For Parents

Keeping Your Children Safe

Keeping a child safe from harm or abuse is the responsibility of all parents.  You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Practicing proper, healthy parenting skills
  • Making sure your child’s babysitter, caregiver, daycare provider, youth leader and others who are interacting with your child are safe
  • Teaching your child safety tips and how to protect themselves
  • Enforcing internet and online safety

Healthy Parenting Skills

Raising a child is one of life’s most rewarding activities.  But it can also be stressful and challenging at times.  There are a number of reasons why children fall victim to abuse or neglect.  First-time parents may be inexperienced in raising a child; many parents may be tired and stressed after a long day’s work and not have the patience to react in positive, supportive ways; some parents may have been abused or neglected as children and they don’t know proper parenting skills; other parents may be suffering from addiction; single parents may not have the support of a spouse or partner; and other parents may be living in poverty and struggling to take care of basic needs.  All of these circumstances may make it particularly challenging to raise children in a healthy environment.

Yet, it is critical that parents or caregivers provide for a child’s basic needs including their medical, educational, clothing, food and emotional needs.  They should provide the child with love and support so that children can grow and thrive.

There are resources available to parents who are struggling to provide a healthy, supportive environment for children.  Also listed are resources for people who are interested in fostering or adopting children.  Here are a few resources:

For Parenting

The mission of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is to protect the unprotected — children, elderly, and people with disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by involving clients, families, and communities.

Hotline:  1-800-252-5400

Report online at https://www.txabusehotline.org

ESCAPE’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect before a child is hurt by providing education, intervention and support programs to families in crisis.

713-942-9500

http://www.learntoparent.org

DePelchin has been making a difference in the lives of children and families for more than 120 years through mental health, foster care and adoption services.

Houston: 713- 730-2335
Toll Free Outside of Houston: 888-730-2335
24-hour Pregnancy Support: 713-582-7129

http://www.depelchin.org

Parents as Teachers effectively equips families with the resources and information needed to reduce parent stress and potential abuse.

314-432-4330

http://parentsasteachers.org

Through its many programs and outreach services, Family Houston builds stronger families by teaching the life skills necessary to face financial, health, relationship and other critical challenges.

713-861-4849

http://familyservices.org

Children at Risk serves as a catalyst for change to improve the quality of life for children through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration and advocacy.

713-869-7740

http://childrenatrisk.org

For Fostering and Adoption

DFPS helps find safe and loving homes for children in our care.

800-233-3405

www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care

DePelchin has been making a difference in the lives of children and families for more than 120 years through mental health, foster care and adoption services.

Houston: 713- 730-2335
Toll Free Outside of Houston: 888-730-2335
24-hour Pregnancy Support: 713-582-7129

http://www.depelchin.org

Arrow is an international Christian provider of child welfare and education services for abused and neglected children and families in crisis.

877-92-ARROW
281-210-1500

http://www.arrow.org

Spaulding for Children is dedicated to building and sustaining strong, nurturing adoptive families for children who have endured abuse, neglect or abandonment.

713-681-6991

800-460-6298

https://www.spauldingforchildren.org

Upbring Adoption helps women facing unplanned pregnancies explore their choices with grace – providing confidential counseling in Texas, legal help, open adoptions, financial assistance and more.

281-298-8639

https://www.upbring.org

Catholic Charities provides post-adoption services including counseling for children and adults.

713-526-4611

https://www.catholiccharities.org

Ensuring Other Adults are Safe

It is important that you take steps to ensure your child’s safety even when you cannot be with your child  and you leave them in the care of others.

  • Selection and screening – When you leave your child with a babysitter or caregiver, make sure that you know and trust them. Check their references, talk to other adults who have used them in the past and personally interview them prior to hiring them to watch your child – even if only for a few hours.  When selecting a day care center, school or youth organization, check their ratings, administration and teacher qualifications and ratios of adults to children to ensure there is adequate staffing and supervision.
  • Direct observation – Take the opportunity to observe the caregiver with another child prior to you leaving your child with them. When dropping off your child at a daycare center or at a babysitter’s home, stay around for a while and observe how they interact with your child.  If you have any hesitation about their ability to properly care for your child, err on the side of caution and don’t leave your child with them.
  • Establishing and enforcing caregiver rules – Make a list of rules that you feel comfortable with for how you want the caregiver to interact with your child. This could include limits on transporting your child, TV or computer time, swimming unsupervised, feeding and sleeping schedules.

Teaching Your Child To Be Safe

There is a myth of “Stranger Danger “.  In fact, over 90% of children are abused by someone they know, not a stranger.  Discuss with your child that they should come to you immediately if anyone of their friends or your family members or adults they interact with make them feel uncomfortable or have asked them to do things that are “bad”, “wrong”.   As a parent, be wary of adults who show your children special attention, favoritism, give them gifts or privileges or that want to meet with your child one-on-one in unsupervised areas.

Internet Safety

Children are using online communication tools daily – whether researching for a class at school, texting their friends, viewing a video on YouTube, using a mobile app, or playing an interactive video game.  Chances are your children are using the internet and social media much more so than you, their parent. Along with all the benefits of the internet, it does pose some risks:

  • Cyberbullying, sexting, cyberbaiting, email and instant messaging
  • Exposure to inappropriate material
  • Online predators
  • Revealing too much personal information

Learning to recognize the warning signs of these risks will allow trusted adults to intervene and lessen potential negative impacts.   As a parent or guardian, you should stay well-informed about current issues to understand what your children are experiencing on and off the internet.  Here are some tips:

  • Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of your home.
  • Establish limits for which online sites children may visit and for how long.
  • Remember that internet technology can be mobile, so make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.
  • Surf the internet with your children and let them show you what they like to do online.
  • Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming and using webcams.
  • Continually talk with your children about online safety.

Cyberbullying is when someone uses the internet or social media to bully another person.  No one is allowed to bully another student or teacher. If your child is being bullied by another student or you are aware any other child or teacher is the victim of cyberbullying, contact the school immediately.  This violates school policies and is also a crime.  Talk to your children about not initiating or engaging in any type of cyberbullying.  This can be extremely harmful to the child or teacher being victimized and can damage their reputation, embarrass them and might lead them to retaliate, act out or hurt themselves.

Sexting is sharing a personal, explicit, intimate, provocative or sexual in nature photo or video of oneself with another person.  This might be done voluntarily or it might have been the result of coercion by another person.  Images can be quickly shared with tens, hundreds, even thousands of other people within minutes as images go viral.  It could be a situation that escalates and the victim finds herself/himself having to post increasingly more graphic photos because they have been threatened that these photos will be exposed if they don’t comply.  The result can be devastating for the child.

Discuss with your children to carefully consider comments and images before posting them online and never to share intimate photos of themselves – even with one other person, because one never knows where these photos will end up.  Let them know that they should not post content about sex, alcohol or anything else that could be embarrassing or harmful to them.

Cyberbaiting is when students make a deliberate attempt to provoke others, then capture the response on video and post it online where anyone can see it.  These images or video can go viral and cause harm and embarrassment to the victim.  They are against school policy.  Discuss cyberbaiting with your children and that they should tell you or an adult immediately if they are the victim or know of another child who is a victim of cyberbaiting.

Email accounts are often necessary to join social networking sites, online games and virtual worlds.  Social networking sites, like Facebook, often have IM and e-mail components.  Email, IM and chat rooms allow children to connect with people that they have never met in person, making them vulnerable to online predators, cyberbullies, and scam artists.  Discuss with your child that they should tell you immediately if he/she receives messages from people he/she doesn’t know. Cyberbullies or scam artists can anonymously send harassing messages or spam. Sometimes these messages contain viruses or inappropriate content.

Your child may not know the true identities of their “buddies” on IM programs, so they should be wary of IM’s from unknown persons. Trusted adults should review children’s buddy lists for unknown contacts, and talk to them about the identities of the people on the lists.  Trusted adults should also learn some of the chat acronyms, such as POS (parent over shoulder) and A/S/L (age/sex/location) which children use to communicate over IM.  This will help you be aware of anyone saying anything inappropriate to your child.

Tips:

  • Know who your child is communicating with online.
  • Open a family e-mail account to share with younger children.
  • Work with your child to brainstorm screennames and e-mail addresses that do not contain information about gender, identity, or location, and that avoid being suggestive.
  • Teach your child never to open e-mails from unknown senders and to use settings on IM programs to block messages from people they do not know.
  • Be aware of other ways your child may be going online – with cell phones, laptops, or from friends’ homes or the library.
  • Tell your child not to share passwords with anyone but you to help avoid identity theft and cyberbullying.
  • Familiarize yourself with popular acronyms at sites like netlingo.com and www.noslang.com.

Chat rooms are online hang-out spots where anyone can talk about anything.  Users often do not know each other in real life, so it is important that trusted adults keep a close eye on the content of any conversations.  Chat rooms offer features which allow users to chat through private, one-on-one messages.  Predators may use this to entice children into conversations about sex and offline meetings.  Parents and guardians should be aware of secretive behavior, such as a child minimizing the screen when an adult enters the room.

Online gaming can encourage children’s imaginations, problem-solving strategies to overcome obstacles and practice social skills.  But, the instant chat features, forums and voice-enabled interactions may also expose children to people who may not have their best interests in mind.  Many online games have communication features which allow their users to interact anonymously which can be used by predators to send inappropriate content or arrange for in-person meetings.

Tips:

  • Know which safety features are available on the gaming equipment that your child uses – a headset may have voice-masking features
  • Keep gaming consoles in an easy-to-supervise location
  • Tell your child never to give out personal information while gaming or agree to meet anyone outside of the game
  • Set rules about how long your child may play, what types of games are appropriate and who else may participate.
  • Have your child check with you before using a credit or debit card online.
  • Check to see if the games your child plays have reporting features or moderators.

There is a proliferation of pornography and websites with sexually-explicit adult content.  Your child may inadvertently be exposed to this material in their email inbox, on social media or receiving a text with a photo or video attachment.   Children’s curiosity may also encourage them to view or seek out these sites.  In the extreme, some children have even become addicted to viewing this material online. As parents, it is important to regularly monitor your child’s viewing, limit online activity to daytime hours, and keep computers and laptops in a central part of your home.

In order to help protect children from online sexual predators, it is important that parents and guardians understand how children’s vulnerabilities may make them susceptible to manipulation by predators.  Children’s natural curiosity about sex can make them susceptible to predators who can exploit this curiosity and gradually lure children into sexual activity.  Adolescents may go online with the intent of finding support and companionship.  Predators may offer children affection and flattery in order to coerce them into sexual acts.  Children may become rebellious when they reach adolescence and predators can use this to their advantage.  A child who is victimized while disobeying parental rules may be reluctant to admit it for fear of being punished.  Because children are taught to obey and respect adults, they may be less likely to disobey directions given by an adult, even those which make them uncomfortable.

Many parents assume that children at risk for victimization are neglected or from dysfunctional homes.  However, all children, even those from supportive families, may be at risk of victimization.  Encourage your child to come to you immediately if anyone makes him or her feel uncomfortable online or makes overtures to meet in person.  Signs an online predator may be connecting with your child:

  • Your child becomes withdrawn and isolated from family and friends
  • You find inappropriate material on the computer.
  • Your child receives mail, money or gifts from unknown people.
  • You see unknown phone numbers when reviewing the phone bill.

What to do if your child is victimized:

  • Make it clear that the victimization is not his or her fault.
  • Save all evidence of victimization, such as e-mails or instant message conversations.
  • Contact your local law-enforcement agency.
  • Make a report to the CyberTipline® at cybertipline.com or 1-800-THE-LOST® and include all information available.

For additional resources for to help teens and tweens be safe on the internet, go to www.netsmartz.org/InternetSafety.

FAQs

A: The policy of the Fort Bend Children’s Advocacy Center is that parents are not allowed in the interview room during the interview. The main reason for this is that the interview must be “legally defensible.” The interviewer is responsible for everything that happens in the interview and has been trained on how to ask questions that will stand up in court. If a parent is in the interview room with the child, an attorney may argue that the parent was cueing the child on how to answer the interviewer’s questions. Additionally, children will try to avoid answering questions when parents are present.

A: That is up to the discretion of law enforcement and/or CPS. The interview is considered to be the child’s official statement, and therefore is considered evidence. Because of its purpose, investigators usually do not show the interviews. Also, even though parents think they want to view their child’s interview, its may be emotionally difficult for a parent to see their child give the details. 

A: Yes. Following the interview, team members (i.e. CAC staff, Children’s Protective Services, Law Enforcement, etc.) will meet with you to discuss the interview in general and explain what will happen next. At that time, a CAC staff member will discuss with you what services may be available for your child. Please feel free to bring up any questions or concerns you have so that they can be addressed.

A: That depends on your child. Typically, the younger the child, the shorter the interview, but it is very difficult to estimate how long an interview will last. Remember, the CAC is here to make this experience as easy as possible for your child.

A: Absolutely not. The purpose of a Children’s Advocacy Center is to provide a neutral, child-friendly place for a child to tell their story. Our Forensic Interviewers undergo extensive training on how to interview in a gentle, age-appropriate, non-leading manner. Your child will set the pace and will be able to answer questions as they feel comfortable.

A: No. Our forensic interviewers are trained to use the language of the child, and to also let the child talk to them about what they know and about what happened to the child without giving them knowledge they did not previously have. We do provide safety education to children regarding touching when appropriate.

A: Every case is different. However, the recorded interview cannot be used in a trial in lieu of a child’s testimony. Under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, the defendant has a right to confront his accuser. If criminal charges are filed, Fort Bend has a Children’s Court Services program that would help prepare you, your child, and your family for that experience.

Therapy is very helpful for children who have been abused. When team members meet with you following the interview, they will discuss with you what therapy options are recommended, and what appropriate therapy services are available. It is usually very helpful for a child who has been abused to meet with a therapist regarding the feelings associated with their experiences.

No, we are not Children’s Protective Services. The Children’s Advocacy Center is a program of Child Advocates of Fort Bend, a not-for-profit that advocates for children who have been abused. The Children’s Advocacy Center provides services to CPS (at no charge) which include high quality, legally defensible forensic interviews. The Children’s Advocacy Center also aids CPS in the coordination of the investigation with local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s Office.