Image: Lucie Cooper
Children and young people can experience significant levels of crime and victimisation during their childhood and adolescence, such as being mugged and having their mobile phone stolen. As a parent or carer, you may have a good relationship with your child, but research shows that most children struggle when talking to adults about these experiences. This may be because children don’t realise they have been a victim of crime, they don’t want to upset adults around them or they are frightened of any repercussions.
Gemma Slinn and Amanda Atkinson from Victim Support’s youth programme You & Co, tell you how to help your child be safer.
Things you can do to help as a parent:
1. Watch out for warning signs
What may seem like a small issue to an adult can have a real impact on some children and young people, whereas others are able to hide their worries and concerns. There are some common signs that your child might show that can prompt you to talk to them. These could include:
• Difficulty in concentrating or getting into trouble at school.
• Not achieving or progressing at school.
• Low attendance at school.
• Choosing to miss out on activities and hobbies such as sports clubs and youth clubs.
• Avoiding food/eating too much food or gaining/losing weight
• Repeatedly complaining of feeling ill, such as feeling sick or suffering from tummy aches or headaches.
• Regularly feeling tired or having problems sleeping.
• Changing their appearance or the clothes they wear.
• Changing their routine or avoiding certain people or places.
• Changes in behaviour, for example becoming more withdrawn, aggressive or anxious than usual.
• Hurting themselves. This can include biting, hair pulling, scratching, or drinking alcohol or taking drugs for older children
• Breaking ground rules on bedtimes, time to come in, telling you where they are going or going missing.
• Not communicating with you, teachers or friends.
• Being secretive about what they are doing – both online and offline.
There could be lots of reasons for a change in a child’s behaviour so the important thing is that you feel able to talk to your child and offer support.
2. Talk – and listen – to your child
Make sure your child knows they can talk to you. Give them time and space to talk, then listen properly to what they say. Don’t judge. When they have finished, ask them how you can help. It’s also important to help your children think through and make their own decisions; don’t push them into decisions they may not want to make.
The best way to be able to have a conversation at a difficult or worrying time is if you have already established a regular routine where you check in with your child about their day experiences and feelings. Using storybooks, games or TV programmes can help you show your child you are interested and there to help them. If a time comes when they are worried, they won’t feel under pressure to talk to you as it is part of their usual routine.
Remember it doesn’t have to be you - talking about what has happened is difficult enough for a young person, but talking to a parent may be harder than talking to another adult they trust, particularly if they worry about upsetting you.
Let them know that if they would rather talk to someone else, that’s fine, and help them to arrange that conversation. Your support will mean a lot.
3. Advocate for your child
Your child may have had the courage to talk to you, but they may not be comfortable talking to their school, sports club, police, or other agencies. You can support them to do that. Make sure you know what they want as a result of any conversations.
4. Create a safety plan with your child
A safety plan helps you and your child to think about the actions you can take so they feel safer and happier. Children should not be left to create a safety plan alone, as having trusted adults helps them to think through their safety choices and gives them back-up in an emergency.
A safety plan can be useful in any situation where your child may feel unsafe. This can include if they are being bullied, threatened or hurt, in an abusive relationship or witnessing domestic violence. For more information around safety plans visit the You & Co website page What is a Safety Plan? and download 'Keeping Safe', an information booklet to help you think through ways to keep safe and develop a safety plan.
5. Think about reporting a crime
If your child has been the victim of crime, they may be worried about reporting it. You & Co and other organisations are there to support them, whether they report the crime or not, but reporting a crime can help in a lot of ways. It can mean the person responsible may get caught and stopped; it can prevent other young people from becoming victims; and it gives your child the chance to explain what happened and take back control from the person who has hurt them.
6. Know your child’s rights
All victims of crime have a right to some types of information and support from organisations like the police and courts. The Victims’ Code tells you what these rights are. The Victims’ Code has a special section for people who are under 18 because they should get extra support. Find out more information about the Victims' Code here .
7. Plan for the future
Having listened to your child, and helped them to take whatever action they feel comfortable with, think about what to do next. The You & Co website provides information on making safer choices, coping strategies for victims of crime and what happens when you report a crime.