for?
A detailed response would depend on the precise age of your child. But generally speaking, you should keep an eye out for noticeable shifts in normal behavior.
Youngsters in the elementary grades who have been subjected to some kind of abuse may exhibit signs of regression – for example, thumb-sucking, bedwetting, baby-talk, or academic setbacks. In some cases, they can become aggressive, while in others they disconnect and lose themselves in a daydream-like world of their own. A child who has been sexually abused may begin to act out sexually with siblings or other children in the neighborhood. Getting to know your neighbors and creating a caring community – strengthening Asset #4: Caring Community – can go a long way in helping to build openness and accountability as others may be more apt to help identify changes in your child’s behavior. Another warning sign which may occur is a child’s obssession with sexual self-stimulation. In other instances, he or she may turn abnormally secretive or quiet. If your child seems to be afraid of the babysitter, this is a good indication that something isn’t right. On the other hand, if he or she is strangely eager or anxious to have the babysitter return, it would probably be a good idea to find out why. If you find evidence of blood in your child’s underpants, this may also be a sign that he or she has been subjected to some kind of sexual abuse.
With smaller children, you should watch for signs of injury or irritation of the genital area and have your child examined by their doctor should you discover any unexplainable irregularities. Also observe for night-time restlessness, nightmares, and disruptions in established sleep patterns. Be aware of the child’s daily activities and ask yourself whether his or her mental, emotional or physical equilibrium seems to have been thrown off in any way. Try to remember how your young child reacted the last time the babysitter came to your house. Do you recall any occasion on which he or she appeared to be agitated or upset while in the babysitter’s arms or under the babysitter’s care? If so, the situation may require further investigation. (By the way, we strongly suggest that moms and dads avoid using babysitters – unless it’s grandma or another trusted member of the family – until a child is sufficiently verbal to tell them what goes on during their absence.)
Older kids who might normally be reluctant to talk about a traumatic experience can sometimes be encouraged to open up if you take an indirect approach. The key is to keep the conversation as relaxed, informal and low-key as possible. Wait until your child is involved in some other activity – playing with toys, for instance, or helping you with some simple chore like raking the leaves or washing the car. As the situation permits, turn the discussion gently and unobtrusively in the direction of the babysitter. Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think of ______?” Avoid “leading” or manipulative queries designed to elicit a particular response (for example, “Has ____ ever done anything to make you feel uncomfortable?”) Let the information emerge naturally and of its own accord. If you need help, it might be a good idea to engage the services of a trained child play therapist. The police department or sheriff’s office can also answer general questions and offer general suggestions in this area. So can the Department of Child Protective Services.
If at any point you become convinced that you have a serious problem on your hands, contact the Social Services Department and/or your local Sheriff’s Office immediately. You owe it to your child and to any other children in the area who may have had contact with this babysitter to take appropriate action without delay.
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