Sexual Abuse in Day Care Centers

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Parents have a responsibility to protect their children and that includes protecting them from sexual abuse.  This means that a parent should always be on the alert for signs or symptoms that their child is, or has been, exposed to a sexual abuser.  A child should never have to bear the burden of preventing sexual abuse or for fighting off the abuser.  Quite often, sexual abusers are in positions of authority or trust, such as day care workers, and the child may be confused about their role.  In addition, those in authority will often use coercion, trickery, bribes or treats to entice the child into inappropriate sexual situations.

Awareness plays a big role in preventing sexual abuse.  The Texas legislature passed Jenna’s Law in 2009 that mandates all public school districts adopt and implement policies aimed at prevention and increasing awareness of the sexual abuse of children.  This law was amended in 2011 to include day care centers, charter schools, and child placement agencies.

Indications of Sexual Abuse

While most states require criminal background checks for day care workers, criminal background checks often don’t stop the abusers and should not be relied exclusively to rule out sexual abusers; studies have shown that less than 10% of sexual abusers of children will ever enter the criminal justice system.  While criminal background checks are necessary, the problem can best be addressed through education and training: raising awareness of the indications of abuse along with the methods of prevention.   There are a number of red flags that might indicate the presence of sexual abuse.  These indicators include when the child:

  • undergoes sudden and significant behavioral changes such as lack of appetite, tantrums, withdrawal or depression, fear of being left alone, sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • is suddenly nervous to be around a specific adult when they weren’t before
  • is unusually nervous in a formerly enjoyed situation or location
  • exhibits age inappropriate sexual languaging skills
  • exhibits age inappropriate or advanced types of sexual actions and behaviors
  • asks questions using slang or vulgar sexual terms
  • is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted venereal disease

Prevention of Sexual Abuse

Most sexual abuse doesn’t just happen one day; it often occurs gradually over time as the abuser has unfettered access to the child and is able to gain their trust.  There are a number of ways you can prevent sexual abuse, including:

  • Make sure your child care arrangement never allows a child to be alone privately with a caretaker
  • Never leave your child alone with just one caretaker during restroom breaks or at nap time
  • Immediately stop any questionable interactions brought to your attention
  • Make sure all of your child’s activities are supervised by more than one adult

Parents can prevent sexual abuse by helping the child develop strong self esteem and a sense of what is appropriate personal body space.  Children who have strong esteem and are taught that they have a say in how their body can be touched are better able to resist inappropriate sexual behavior and they won’t be fearful of reporting inappropriate sexual behavior or touching to their parents.