Asking the Right Questions: Caregivers
By: Carole Swiecicki, PhD July 19, 2021
Entrusting your child with someone is a gift – both for the person/agency and for you! Whether it is for a visit with friends or family, school, after-school activity, or camp, children frequently are with other caregivers. These times are valuable for parents to do things they need and offer important opportunities for creativity, education and development for children. Nonetheless, the more people a child interacts with, the greater the risk that one of the caregivers may engage in abusive behaviors.
As your child’s caregiver, YOU hold the power in deciding who, when, and how your child will be with other caregivers. It might not always feel like you have choices when childcare options are limited, or because your child is zoned to a particular school. But you do. Even in situations like these, you can ask direct questions about child protection behaviors and policies. If you are not satisfied with the responses, move on to a new organization/caregiver or continue asking people higher in the organization – you may just be the person to create change to protect both your child and others! Here are some tips on questions to ask:
- What led you/your program to do this work?
- It can help to start these conversations on a more neutral, positive note by asking in general about their interest in work with children. You are looking for answers that align with your parenting philosophy – whether that is to provide overall support to the family, to provide enrichment activities for children, to educate our youth, etc.
- For individual caregivers: How do you handle child misbehavior? Do you use or allow physical discipline? For programs/schools: How does your program handle child misbehavior? Do you allow physical discipline?
- Physical abuse is one of the most common forms of child abuse. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse physical discipline as a method for responding to child misbehavior. If programs allow it, move on or speak to a supervisor about it.
- For programs, follow up by asking – What action do you take if an employee uses physical discipline? It is important that employees that violate this policy are disciplined, including not being allowed to interact with children and/or being terminated.
- For individual caregivers: Are you comfortable with me running a background check? For programs: What background checks do you run on employees?
- It is important to recognize that background checks only find instances of abuse or behaviors that have ALREADY been reported, investigated, and found to have happened. This is a small percentage of actual abuse that happens. Thus, relying on background checks alone is not sufficient to reduce the risk for abuse. However, asking this question sends a message to the person and/or agency that monitoring for abuse risk is important to you. This in and of itself makes them recognize that you are aware of abuse risk, and are not as vulnerable to abuse.
- Individuals must be comfortable with you running a background check. These can be done through childcare agencies such as care.com or enannysource.com.
- Agencies/programs must have policies in place that state they run both criminal and DSS registry checks on employees that interact with children. Many agencies do not run DSS registry checks, which include more people than criminal registries because the burden of proof is lower in these courts than in criminal court. It is also important that agencies have a designated person who receives and reviews the reports once run.
- For agencies: What policies do you have in place to reduce the risk for an employee sexually abusing a child? What policies do you have in place if a child tells an employee that he/she is being touched on their private parts?
- Agencies can take steps to minimize these risks. It is important to reduce 1:1 time among adults and children, to leave doors open at all times (or have windows installed indoors so that the space is not physically private), and to encourage/allow caregivers to drop in unannounced.
- Any agency caring for children needs to mandate that if a child discloses possible sexual abuse, they are required to make a report to authorities (law enforcement and/or social services).
- For individuals: Are you comfortable with a “nanny cam?” What would you do if a child tells you that he/she is being touched on their private parts?
- The ability to drop in unannounced and/or monitor interactions among the caregiver and your child can reduce the risk for child abuse. However, honesty and transparency are also important in building trust. It can help to ask this question at the outset of the childcare relationship, so that the person is aware you will be monitoring their actions, even if they do not know where cameras are.
- It is important that caregivers become comfortable discussing the topic of a child disclosing to them, and are aware that you are a parent that has these conversations. Ultimately, it is essential that they bring this information to the attention of an adult that will seek the help of professionals for the child.
Although finding qualified caregivers and child activities can sometimes be daunting, with support you can find your “village” to create a safe, healthy, and positive environment for your child’s development.