Stay calm. The most important thing parents need to remember to do when helping their children cope with sexual abuse is to stay calm, said Valerie Macri-Lind, director of child services at ChildSafe.
“When parents get angry the kids think they did something wrong,” Macri-Lind said. “It’s important to tell the child it was not their fault.”
ChildSafe is an outpatient treatment system for sexual abuse. ChildSafe provides assistance for victims and families with group, individual and family therapy.
When a child is sexually abused it is normal for them and their parents to feel angry, depressed, cry, want to hurt people and feel guilty, Macri-Lind said.
Parents often feel responsible for what has happened.
“You can not protect your child 100 percent of the time, 24/7,” said Kandy Moore, director of victim services for ChildSafe.
Parents need to get support for themselves, such as going to therapy or talking with friends, Moore said. Parents also need to make sure they don’t interrogate the children about what happened, and be prepared to listen.
When parents suspect that their child may have been sexually abused they should look for a drastic change, signs of stress and/or sexual kinds of behavior such as displaying or talking about adult sexual behavior, Moore and Macri-Lind said.
The signs do not necessarily mean sexual abuse has occurred though, Marci-Lind said. When sexual abuse has occurred or if parents suspect it has occurred, it is important for the family to get outside professional help to talk to the children, Moore said. Professionals can ask questions in non-leading, calm ways, she said.
Therapy can be modified to fit the individual victim. Treatment is individualized and methods of therapy are decided on a case-by-case basis, Moore said.
Children under eight years old are usually treated with play therapy, Marci-Lind said. In play therapy toys are used metaphorically to direct the child’s therapy.
“For children, play is their language,” she said. “(Play therapy) can be very empowering. (The victim) can recreate the abuse and come out as the powerful one.”
For older children talking and activities can be used. Things such as art and role-playing can be used to help the victim find their personal power again, Moore said.
Seventy-five percent of children in Colorado are in childcare by the time they are eight years old, said Gail Wilson, executive director of the Colorado Office of Resource and Referral Agencies.
“The quality of childcare is very important for school readiness, and emotional and social development,” she said.
Childcare professionals may deal with children coming from many different situations at home such as domestic violence, family death or sexual abuse. For this reason, childcare professionals learn how to be support systems and know how to identify abnormal behavior, although they are not psychological counselors, Wilson said.
“(Professionals) may be the first line to help (children) work through (problems),” she said.
Colorado has recently adopted a policy where a licensed nurse visits each licensed childcare center on a monthly basis.
Just because a childcare center is licensed doesn’t guarantee they are a good center, Wilson said. All license histories for day cares are kept on record at local resource and referral agencies and are public record. If a center has a lot of complaints or has repeatedly violated its license it may not be a good center, she said.
When looking for a good childcare center, local resource and referral agencies can be a good place to start, Wilson said. It is also important to ask about a childcare center’s license, stability, professional development and more.
“Cheap (childcare centers) may not have the same level of staff as one moderately priced,” she said. “You get what you pay for.”
-Edited by Shandra Jordan and Ben Koerselman