They say “it takes a village” to raise a child, and as a mother of two young children who lives across the world from her own family, I definitely agree with this statement. From asking a friend to pick up your child from daycare because an appointment ran late to discovering a learning disability through the insight of a concerned teacher, parents rely on friends, family, community, and professionals to help their children thrive, as well as simply make it through each day.
As helpful and comforting as this network can be, however, when it comes to safety, we need to make sure that we — the parents — are doing everything in our power to ensure that our children are in the right hands.
For better or for worse, from the moment our children enter the world, we are at the mercy of others to keep them safe. From the staff at the hospital to the babysitters, daycare providers, teachers, tutors, coaches, and camp counselors, we constantly leave these precious souls in the care of those we assume we can trust. But unfortunately, behind every #MeToo victim are parents saying “How on earth did we miss this?”
I truly believe that the vast majority of the people that our children will encounter in their lives would never even consider intentionally harming anyone in any way. However, the shocking statistics need to be addressed: 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, and in 90% of cases, the perpetrator is someone close to the victim or their family.
My goal is not to paralyze parents with panic, but rather to empower us all to realize that we can and should be doing more. In addition to following the tips outlined in this article, we can insist that the individuals and institutions on which we are forced to rely on have systems in place to screen, educate, and train the people of our village who share in the holy work of raising our children.
Before you sign your child up for an extracurricular activity, make sure that the affiliated school, community center or youth organization conducts criminal background checks on their staff and screens for child abuse and neglect.
Before you send your child off to sleepover camp, check that all staff and counselors are properly trained to understand appropriate boundaries, recognize signs of abuse, and follow protocol when necessary, through a program such as ASAP’s online abuse-prevention program.
Invest in your babysitters, get references from other parents, and even run a quick search on the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), a resource that pulls data from offender registries.
The world is a beautiful place with so much opportunity that we simply cannot offer our children by locking them in their rooms in hopes that we can protect them from harm’s way. And, let’s be honest, with the dangers of the internet, even that wouldn’t help. We need to be able to allow our children to learn, grow and experience the world responsibly and confidently, prioritizing their emotional, psychological and physical safety.
Of course, a parent might do everything right when it comes to abuse prevention and bad things can still happen. There is no insurance policy to prevent everything, but these steps can go a long way in minimizing the risks of abuse for our children.
So while it may feel strange or overprotective to insist on a background check for your child’s youth group leader or ask your child’s camp to implement a mandatory training program, the more we, as parents, demand institutions to take responsibility for the actions of their staff, the more we can relax and let them go off into the world safely.