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My child's school didn't notify me of an incident, what can I do to make sure she's safe?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My child has been aggressively grabbed in her privates by another child (repeatedly). This continues to happen at my 4 year olds daycare over the last week and I'm concerned the director is not doing enough to stop it. Three different teachers were told by my daughter what happened and none of them reported it to the director or myself. The first day it happened her privates were red so I know something definitely happened. How serious is this? It's easy to over react as a parent but I don't want to take it lightly either. Any recommended steps I can take?

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Parent,

As a parent, you entrust your child’s school to care for your daughter while she is there. It is certainly frustrating and no doubt worrisome when your child’s school is not responding or communicating effectively with you. Whenever a parent feels concerned, it is important to speak up and look for resources to ensure your child is safe. I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us.

You certainly have not overreacted. It is concerning that neither you nor the director were not notified about the incident between your daughter and another child at daycare. Safety in Daycare and Educational Settings is very important.

Children's Sexual Behaviors
When a child sexually harms another child, it is often for very different reasons than when an adult does: a child may be confused about appropriate boundaries, may have been exposed to content that was more mature than appropriate for their age, perhaps is struggling with an impulse control problem or is dealing with other stressors. Children often don’t understand the full ramifications of their actions, and because of this, if a child acts out sexually or behaviorally, extra support and supervision is often the best way to ensure that every child’s needs are being addressed adequately.

It sounds like your daughter spoke up every time this occurred, and it was not addressed properly with anyone. It is important for every childcare facility to have policies and processes not only for addressing this situation with the administration, but with the parents of the children, and of course with care to the children involved as well.

School Policies
This would be a great opportunity to find out what policies your child’s daycare has in place regarding hiring, safety planning, responding to incidents, and other precautions. Further, you may even want to reach out to other parents in this daycare – perhaps even the parent of the child who grabbed your daughter – to see how they feel about how the daycare dealt with this situation. This may aid you in organizing your thoughts and also in having allies when you ask for a meeting with the director.

When you talk to the administrative staff again, I would want to know things like: What steps do you have in place when my child does have a behavioral incident (are they equipped to handle my child and keep her safe)? When do parents get notified about their child (When they’re hurt? Sick? After significant rule breaking? At the discretion of the school?)? Why wasn’t I notified about this incident between my daughter and another child? Similarly, why wasn’t the director notified? You may want to look at the Questions Parents Should Ask About School Policies to further gain insight on what you can ask your daughter’s daycare in regards to what safety measures it has in place.

Preventative and Proactive Measures
Having this important conversation with the director will not only clarify what sort of preventative measures are in place to keep the children safe in school, but will also let you both know whether they handled this situation between your child and her classmate according to their policies. If they did handle this according to their policy, this may open up a broader question as to whether or not they handle youth-youth sexual interactions with respect and care. These types of interactions are common, and teachers and staff should make them a positive teachable moment, while also keeping everyone safe.

It is important to make sure your daughter’s school is adequately safeguarded and has preventative policies in place. It is also vital that professionals and staff alike respond to children with sensitivity: re-directing the child and teaching healthy sexuality in an informative respectful way, while encouraging a healthy environment.

Reporting
Finally, since it was the daycare that was supervising both children at the time, I’m wondering if there was a Report filed to your local Child Protective Services (CPS). Teachers are in fact mandated reporters, and since a child repeatedly grabbed your daughter’s genitals, the onus would be on them to have reported this to CPS. It would be important to find out if CPS has been contacted already, and if not, why. Should CPS choose to open the investigation, they are often a helpful resource to ensure that all the children involved get the help, support, and protection they need. The number for CPS in California is: 1.800.4A.CHILD or 1.800.422.4253.

As always, trust your gut instinct. If you don’t think this environment is one where your child is safe, you may want to explore different options for you and your daughter. However, I hope that this incident induces a productive discussion on the proactive measures being put in place at your daughter’s daycare.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: February 4th, 2016