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How to Protect Your Child

Take the time to talk to your child.

  • Be calm and confident before discussing this topic with your child.
  • Do not scare your child; your tone should be neutral, educational and empowering.
  • Let your child know that you are always there for him/her and always want to protect him/her.
  • Teach your child that the parts of their body that a bathing suit covers are private parts and that no one is allowed to see or touch them there.
  • Allow time for your child to process and to ask you questions.
  • Have your child identify 5 safe people they can talk to if someone ever makes them uncomfortable.
  • Make talking to your child about personal safety an ongoing dialogue rather than a single conversation.
  • It’s important not to interrogate children. Ask simple, open-ended questions in a calm manner: "Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable or scared? Has anyone ever asked you to keep a secret?"

Familiarize yourself with the policies and practices of organizations where your children spend time.

  • Confirm background checks are conducted on all employees and volunteers.
  • Ensure policies are in place that prohibit situations where an adult can be alone with your child in one room when no one else is around.
  • Talk to your child to find out if the policies are being followed when you are not there. 
  • Require all staff and volunteers to be trained annually on child safety and on how to make a report. 

Be vigilant and ASK questions!

  • Watch for changes in your child’s behavior. If your child is reluctant to go certain places or to be with certain people, ask questions.
  • Notice their behavior before and after spending time alone with an adult. 

If a child does reveal something concerning, believe the child. Reassure him/her that he/she has done the right thing in telling you and that what happened is absolutely not their fault. Call CPS (800) 252-5400 or local law enforcement to report your concerns.

Please do not interview children or contact the alleged offender—report your suspicions and let the appropriate authorities investigate.

Types of Child Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent or guardian that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm. Physical abuse also includes failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person that results in physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child.
Definition taken from Texas State Family Code, Section 261.001.

Neglect

The leaving of a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, without arranging for necessary care for the child, and the demonstration of an intent not to return by a parent or guardian of the child.
Definition taken from Texas State Family Code, Section 261.001.

Emotional Abuse

Inflicting mental or emotional injury to a child, and/or causing or permitting the child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.
Definition taken from Texas State Family Code, Section 261.001.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare, including conduct that constitutes the offense of indecency with a child, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault; failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child; compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct; and causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing the photographing, filming or depicting of the child if the person knew or should have known that the resulting photograph, film, or depiction of the child is obscene or pornographic.
Definition taken from Texas State Family Code, Section 261.001.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

The following are signs commonly associated with abuse, but they are not absolutes. This list is not a checklist but a guide to help identify abuse when it is present.

Physical Abuse

  • Frequent injuries that are unexplained and/or when the child or parent cannot adequately explain injury causes such as: bruises, cuts, black eyes, fractures, burns
  • Burns or bruises in an unusual pattern that may indicate the use of an instrument
  • Lack of reaction to pain
  • Injuries that appear after the child has not been seen for several days
  • Evidence of delayed or inappropriate treatment for injuries
  • Injuries involving the face, backs of hands, buttocks, genital area, abdomen, back, or sides of the body
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
  • Complaints of soreness or discomfort when moving
  • Aggressive, disruptive, and destructive or self-destructive behavior
  • Passive, withdrawn, emotionless behavior
  • Fear of going home or seeing parents

Neglect

  • Obvious malnourishment or inadequate nutrition
  • Lack of personal cleanliness
  • Torn and/or dirty clothes
  • Need for glasses, dental care, or other unattended medical attention
  • Consistent hunger, stealing or begging for food
  • Distended stomach, emaciated
  • Lack of supervision for long periods of time
  • Frequent absence or tardiness from school
  • Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness or falls asleep in class
  • Reports that no caretaker is at home
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Extreme loneliness and need for affection

Emotional Abuse

  • Speech disorders
  • Delayed physical development
  • Substance abuse
  • Ulcers, asthma, severe allergies
  • Habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting)
  • Antisocial or destructive behaviors
  • Delinquent behaviors (especially adolescents)
  • Developmentally delayed

Sexual Abuse

  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
  • Pain, swelling, or itching in genital area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Excessive seductiveness, inappropriate sex play, or premature understanding of sex
  • Role reversal, overly concerned for siblings
  • Significant weight change
  • Suicide attempts (especially adolescents)
  • Threatened by physical contact or closeness
  • Extreme fear of being alone with adults, especially if of a particular gender
  • Sudden refusal to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Sexual victimization of other children
  • Major change in normal mood or behavior

Child Abuse FAQ

I couldn't imagine my child enduring abuse. How is it possible for an abuser to convince my child to participate?

Abusers devise a thorough plan to manipulate the child and his/her family. By manipulating the child and his/her family, the abuser grooms the child and the family to gain trust. The abuser now uses his/her relationship with the family to take advantage of one-on-one time with the child. Once the victim has been groomed, it becomes difficult for a child to escape abuse or feel comfortable telling someone about the abuse. The grooming has created a sense of loyalty from the child to the abuser; in approximately 95% of abuse cases, the child knew and trusted their abuser.

What does it mean when a perpetrator "grooms" a child or family?

Grooming is when a perpetrator builds a relationship with a child and builds trust. Grooming makes it difficult to escape the abuse and keeps the child from telling, as he/she likes the person and feels loyalty to him/her. It makes the child feel that it is his/her fault. At times, power and authority is used as a tool.

It is important to recognize when grooming may be occurring; once a child is groomed they internalize the abuse as their own fault, making the possibility of them telling someone minimal. Some signs of grooming to look for:

  • Buying the child gifts/giving the child money
  • Finding excuses for one-on-one time with the child
  • Treating the child as more special than other children
  • Viewing child when nude or exposing child to nudity/pornography
  • Excessive appropriate touching/inappropriate touching
  • Talking about sexual activity with a child 

What is involved regarding sexual abuse between an abuser and a child?

Perpetrators downplay the defenses of children by explaining they were merely playing a "game". Abuse usually begins with touching and kissing and progresses to more severe sexual activity. The perpetrator often creates names for the child's and his/her own genitals to lessen the child's alarm at what is happening.

I believe my child tells me everything. Wouldn't he/she tell me if he/she was being abused?

Abusers manipulate children into keeping the abuse a secret. Children feel helpless to disclose the abuse, due to the fact that the abuser has told them many reasons why the child shouldn't tell.

Some reasons why a child would not tell include:

  • The abuser is a trusted friend/family member; the child thinks no one will believe him/her
  • The child feels ashamed or embarrassed
  • The abuser has threatened the child or the child's family
  • The abuser blames the child; the child feels responsible and doesn't want to get in trouble
  • The abuser bribes the child
  • The child likes his/her abuser and doesn't want the abuser to get in trouble 

If my child doesn't tell me about abuse, how else can I find out if abuse has occurred?

Some signs to look for in a child suffering from abuse are:

  • Child acts out sexually or behaviorally
  • Child develops venereal disease and infections
  • Child has frequent fears, anxieties, nightmares
  • Child has poor self-esteem or depression
  • Adolescents may run away, commit crimes, or abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Adolescents become withdrawn and depressed
  • Adolescents are self-injurious or suicidal

It is important to note that many times children and adolescents display no symptoms (over 1/3 of confirmed cases). For this reason, it is important to do whatever you can to prevent and educate your children about abuse. Talk to your children about "welcome" and "unwelcome" touches. Empower them to say "no" and what to do in uncomfortable situations. They should know to tell you or another trusted adult if someone has made them uncomfortable. If you can't see the symptoms of abuse, giving your child the opportunity for open dialogue can make all the difference in preventing and treating sexual abuse.

My child has been sexually abused. What will this abuse do to their mental health?

Common mental health issues that plague children include:

  • Depression - Victims are 3-5 times more likely to suffer from depression. 
  • Damaged goods syndrome - "No one will want me now because I've been abused." 
  • Distorted body image - eating disorders 
  • Low self-esteem and poor social skills 
  • Poor development and immaturity 
  • Anger and hostility
  • Inability to trust 

Do we as parents need to be concerned about the validity of our child's allegation of sexual abuse?

Children rarely lie about abuse. Only 2-8% of allegations are false; therefore the overwhelming majority of true allegations beg you as a parent to believe your child. Additionally, questions of a child's credibility arise when court cases involving divorce and child custody are involved. We urge you to always believe your child and follow through with the next step of reporting.

We didn't think therapy was necessary when we were referred, but now we think it would help. Is it too late?

It’s never too late to start receiving services. Please call our main line at 214.818.2600 to schedule an intake.

Does DCAC provide on-call services?

Yes. DCAC provides on-call services for families in crisis. Please call 214.818.2600.

My child received therapy previously, but would benefit from returning. Is this an option?

Many children are able to graduate successfully from therapy, but may need to come back as they enter into a new developmental stage. This is normal and expected. Please feel free to call our main line to talk to a therapist about whether not your child should return to therapy.

Does my child have to attend therapy?

Counseling is not necessary in all cases of abuse, but it can be very helpful for many children. Although sometimes parents feel they would like their child to just forget about what happened and move on, this may actually increase the stress on a child. When the situation is handled in a direct and sensitive way, the negative effects on the child can be reduced. With consistent attendance, most children are able to successfully complete therapy over the course of a few months.