Preparing for a visit to the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre
When preparing a child for a visit to the CAC, it is important to provide age appropriate information. It is often a good idea to tell children who they will be meeting, and provide a brief description of the professional’s role and why they will be meeting them. Asking them how they feel about going and what questions they have will also help to prepare them for their appointment. Let the child know that if any questions cannot be answered now, the child can ask the professional working with them.
Regarding the timing of this discussion, it is a good idea to tell younger children about the appointment only a day or two before the meeting; longer than this may cause anxiety. For older children (8 years and older), it is a good idea to let them know several days prior to the appointment so this gives them an opportunity to ask questions and talk about how they are feeling about the upcoming visit.
Remember: information is power. Often, when children are able to ask questions and get a good understanding of who they will be meeting, their anxiety can be significantly decreased.
The professional from the CAC can also advise on what to say and how to prepare the child for the visit. When arranging the appointment, ask the professionals questions to assist in supporting the child and family.
What to bring along for the child’s appointment
It is a good idea to be prepared because appointments can last awhile. If the child has any allergies or dietary needs, bring snacks that they can eat. It isa good idea for everyone to be well rested and have had something to eat. Sometimes it is beneficial to bring an extra set of clothing, in case it is needed. Diapers available at the CAC if needed.
The length of the visit
The length of the visit will depend on what type of service the child is receiving that day. Some appointments will be for a scheduled amount of time and others will depend on the situation. Therapy appointments will have set times, while police and child protection interviews and medical assessments will depend on the situation. It is not uncommon for police interviews to take a long time.
The role of the parent in the investigation
The parent and other members of the family may be interviewed as part of the investigation. It is the role of the investigation team to complete thorough investigations, which means gathering all relevant evidence and an in-depth understanding of what happened.
It is important that parent do not play the role of the investigator. This is the role of the professionals and if parents attempt to do this as well, it could significantly jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.
When the child wants to talk or is asking questions, it is important to listen and avoid asking direct or follow-up questions. A parent has an important role to play in their child’s life. By supporting them listening to them, walking with them through the process and being there to hug and support them, parents give their children exactly what they need and what only parents can give.
How parents can support and protect their child
Many caregivers feel overwhelmed, scared or unsure about how to support and protect their child during this process. Parents are one of their child’s most valuable resources. Parents can help their child by offering continual, consistent support throughout the entire process and ensuring by ensuring that parents’ own needs are met so that they are well equipped to provide that support.
Keeping the child safe is priority. If parents are aware that the child is experiencing abuse, keep them away from the abusive person. Parents should show the child that they are a safe place and that the child can talk the about difficult issues.
Parents should also have conversations with children about appropriate and inappropriate attention from others and where to go if they need help. The conversation should be kept open and parents should learn to recognize the signs a child may display that may indicate something is not right.
Parents should let the child know that no matter what happens, the parentis going to do their best to be there for them. They should avoid making promises that cannot be kept. For example, they should not promise that police will lay charges or that the alleged offender will go to jail because this may not come true.
The child may not want to talk about how they are feeling, but it is important to let them know that whenever they are ready to talk, their parent is going to be there for them. When they do want to talk it is important that parents do not search for details, but that they listen and support their feelings.
In supporting the child, it is important to recognize the resources and supports that are available. Accessing support when needed is crucial in how much a child can be supported.
How to react if a child talks about what happened
The most important things to do after hearing a disclosure is to:
- believe the child
- assure them it was not their fault
- provide emotional support
- ensure the child receives appropriate medical or emotional interventions
- protect the child from further abuse
- continue to monitor, supervise and spend time with the child
It is important that the child feels supported, listened to and understood. Believing, supporting and validating feelings is the strongest way to communicate support.
Every parent, sibling, friend or family member may react differently when hearing a child speak about this kind of experience. It is important for each to recognize their own feelings. This includes personal feelings and feelings about the child, the alleged offender and the system.
Assure the child that it is not them who caused feelings of upset, anger or sadness, but rather what it is happened to them that caused these feelings. The key here is that children look to their caregivers to model appropriate responses. Everyone will react differently, but it is important that the reaction and the show of feelings about the disclosure be recognized. A child will pick up on outward expressions.
What or how much to tell other children in the family about the investigation and about what is going on
Child abuse does not just impact the child who is experiencing the abuse, it also impacts siblings and families in a significant way. While parents may be dealing with feelings of fear, anxiousness and worry, other children in the family may be feeling the same way.
No two children are the same and each one of them may experience different feelings and react in different ways. Giving children a safe place to share their feelings and spending time together is very important. It can be a scary time for the whole family.
Avoiding too much detail and giving general answers is best because sharing too much detail can impact the direction of the case when it goes to court. A child does not need to know the specific details of what is going on, but they do need to know that they are going to be safe and cared for. Recognizing the child’s needs and worries will help answer their questions.
If the child discloses more details after the interview has been completed
It is not uncommon for children to remember pieces of details at what appears to be random times. Paying attention to the child and the little phrases and cues they send you is key.
If the child discloses new information, parents should avoid asking follow-up questions.Instead parents should listen and write down the details the child provided in their words. Notify the primary investigator on the file and let them know the new details.
Where to go for more information about the process
For any questions about the police investigation process, contact the primary investigator assigned to the file. Once a file has been assigned, the primary investigator will call the parent and let them know they are assigned to the file. Parents who are unsure about who the primary investigator is can call Victim Support at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre at 403.428.5408.
Once you have reported the abuse, Calgary Region Child and Family Services will assess what action needs to be taken to ensure a child is not at risk. Calgary Region Child and Family Services can also be a support if new information about the child’s experience is disclosed.