Maintain clear rules about boundaries.
This will help to reduce the chance that your child could be confused if someone touches them inappropriately. Maintain age-appropriate privacy and respect the child’s control of their own body (ie: tickling stops when they say so.)
Take care who you let in your child’s life.
Help your child develop good relationships with other adults and don’t leave your child alone with people who do not have a good and appropriate relationship with them. Know who your child spends time with and be watchful when there are new people in the house like boarders, babysitters or a newly formed blended family.
Formal childcare settings provide protection from abuse through police checks, staff training and policies and procedures to promote safe environments. No such protections exist with informal childcare arrangements, so it is up to you to put in place some basic precautions. Here are some things to think about…
It is estimated that half of all sexual offending is done by teenagers and both boys and girls abuse. While babysitting time provides a prime opportunity, this doesn’t mean that you can never go out and trust your child with one. Ask for references and spend some time watching the sitter interact with your child before you leave. Allowing them to bring other young people into your home while you are out increases the risks also.
If it is family members caring for your children, communicate your family touching and privacy rules and ask your child how they felt being cared for, listening well to what they tell you. If your family member has a partner or friend with them that you’re not familiar with, make it clear that you expect them (the family member) to care for your child and not leave them alone with the other person.
Sleepovers are safest when your child can bath, toilet and dress themselves and ideally should be restricted to people you know best prior to this time. If your child is sleeping over somewhere, check out where they will be sleeping, who else will be there and what level of supervision they will have. Check that your child really does want to sleepover and let them know that they can phone you at any time, even in the middle of the night, if they are worried about anything. Share your family privacy and touching rules with anyone else who will be caring for your child.
Take extra care when blending families.
Bringing two families together should (and can be) a happy time, but there is also the potential for harm to children or young people, who face a higher risk of being sexually abused in these family situations as more people have access to them. A parent or sibling forms an attachment with a child in their care from birth that usually protects against sexual abuse but the same is not always true for step-parents or siblings.
Some form of pain or loss, from a break-up or death of a parent, often follows into a blended family, making people vulnerable to abuse. Children can feel less special or have no sense of belonging, especially if they don’t live there full-time; this can cause them to act out sexually towards other children, or be acted out upon.
In the emotional intimacy that adults feel for each other when forming a new family unit, it can be confusing for children as there’s an expectation to feel close to someone that they have no real connection with yet. Allow your child time and space to get to know your new partner and their children. Encourage fun together, with appropriate boundaries.
When you are dating someone new, spend some time with their family and friends and find out what went wrong in their previous relationship. Consider how they get on with their own kids, or other children in general. Listen to how your child feels about your new partner. Make sure all children feel welcome, with a sense of belonging and equal opportunities and keep having one on one time with your children, so they know their relationship with you is still close and that they can rely on you and voice any worries.
Lastly, be open and explicit about privacy and touching rules, because you can’t expect them to have just naturally evolved out of a family culture in the case of a blended family. Things like who can be in the room when someone is in the bath should be discussed so that everyone knows how to be with each other. These should also be communicated to all others who might be in the home. Rules will likely need to be kept quite tight for a while, until trust and intimacy build.
Read more information about preventing and minimising sexual abuse in your family.