At Home with kids

Protecting God’s Children for Adults

Challenging Times Call for a Change in Behavior
By Sharon Doty, J.D., M.H.R.As we rang in the New Year, few of us anticipated that within a few weeks our lives would be turned upside down due to a potentially deadly virus. Life in the midst of a pandemic has altered virtually every aspect of our lives. One area of particular impact is our life at home, and our day-to-day activities. Schools are closed and learning has moved completely online in many cases. Offices are closed and working parents are either finding a way to make working at home “work” or looking for new ways to support their families because their work has shut down completely. Parks and entertainment centers are closed and we are told not to be within six feet of each other to remain safe from a novel virus. Everyone is looking for ways to accommodate these challenging and disruptive circumstances. 

This is an article for people who have families living at home, and for those of us who don’t. It’s for those of us who interact regularly with children, and even for people who simply interact with others who care with children. Regardless, our relationships with others need to “keep going.” We need to stay connected in any way possible. And whether or not you have a family in your own home, or children inside the house, you may be called to reach out to someone in different or similar circumstances in which you find yourself—to help them.

For some, the time together at home has been an opportunity for family to reconnect and learn how to be together again after living for some time with everyone going their own way. However, for most of us, the situation has proven challenging and even scary at times. It is not just that we are unused to this level of “togetherness.” Being together is not really the problem. Being together, and confined to a limited space, and dealing with the threat of an illness that threatens life day in and day out, and adding in the need to now effectively “home school” our children—all contributes to unprecedented stress. 

No one wants to take that excess stress out on the youngest and most vulnerable among us—and yet, they are the youngest and most vulnerable. They understand the situation even less than we do. They don’t know why they can’t see their friends, or go to school or church, or even go to the park and play or invite the neighbors over to play in their yard. When children get bored and frustrated, they often act out and that acting out, coupled with the increased stress level for parents and guardians, can lead to an increased risk of abuse. And, where one type of abuse is present, other types of abuse can unfortunately follow.

Most domestic violence and child abuse of all types increase during times of perceived and real stress. There is historical evidence of this in data collected by shelters and child protection services following such things as major winter storms and earthquakes, school or office shootings, major job layoffs, and even extended illnesses in families. During and immediately after these events calls to report suspected child abuse or neglect and attempts to escape domestic violence situations rise dramatically. 

Given this history, it is generally accepted by professionals that children are at even greater risk of abuse in the current circumstances. The situation is even more risky now as there is no school, no sports practice, no music lesson, dance class or religious education program. A great many reports of suspected abuse come from observant teachers, youth ministers, coaches and others who see children daily. In this pandemic, these observers can no longer see the bruises or the changes in attitude and demeanor that often accompany child sexual abuse.                                                                 
Professionals are very concerned for the health and well-being of children during this time. Even parents who are not normally “at risk” of abusing children are dealing with extraordinary stress. Therefore, it is most important that each and every adult do things to reduce stress for families. For example, 

Pay closer attention to the actions, attitudes, and communication of children you come in contact with—in-person or online. Notice any dramatic change in behavior. Take note of an increase in aggressive behavior or a noticeable decline in a child’s participation. Remember to report “suspected” abuse of a child and let the authorities investigate. 

Set up a conference call with other parents or a weekly (or even daily) zoom call that includes an opportunity to pray together, express frustration and stress, and share ideas for dealing with challenges. Reach out to parents who seem to be “at wits end” and lend a comforting ear. 

Find ways to engage with your own children and the children you come in contact with that reduce stress and relieve tension. Activities such as creating a neighborhood art show of children’s drawings in chalk on the driveways, an animal hunt through the neighborhood looking for different stuffed animals hiding in the yards and gardens of neighbors, or planning a menu and cooking a meal together (or sweets!)—perhaps a dish that demonstrates a different culture. Invite the children to learn about and share information about the culture with others.

Find ways to do things separately—so you can have self-care, too. Set aside time during the day to be alone and do something for yourself-even if that only means listening to music on earphones while preparing lunch or dinner. Or setting the alarm 15 minutes early so that you can have that cup of coffee before anyone else wakes up. It can be as simple as a bath or shower or a fitness class, even one online through a free youtube video. Take time to read a book for fun or watch a movie with your spouse—or with everyone. 

Find ways to let everyone share openly about what they are dealing with and ask questions about what’s happening. Maybe take time at meals to share something new each person learned during the day. Don’t pretend everything is okay when it is not. Help your children understand that challenging and disruptive times do not mean “doom and gloom” or “hopelessness.” Making that clear for your children will clarify it for you also.

In times that are steeped in extraordinary stress, it takes courage, commitment, and creativity to deal with that stress in ways that avoid regrettable actions. Everyone is vulnerable in times like these, especially parents and children. Everyone is stressed and acting in unpredictable ways, especially parents and children. Everyone is feeling new, unfamiliar pressures, especially parents and children. Give yourself and your children a break and take time to find ways to reduce that excess stress, soften the environment, and reach out to others to help them do the same. If you don’t have children of your own, please see about how you can reach out to assist and help the vulnerable among us—even the people who don’t appear to be vulnerable. Everyone will be better for it.  

VIRTUS Protecting God's Children | Newport - Fort Loramie Pastoral ...

VIRTUS is a program created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group in the United States with a “Protecting God’s Children” component that combats sexual abuse of children in the Church. It is currently in use in over 80 dioceses in the United States. 

Protecting God’s Children for Adults
PrintGrooming: Psychological, Physical and Community By Paul Ashton, Psy.D., D.Min.  
“The best thing we can do for our children is to love them, support them and keep them safefrom harm and abuse. Anything other than that should be considered a failure.”              
 The Protecting God’s Children program highlights three important tactics that child abusers employ to get closer to children so that they can molest them, called grooming techniques. It is important to be aware of grooming so as to avoid situations that place you and the children in your care in danger. We watch and observe the behaviors of child abusers so that we can understand how they operate and what they do to get close to families and children. What we have found includes three categories of grooming: physical, psychological and community grooming.

Grooming is best defined as the “predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position that makes them more isolated, dependent, likely to trust, and more vulnerable to abusive behavior.” 

Victims of grooming can be anyone-children, adults and even the most savvy and sophisticated among us. We all think we are super aware of our surroundings and interactions, but those who employ grooming techniques are highly in tune with tricking us into believing that their intentions are pure. Without training, we don’t ` realize what has happened until it is way too late. This article will highlight ways in which you can heighten your awareness and put yourself in a better position to defend against any possible abuser. Keep in mind that it is difficult, and that hindsight is always 20/20. 

Let’s look at a non-related, but true example to illustrate what can happen to innocent people: A couple is selling some furniture through a reputable website. They get an offer from someone who calls and says they are out of town, but really want the furniture. They are coming into town in a week, but would you please hold the furniture for them. To solidify the deal, they will send you a bank check for the items. You agree and are enthused that you found a buyer. In a few days, a bank check arrives for a couple of hundred more than the cost of the items. You contact the buyer and inform them, and they tell you how sorry they are to have made an error. They tell you to please deposit the check or cash it and you can give them the cash overpayment when they come to pick up the furniture. You do so, and in a couple of days someone comes, picks up the furniture, and you hand them two-hundred dollars. Successful deal! Until the bank calls and informs you that the very realistic bank check that you deposited into your account is a fraud! It happens all the time. 

We are all vulnerable, because our inclination is to accept the assistance of others and to believe in the good intentions of our fellow human beings. Abusers target anyone and manipulate others into thinking that their seemingly good behavior, is, in fact, good. However, it is bad behavior disguised as good. 

Grooming is an insidious, predatory tactic, utilized by abusers. Grooming is practiced by Narcissists, Antisocial predators, con-artists and sexual aggressors, who target and manipulate vulnerable people for exploitation. Child grooming is the deliberate act of establishing an emotional bond with a child, to lower the child’s resistance. Child grooming can result in the minor falling victim to physical, sexual and emotional abuse, or specifically, to manipulate children into participating in slave labor, prostitution, and/or the production of child pornography. 

In the same way, adults are groomed so that perpetrators can have closer access to their children or the children under their care. Perpetrators get into the lives of the people in the targeted child’s life and apply the same psychological manipulation to all in the circle.

Physical grooming: Abusers touch in ways that appear innocent at first, and slowly progress to touch the child sexually. They build a bond with the child by gaining trust and a closeness that the child accepts as totally sincere. They manipulate the child to see the touch as harmless, yet it is a totally calculating process engaged by the molester which leads to sexual abuse.
Psychological grooming: The abuser uses all kinds of manipulation to make children feel special: time, attention, flattery, gifts, etc., to name a few. They make the child feel special, chosen and flattered. All the while, the perpetrator moves closer to the goal of molesting the child. Self-disclosures from abusers have denoted that they say what they are doing is helpful, kind and caring and thus, the child often does as well.
Community grooming: Abusers groom the community into believing that their intentions are pure and good. They make themselves present to parents, families and communities by volunteering, donating goods and money, time and any other number of things so that people think they are a wonderful asset. Everyone thinks they have good intentions and no one believes that they would harm a child.

Perpetrators connect with their victims. They forge special connections that create a world where secrets are kept and emotional, intellectual and spiritual boundaries are blurred and confused. Children and the adults in their life are prey to grooming. Everything always appears, looks, seems, sounds and feels good in the beginning. And then, it turns ugly where guilt and shame are operative, and a child has to deal with the wounds that can last for many years. The shame and guilt propel a life of secrecy where it remains in darkness until brought somehow to the light.

Be on guard! Be aware! There certainly may be plenty of folks in your life who are wonderful and helpful. But, be careful of anyone coming into your life who seems too good to be true, because it could be exactly that.