I’m often asked by parents what I wish I’d known back when we unknowingly brought a sexual predator into our home, or the things I would do differently today if I was hiring a nanny for my children.
Fifteen years ago, we brought a new nanny, Waldina Flores, into our home to help with my three children, Lauren (our oldest), Samantha and Chase. I traveled a lot for my job and my wife was ill, so when “Waldy” – as the kids fondly called her – came into our lives, it was a godsend, or so we thought.
Little did I know, however, that for the next six years Waldy would secretly physically, sexually and emotionally torture my daughter Lauren.
As a parent, I have lived with a lot of guilt since the day I learned about Lauren’s abuse as I cried at the office of Lauren’s therapist, but I’ve learned that the best way for Lauren, our family and myself to heal is by telling others about our story. By speaking out about abuse and not being afraid to expose our family’s truths it can and will prevent the future abuse of others.
Whenever people ask me what to look for to spot abuse, I tell them these 10 things.
- Background checks. When you bring someone into your home to care for your kids, you should truly know everything about them. Be aware that simple reference checks, in which you contact people identified as previous employers, can be totally unreliable. Full criminal background checks are helpful, but also not conclusive, due to the vast underreporting of crimes against children. There are also problems with foreign nationals and the databases, or lack thereof, in other countries that might track child molesters. Consider a psychiatric test as well.
- Cameras. Putting surveillance cameras in your home may seem excessive, but remember that 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts. Today, cameras are not only inexpensive, but the technology allows you remote access from your car, hotels (when out of town), etc.
- Warning signs. After you have a regular babysitter or nanny in your home, pay attention to warning signs that something is not right. Some of these are clearer in children over three, and in families with siblings. For example:
• Predator shows favoritism of one child over others
• Predator uses inappropriate terms of endearment
• Child expresses sudden emotional withdrawal, depression
• Child has trouble sleeping, nightmares
• Child shows sudden aggressive behaviors towards peers. Make surprise visits to check on how things are going when you’re not expected home. If you see any of these warning signs, don’t be afraid to be inquisitive and pry. Always talk to your children about daily activities and show interest in their feelings.
- Teach your children about their bodies and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. The Lauren’s Kids Foundation It’s Okay to Tell Curriculum offers some basic instructions in this area.
- Don’t be afraid to investigate. Investigating your suspicions may save your child’s life.
- Teach your children secrets are always to be shared with you – always.
- Don’t ever allow your child, if under the age of thirteen, to be alone in a public place.
- Know with whom your child is spending time, and be very careful about allowing your child to be in hidden places with other adults or children.
- Listen carefully when your child says he or she has to tell you something, especially when it seems difficult to talk about.
- Talk to your child about personal space. Let children know their bodies belong to them, and that only they can make decisions about what happens to their bodies.