How can we tell if a babysitter has acted inappropriately with our children? We’re concerned that our babysitter may have abused our child.
Answer: We feel for you in this difficult and uncertain situation. According to our counsellors, how you should approach it and what you should be looking for depends on the age of your child. But generally speaking, you should keep an eye out for noticeable shifts in normal behaviour.
Youngsters in primary school 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’s been sexually abused may begin to act out sexually with siblings or other children in the neighbourhood, or become obsessed 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. Blood in your child’s underpants might also be a sign that sexual abuse has occurred.
With smaller children, watch for signs of injury or irritation of the genital area, and have your child examined by their doctor if you discover any unexplainable irregularities. Also observe for night-time restlessness, nightmares, and disruptions in established sleep patterns. Monitor your child’s daily activities and ask yourself whether his or her mental, emotional or physical equilibrium seems to be 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 them acting 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 mums and dads avoid using babysitters other than a trusted family member until a child is sufficiently verbal to tell them what goes on during their absence.)
Older children who might 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 or helping you with simple chores like sweeping the floor or washing the dishes. 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.
If you need help, don’t hesitate to engage the services of a trained child play therapist. Call our Family Support Services at 03-3310 0792 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org for a referral.
If at any point you become convinced that abuse has occurred, contact the Department of Social Welfare and/or your local Police Department 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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