Letter to Parents



Grown-Up Buddies/Trusted Adults

Discuss the importance of identifying Grown-Up Buddies (adults who are responsible for a child’s protection) to communicate any unsafe or confusing situation. Depending upon your child’s exceptionality, alternative means of communication may be used. Tablets, pictures, and other forms of communication may need to be used as your child identifies their Grown-Up Buddies/Trusted Adults.

  • Brainstorm with your child who could be their Grown-Up Buddies/Trusted Adults. Identify these adults based upon the adults they could talk to or communication with about situations that leave them scared, confused, uncomfortable, or icky.
    • Mom
    • Dad
    • Teacher
    • Principal
    • Classroom Aide
    • Paraprofessional
    • Aunt
    • Uncle
    • Aunt
    • Grandma
    • Grandpa
    • Caregiver
    • Teaching Assistant 
  • Please note that it is important that at least one of your child’s Grown-Up Buddies/Trusted Adults be outside the family and each of them should be able to drive a car so that they are able to seek help for your child is necessary.
  • Ask your child to name or identify situations when it’s important to stay close to his or her Grown-Up Buddy/Trusted Adult.
  • Children should always stay close to their Grown-up Buddy/Trusted Adult whenever they are out in public
  • If your child gets separated from their Grown-up Buddy/Trusted Adult when out in a public place, encourage them to look for someone official like a firefighter or policemen, or a mother with children.

Body Boundaries

Help your child understand that they space around them that should not be touched or seen unless they are hurt and need help and that their body has private parts.

It is important to remember that your child’s cognitive development levels and physical development levels may be different. In other words, your child may be functioning on a 4 year old level cognitively, but be in a 15 year old body. Parents need to remember age appropriate ways-not cognitively appropriate ways.

  • The private parts of their body are the parts covered by their bathing suits and their mouth. 
  • Teach your child the proper names for their body parts covered by their bathing suits.
  • Stress to your child that no one should touch or look at their private parts except you, their Grown-Up Buddies or a doctor when they are in pain or feel that something may be wrong.  
  • Encourage your child to tell you or their Grown-Up Buddy about any touch that makes them feel unsafe and to keep telling until they are heard and helped.
  • Explain the difference between a Safe Touch and an Unsafe Touch to your child.

Safe and Unsafe Secrets

Talk with your child about the difference between Safe and Unsafe Secrets.

  • A Safe Secret is one that will eventually be told and will make everyone smile-like a surprise party or the gender of a baby-to-be.
  • An Unsafe Secret is one that makes you feel confused, threatened, unsafe, or icky and is one that you are told not to tell.
  • Help your child understand that it is not safe to ever keep an Unsafe Secret, no matter who asks or tells them to keep a secret.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your child.
  • Make sure your child knows that it’s okay to come to you with any information.
  • Make sure your child knows that they should never keep a secret from you.

When your child is faced with being asked or told to keep a secret:

  • Help your child to use Think, Feel, Act to process how the secret makes them feel. If it makes them feel confused, threatened, unsafe, or icky, they must tell their Grown-Up Buddy, someone in their Trusted Triangle, or a Trusted Adult.

When your child discloses an Unsafe Secret to you:

  • Believe what they are saying
  • Validate their feelings

The Prevalence of Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is sadly prevalent in our country, with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being victimized by age 18. Sex offenders often target children who are withdrawn or isolated from their peers, whose home life is chaotic, or whose parents need help with babysitting or transportation. Children with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable, especially if they have challenges communicating or if they need help with personal hygiene tasks such as using the bathroom or bathing. Children with some disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, may be extremely affectionate, even with strangers, making them susceptible to abuse.


Special Needs, Unique Vulnerabilities

Your child’s unique needs are very important when beginning to talk with them about safety and safe interactions with their caretakers. There will be many adults in your child’s life, depending upon the nature of the care they require. Caregivers may be required to assist with toileting, bathing, dressing, and other duties that put them in a more intimate level of interaction with your child.

Your child should be included in decisions about their care. It is important to remember that even a child with lowered cognitive functions and abilities, has a voice in how they are cared for by adults…. “Nothing about me, without me.” Keeping lines of communication with your child openand honest is critical to their safety. Your child must feel free and safe to communicate their feelings to you about their interactions with any adult. Remember that children who feel like they can talk to their parents about anything are much less susceptible to being victimized by a sexual predator.


Expected vs. Unexpected Behaviors

Notice Your Child’s Interactions with Others

Notice who is interacting with your child and pay attention to different interactions. Keep a journal and write changes in your child’s behavior. Notice if you see a pattern in behaviors based upon interactions with certain people. If you are concerned with what you observe, trust your instincts.


Challenges Based on Need

Be prepared with different skills and strategies based upon your child’s needs. Some disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, may tend to make a child more open and trusting to everyone because of they way that disability presents and the characteristics of it. Autism Spectrum Disorders can be challenging depending upon where a child may be on the spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, a child may be more standoffish with adults. While, at the other end, a child may not understand boundaries and not be able to perceive a danger or an unsafe situation. Understand your child’s strengths and use that information to help frame what is safe, what is unsafe, and how to communicate that help is needed.


Signs & Disclosures

Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse:

  • Stomach pain, or pain in anal or genital areas
  • Yeast infections or unusual discharge
  • Recurring vaginal or bladder infections
  • Oral, genital or anal bleeding
  • Redness, swelling, itching or trauma to the genital or anal area
  • Bloody, torn or stained underpants or diaper
  • Pain when sitting or exercising
  • Pain during urination or defecation

Protecting Your Child:

  • Make it safe for your child to talk to you about everything to the full extent of his or her ability to communicate.
  • Make sure any caregivers are backgroundchecked and fingerprinted.
  • Make sure there are two adults present at all times, especially for sensitive care such as toileting and bathing.
  • Recognize that teenagers with disabilities are still teenagers and treat them in ways appropriate to their age. Establish appropriate body boundaries and don’t undress or shower in front of your child, have them sit on your lap or sleep in your bed.
  • Teach physical boundaries and appropriate affection, such as giving handshakes to strangers rather than hugs.
  • Be aware of signs that your child may have been sexually abused.
  • Get professional help if you suspect your child has been abused.

Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuses

Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Adults seeking time alone with your child
  • New or unusual nicknames for private parts
  • Problems in school: drastic changes in academic performance, concentration difficulties, bullying peers, truancy, engaging in class disruption, etc.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Sudden or inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Self-stimulation or seductiveness
  • Increased depression and anxiety
  • Avoidance of certain people or environments
  • Unexplainable gifts
  • Regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking, bedwetting)
  • Fear of previously-enjoyed people or places
  • Engaging in acting out or delinquent behaviors
  • Suddenly avoiding physical contact
  • Regression in toileting ability, increase in soiling oneself

You Are Not Alone

If your child discloses abuse to you, you are not alone. There are people ready to help you and your child immediately. These organizations are ready to help you to take the steps to insure that your child is safe.

  • Department of Children and Families
  • Rape Crisis Centers
  • Child Advocacy Centers
  • Disability Advocacy Organizations

Talking With & Listening to Your Child

  • Talking With And Listening To Your Child
    Make sure that your child knows that they can always talk to you about anything at anytime. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical. If you are not able to talk with your child for any reason, make sure they understand that they have a network of trusted adults that are there for them when they need them. Your child can communicate any of their fears or concerns with other Grown Up Buddies/Trusted Adults, too. Remember that children who feel like they can talk to their parents about anything are much less susceptible to being victimized by a sexual predator.
  • Listen To Your Child’s Complaints About Caregivers
    In building a trusting relationship with your child, they must know that you will listen to them when they are communicating concerns about a caregiver. And, hear them. Listen to your child’s complaints about caregivers and take the complaints seriously. If your child is uncomfortable with a caregiver or if you notice a change in behavior, follow up. Ask clarifying questions to tease out why they may not like their caregiver or why they are not following directions given by their caregiver. Give your child the opportunity to communicate why they are feeling uncomfortable. Notice who is interacting with your child and how….notice your child’s reactions. If you have a feeling that something is wrong and your child has not communicated that specifically to you…trust your feelings and follow up.
  • Alternatives for Communication
    Create alternatives for communication using devices as needed to support your child’s ability to be communicative. Devices such as a tablet, using pictures on a picture board, providing opportunities for writing are all effective tools for your child to stay connected to you and for you to know how your child is feeling. Use of the 🚫 symbol with pictures of situations and adults in your child’s life provides an opportunity for a less communicative child to be able to share their thoughts with you about situations or people that make them feel unsafe or are treating them in an unsafe way.

Appropriate Body Boundaries

  • Parts of the Body
    Begin talking with your child, at a young age, about the parts of their body and the function of those body parts. Use correct language for the parts of their body. As your child gets older those conversations will also become more age appropriate for their physical age.
  • Physical Boundaries
    Have conversations with your child about appropriate physical boundaries. Children with certain exceptionalities have difficulty with understanding boundaries. Children with sensory needs may need that bodily contact. They need to understand when that contact is safe and appropriate and when it is not. Introduce your child to replacement behaviors for physical contact, a handshake instead of a hug. Show your child when it is appropriate to hug and when it is not. Hugging their teacher in the middle of a lesson is not appropriate, but hugging your teacher as you are going home for the day is okay. Hugging someone who does not ever want to be hugged is not okay. Likewise, someone does not have the right to touch your child. Help your child to understand that there are safe touches and unsafe touches. Unsafe touches are never okay.
  • Boundaries in the Home
    Teach boundaries in the home…what is okay…what is not okay, so that your child will know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate when dealing with potential abusers. For example, don’t change clothes in front of your child. It is important that they understand that taking one’s clothes off is something that is done in private. A caregiver may need to help dress your child, but a caregiver should not be removing their clothes with your child. Show your child that when someone is using the bathroom, the bathroom door is closed. It is important for your child to understand that a closed bathroom door is a boundary that must be expected and respected.
  • Safe and Unsafe Touches
    Help your child understand that an Unsafe Touch is a touch is a touch that makes them feel icky, uncomfortable, or confused. Share the characteristics of Safe and Unsafe Touches with your child:
    • Safe Touches make us feel: loved, encouraged, happy, safe
    • Unsafe Touches make us feel: Icky, confused, scared, uncomfortable

Children should not be forced to kiss or hug family members if they don’t feel like it, even though these are harmless touches. Forcing a child to kiss and hug people when they don’t want to sends a subtle and dangerous message that they are not in control of their own bodies and that adults hold all the power.

Remind your child that no one should touch or look at their private parts, except you, their Grown-Up Buddies or a doctor only when they are in pain or feel that something may be wrong. Encourage your child to tell you or their Grown-Up Buddy about any touch that makes them feel unsafe and to keep telling until they are heard and helped.

Be Your Child’s Advocate

Be your child’s voice. Speak up if you think something is wrong. Protect your child. Ask caregivers questions about how they insure that child’s safety? Ask specifically about bathroom practices with the caregiver if your child requires that level of support and assistance.

Reporting Abuse: Only 3 percent of sexual abuse cases involving people with disabilities are ever reported, so it is important to report the abuse if you suspect your child is being harmed. Reporting is simple and confidential. Even if you do not have all of the information about your child’s case, you can still report abuse.

Telephone: 1.800.962.2873
Fax: 1.800.914.0004
TDD: 1.800.453.5145
Web: www.FloridaAbuseHotline.com

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