Dear Dr. Brady: I suspect my child’s classmate may be suffering abuse. What should I do?

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CLARITY IN CHAOS
clarity artAdvice for navigating transitions in work, life, and relationships from Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady and her team members at BDS Insight.

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Dear Dr. Brady,

My child came home with another student’s notebook. When I asked my child about who it belonged too, they said it belonged to a friend in their class. I noticed inside the notebook that there were suggestive pictures in the book. On another page there was a note that said “please stop hurting me.” I am so worried about this child and I don’t know what to do! Should I call their parent, the school, the police? What should I say to my child about this that won’t confuse them? What will happen to their friendship once this gets out?

Signed,

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 9.03.39 AMShocked & Sad Momma


 

I can’t imagine how paralyzing this feeling must have been to come across this material. It sounds like your child and the classmate are close enough friends that your child is seen as a safe friend for them. I imagine you are worried about your own child as much as you are about their friend. I am sure you are worried about what will happen to their bond once the necessary next steps are taken.

First, this is a serious issue. While I don’t know what precisely you found in the notebook the combination of precocious suggestive images and a request for help are reason enough to share your concerns with those who have expertise in child endangerment. Your child’s school counselor is well versed in reporting child endangerment and I would recommend you contact them in the morning to meet about your concerns. In the state of NH every individual is a “mandated reporter” which means if you suspect a child is in danger of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect you are required by law to report this concern to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

While reporting is really important, please know it is only one part of the story.

The Hands of Hope wall at the Nashua Child Advocacy Center, where children who've been victims of abuse leave their mark as they find their way out of the darkness through counseling from caring adults.
The Hands of Hope wall at the Nashua Child Advocacy Center, where children who’ve been victims of abuse leave their mark as they find their way out of the darkness through counseling from caring adults.

There will be things that happen next like questions as to whether the notebook belonged to your child rather than the friend. This is fairly easily confirmed but don’t be surprised or defensive by the question if it comes up. Children’s voices have not been heard well historically so understand those who protect children take concerns very seriously. You may find there is distance between the friend and your child, should there be reason to investigate further. Help prepare your child on the ways they can be a good friend even if they see a change in their friend (small notes, welcoming gestures, sharing an inside joke with their friend). And if your child is on social media be sure to help them understand how this is not a story for them to share with others through their social media page.

Chances are this is an opportunity for you to talk with your own child about being safe, being a safe person, and how grown-ups have a responsibility to help children stay safe. Gather your thoughts before you speak with your child. Being calm and listening to your child will go a long way toward keeping your child calm and open. It’s important to help them understand the difference between safe secrets and dangerous secrets, and to help them know that their friend may not be able to trust grown-ups. Explain to your child their sharing this with you is important and why it’s so important to help friends find grown-ups they can trust.

It would be very natural for you to want to check with the friend and ask them what the pictures and the note meant. I would urge you not to do this. Every county in the state has a Child Advocacy Center which is staffed with people who have special expertise in interviewing child victims or witnesses of violent crime. Multiple interviews by multiple people do not help children report their trauma or recover well from it, so leave this to the experts.

You can remain a safe haven for this child by creating a place that says you trust them, believe them, and know they are strong even if they don’t know it themselves yet.  Stay calm, connect with those who have expertise, and recognize this will be a challenging situation for you, your child, and their friend. Even so, you are doing the most important thing by recognizing danger signs and taking them seriously.

It’s never easy to know what meaning to make of a child’s drawing or writing. Plenty of creative writers will tell you they toyed with all types of themes before finding their voice. But if your gut tells you to listen then it’s important to trust yourself in this situation


For more information:


clarityAlright, it’s your turn.
I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.

Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here.


Loretta L.C. Brady

Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.


DisclaimerThe opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.


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About this Author

carol-robidoux

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!