Young children need constant supervision, and we always want to know who is watching our children. But what happens when your reliable, fully vetted childcare is no longer available due to COVID-19? There are many risks specific to children during this pandemic, and among the largest is the risk for potential physical and sexual abuse.
Resources such as familial supports, religious groups, social supports, and childcare, may suddenly become unavailable due to COVID-19 and leave you and your family in need. An example of this could be a parent who typically brings their child to a daycare center they have carefully chosen while they are at work. Due to COVID-19, the daycare center is closed, but the parent must still report to work as usual. This parent now must find someone to care for their child while they are at work, and they do not have as much time to carefully vet out a caretaker. This parent may leave their child with someone who they typically would not, or would prefer to do more research on, but does not have another option. This can create an opportunity for abuse.
Another example of this is a child who will be left home alone for the first time or a time when they typically would not be left alone because their parent must work and could not find another option for them. This child is now susceptible to dangers in the home as well as others entering the home.
How to Protect Your Child
If you have not spoken with your child about physical boundaries yet, now may be a good time to start. Using age-appropriate language, have a conversation with your child about physical touch, including what is allowed, and what is not.
· Explain that your child has a say in how every adult touches them.
· Explain “private parts” to your child. You could tell them that anywhere a bathing suit covers is not okay for anyone to touch.
· Let your children know that it is not okay for the person who will watch them while you are away to hit them in any way.
· Call or drop in unexpectedly. If you are unable to do so, have a trusted friend or family member do so for you.
· Ensure that your child understands that they can talk to you if something makes them uncomfortable.
· If your child is old enough to use a phone, make sure they have a number where you can be reached, as well as the number for a trusted adult if you are unavailable
· Gather and check on references for potential babysitters or daycare centers
· Let the person caring for your child know that you have spoken to your child about physical boundaries and that they are not afraid to tell you if something makes them uncomfortable.
· Set ground rules with your new sitter. Review discipline, and ensure they understand that they are not to physically discipline the children. Let them know that doors should remain open and out-of-the-way spaces are off-limits
· Consider leaving a craft or activity that the caregiver can supply supervision for and will occupy time while you are away.
· If you have an infant, review safe sleep and ensure the caregiver can demonstrate their understanding
Darkness to Light is providing a free 30-minute online training about safety during a crisis and can provide additional resources and information.