How do I approach a conversation with my child after an arrest has been made for a crime against a child in an organization or community with which we are involved?
You know your child. Here are some suggestions to adapt for your family’s needs, as this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you need additional resources, reach out to your local child advocacy center, sexual violence center, or mental health care provider.
- Talk to your child. It is better for your child to hear age-appropriate information from you than to hear things from their peers that might not be accurate or helpful. Let them know that if they have questions about this or hear things that might be confusing, that you want them to come to you with their questions.
- Be clear. For example, “We found out that one of the people who works at your skating club was arrested. It’s really important that anyone who works with kids respects rules about safety. Someone has come forward to say that this person didn’t know the rules about safety and (insert the crime here; for example, touched a child’s private parts, sent a photo where someone wasn’t wearing clothes, etc). Now the leaders are sorting out what happened, because everyone deserves to feel safe in their own body.”
- Don’t put all the focus on the one person/offender. If your child asks you who was arrested, you can tell them, as it is better to hear from you and build trusting conversations in a time that might feel scary. However don’t focus your energy on just one person. “Now that you are checking if this person knows the safety rules or not, it’s a good time for me to ask you if you have ever met ANYONE at our church who didn’t know the rules about bodies and touches? Has anyone ever made you feel unsafe or seemed too good to be true? If that ever happens, I want you to know that you can tell me about that. I won’t be mad at you and I would want to know.”
- Build their safety net of five adults. “I am very thankful that a child had someone to tell so that we can sort out what happened and hopefully make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s a kid’s job to be a kid and an adult’s job to keep kids safe. Do you have five adults that you can tell if you have a question about safety or if you feel unsafe? These five can help build your safety net. Let’s make that list or review that list now to help you remember that there are so many people out there who want to be helpful. If the first person you tell doesn’t know how to help you or is the person who doesn’t know the rules, you have four more people to tell.”
- Be a good friend. “We never know which of our friends may be having a hard time with this news. It’s extra important to make sure our words and actions are helping people and not hurting people. We can interrupt gossip and speak up if someone is being mean or rude about what is happening. You can come and talk to me if you want ideas about how to be a good friend or if a friend is struggling.”
- End on the positive. Remind your child that most adults and kids do know the rules about safety. Identify the helpers, and let your child know that every person has the right to feel safe. Tell them that it isn’t the child’s fault if an adult or older kid ignores the safety rules.
- Keep the invitation open. “If you have any questions about this or hear things about this that you aren’t sure are true, you can come and talk to me and we will work it out together. If you ever have a question about online or body safety, you can always come to me or someone else in your safety net.