Stop It Now! was recently contacted about their resources for parents during this time of national crisis. They wanted to share their guidance about how to safely approach emergency care needs for children.
Many parents are racing to find childcare right now, as schools close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether parents work inside or outside the home, nearly everyone will need childcare at some point over the next few weeks of social distancing and isolation.
Communities are seeing well-intended individuals offer to help neighbors with childcare, such as college students, community members on neighborhood Facebook groups or Nextdoor, and even via programs such as farm camps and “pop-up” daycares.
How can you assess and ensure your children’s safety when they need emergency care?
In the midst of these uncertain times, or really during any crisis that requires us to make quick decisions about our children, it’s natural to wonder how to proceed and whether we’re doing everything we can to keep our children safe physically and emotionally. Some parents may feel desperate, or feel pressured to make a quick decision about care for their children, while juggling many considerations. Making these decisions for our children in an emergency while also securing safe care options can feel overwhelming.
We get it. And we’ve put together some tips to help you feel more confident about the care choices you’re making.
If you are looking for in-home care from an individual in your community, here are some suggestions to help strengthen your childcare selection when you need to quickly find someone to watch your child(ren):
- If possible, select someone already known to you and/or your family. Seek recommendations from people you know, as opposed to responding to posts on social media and networking groups. It may seem incredibly generous, kind and even “too good to be true” when a neighbor offers to watch your children – but even as busy and distracted as we might get in these anxious times, we have to pay attention to Signs An Adult Is At-Risk To Harm A Child and Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children to help us better assess someone’s safety potential.
- Most importantly, parents need to trust their intuition. If you have an uncomfortable feeling about someone – trust that. Sometimes the unconscious mind can pick up on things we aren’t aware of.
- Get references. Even if you or your family knows the person offering to watch your children, ask if you can have a quick call with someone who has worked with this person or knows them beyond your social circle. Find out about their experience being with children, either personally or professionally, and ask whether there are any concerns about this person being responsible for children.
- Talk about safety planning with anyone who is responsible for watching your children. Have a conversation that clearly describes the rules in your home – review your family’s safety rules around boundaries and privacy. Let them know that you have reviewed these same safety rules with your children and that you regularly talk with them about safe and unsafe behaviors. Show this person that you are an involved and vigilant parent.
- Avoid situations that isolate a caregiver and your child. Inform your caregivers that you will be in regular contact, how you will stay in touch and that you look forward to checking in with your child regularly as well. If possible, have other friends or family do check-ins, either in person or through video chats. Look for opportunities, even while you might be at work, to stay engaged in your child’s day and activities.
- Provide as much structure as possible. Prepare activities and determine allowable video content in advance. Clearly identify where your child is allowed to go and what activities they are able to participate in.
While these additional tip sheets are more geared for child care and school searches when we’re not feeling pressured for time and in crisis mode, we do suggest you review Questions Parents Should Ask About School Policies and Safety in Day Care. These tip sheets help parents learn more about selecting and working with schools and programs around children’s sexual safety.
Look also to your local schools, municipalities and other institutions that already provide care year-round. Camps, universities, after school and community-based programs may offer extended childcare services. If you are considering childcare in a “pop-up” program, ensure it is part of an existing youth-serving organization. As established childcare providers, these organizations should have policies and procedures in place to ensure children’s safety. This is standard practice for them, and they should be willing and comfortable to talk about your concerns. If the organization or business has never offered care before, it is probably best to think about other options.
Regardless of the type of care:
- Talk to your children and review safety rules regularly. Talk about safe behaviors and identify safe people for them to talk to more frequently during these temporary, emergency situations. Remind them that they are never in trouble for talking to you about anything that worries them.
- Make sure children and caregivers know that in these new and temporary care situations, children have permission to use their phone or other contact modes to reach you.
- Make use of daily check-ins with your children. Ask questions that help them talk more in-depth about what they enjoyed, what was difficult or confusing, what activities they did, etc. Ask questions about their care provider, such as what was their favorite thing and least liked thing they did together.
Listen to your children. While children may respond adversely in any new situation, pay attention to warning signs in children that could indicate that their safety is at risk, and ask them questions when they tell you they don’t like their new babysitter or seem hesitant to stay alone with someone.
Safety planning during the unexpected can certainly be more complicated, and it can feel stressful. Parents have difficult decisions to make and have to weigh many needs and options. This may feel like the time to take some shortcuts, overlook something that normally would raise a red flag, accept offers of help from people not familiar with your children, or in some other way be less scrutinizing than normal. However, during difficult times, one of the best things we can do is practice increased watchfulness. Ask more questions, provide more structure, follow up on concerns, and trust your gut. With safety planning and proactive steps, you can strengthen your child’s environement.
Take care and be safe,
Stop It Now!