This post was written by
Dr. Claire McCarthy
, a primary care physician and the medical communications editor at
Boston Children’s Hospital.
Here in the Boston area, we’ve all been shaken by the news that
a known sexual offender raped and molested children for years
at a daycare just north of the city—even babies. It’s beyond
horrible. For those with a child in daycare, this story is especially
terrifying. You can’t
help thinking: could this happen to my child?
Ultimately, the sad truth is that we can’t always stop these things
from happening. That’s the thing about sexual predators like this guy:
remarkably good at hiding what they do. They choose and groom their
victims well. They seem like really nice people—so nice that the people
either don’t suspect anything, or brush aside their suspicions.
However, there are things that parents can do to help prevent sexual abuse—or any abuse—at daycare.
Do your homework when choosing a daycare
. I mean really do your homework.
Make sure the daycare is licensed (the one where this happened wasn’t). Here in Massachusetts you can use the
of the Department of Early Education and Care. You can also
call the department
to find out more about the history of the daycare. The National
Resource Center for Health and Safety in Childcare and Early Education
with licensing and contact information for all fifty states.
Find out about every single person who might come in contact with
your child (this is especially important at a family daycare, where it’s
employees that are around). Ask about background checks. Anybody who
is spending time with your child—especially if they will be alone with
have a background check.
Get references, Google the daycare, and otherwise try to find out what people know about it.
Visit when children are there. Spend some time, get a sense of the place, see all of it.
Ask detailed questions about how and where the children spend their day and who is with them at each moment.
This may seem like going overboard, and you might feel rude doing
it. Who cares? This is about your child’s safety. If there is anything
at all that
doesn’t seem right to you, don’t send your child there.
Keep doing your homework
. Once we’ve made a choice, it’s human nature to want to believe
that we were right. But sometimes we aren’t—and sometimes things change.
antennae up. Keep asking questions, especially if you notice a new
person or a change in routine. Definitely ask questions if something odd
your child’s clothes have been changed or there is an unexplained
bruise or scratch. Get to know the other parents, and keep in touch with
them; if someone
leaves the daycare, call them and ask why. Make unannounced visits.
Pay close attention to your child
. This is probably the most important thing. Ask lots of questions
about their day (without being too interrogatory—you’ll scare them).
Talk to them about
who they spent time with and what they did. If something bad happens
they might not tell you—they might not understand it, or they might
have been told to
keep it a secret—but if you are paying close enough attention,
you’ll notice something different about their behavior, such as sadness,
anger, fear or
withdrawal. Those behaviors can happen for all sorts of reasons that
have nothing to do with being hurt at daycare, but any change in
behavior should be a
reason to ask more questions and get those antennae up even more.
To make it more likely that your child will tell you if something happens, you should:
Talk to your child often. Make it something that you both feel comfortable doing.
Make sure your child knows the names of his or her body parts (the
real names)—and make it clear which parts are private, not to be seen or
Teach your child that no grownup should ever ask them to keep a secret—and if one does, they should come and tell you.
The good news is that most of the people you and your child will
ever meet are good people, not bad people. It’s really unlikely that
there will be a
sexual predator (or anyone else who might hurt your child) at
daycare. Just remember to be alert, and a little suspicious always. The
world may overall be
a good place (I truly believe it is), but it’s always best to be
careful and watchful. Especially when our children’s safety is involved.