Ways to safeguard against child abuse

• ALWAYS look for group situations to involve your child in rather than placing your child alone with one adult. Strongly encourage policies limiting one-adult, one-child situations in all youth-related activities such as in faith groups, sports teams and school clubs.

• Make sure parents/caregivers can observe or interrupt activities at any time. Also make sure that background checks have been done on all volunteers and others working directly with children.

• Monitor your child’s Internet use. The Internet has become the playground for paedophiles to interact with children. Their goal is to lure them into physical contact after gaining their trust.

• Talk about it — children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.

• Know how children communicate. Children who do disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent.

• Teach your child about their body, about what abuse is and, as age-appropriate, about sex. Teach words that will help them discuss sex comfortably with you and teach your child that it is against the “rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with children and use examples.

• Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.

• Learn the signs. Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes or swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections or other such symptoms should be investigated carefully. Also, physical problems associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur. Emotional or behavioural signals are more common. This can include“too perfect” behaviour to withdrawal and depression and unexplained anger and rebellion.

• Notice a child’s fear of going home.

• Notice if there is an unexplained drop in a child’s attendance at school. Children may be unable to attend school due to injuries from their abuse or are intentionally kept out of school to cover up visible signs of abuse.

• Notice if a child is stealing or begging for food. Children who do not get enough to eat may try to obtain food in whatever way they can.

• Notice a child’s lack of personal care or hygiene. Children who have been neglected or abused may appear dirty or uncared for, or have unsuitable clothing for the weather.

• Notice if there is a decline in a child’s performance in school. Abuse may affect all aspects of a child’s life, including their grades.