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Talking to children about a parent’s arrest
When someone is arrested for online sexual offences regarding children, it can be really difficult for the whole family, including any children. We can support you through this, and help you work out what to tell them.
There are often restrictions put in place restricting the offender’s contact with children. They may be asked to leave the family home or only have contact with their children in the company of other adults. And, of course, knowledge of the offender’s behaviour can also significantly affect or end their relationship with the mother of their children (again having an impact on any children).
What to say to children and how to talk to them can be difficult for parents and professionals. Here are some issues for parents to be aware of and think about.
- Without explanations about why significant changes have occurred in their family, children will try to make sense of it by guessing, ‘filling in the gaps’ and sometimes making wrong assumptions. For example, they may feel they are part of the problem and feel rejected by a parent who now sees them only occasionally.
- Children might still love their parent even though they have done something very wrong. Family members may well feel and respond differently and each person needs to be able to express their own views and have them acknowledged.
- Children will probably, at some stage, want to know why their parent did what they did. It might help them to know that the adults are also struggling to make sense of this as it is usually very complicated, and that their parent may be getting some help to try and work this out.
- Children will have a range of feelings about their parent’s offending, and will need time to process the information. They might feel extremely angry about the impact the offences have on their own and other’s lives, or about about friends finding out. They might be anxious about their parent’s future behaviour, and the possibility of them going to prison and being able to cope. Children might feel unable to express or talk about these feelings with their parents as they may worry about upsetting them further.
- One of the hardest things for a parent can be facing up to the effects of their offending upon their own children. But the child is likely to find out at some point and it’s better that they find out in a controlled way from a supportive adult – children can often be angry if they feel important information has been hidden from them. Timing is important.
- Too much detail can be very disturbing for children. Try to keep the details to a minimum when children are young, but let them know it’s ok to ask questions, although you may not be able to answer them all.
Here are some ways that it might help to talk about the offences might be conveyed. These are just ideas – each child and each family is different.
“Dad’s done something very wrong. He’s been looking at rude things on the internet. And some of those things were to do with children, which is against the law, so the police are involved and are deciding what to do about it.”
“Dad’s been spending a lot of time online and I / we have found out that some of that time was spent looking at sexual pictures of children. It’s against the law to look at that kind of thing and Dad is in trouble for doing it.”
If relevant, maybe you want to include comments such as:
- Dad being very upset to have caused so much upset for all the family;
- Dad is trying to get some help with his problem;
- We really didn’t want you to have to hear this but thought you had a right to know what was going on.
It would be best for the child if the parents could agree on what the child is to be told.
It’s also useful to remember:
- Avoid anxiety e.g. control your own emotions.
- It’s best to have more than one discussion. Let them know they can discuss things at any time and ask questions as they think of them.
- Give consistent messages from all care givers.
- Evidence suggests that if children see their parent is coping then they do!
Finally – parents are likely to know their child best and are often the best judge of how to talk to them.