It’s possibly the scariest thing about being a working mum. How to keep children safe? It’s the question that haunts mothers as they return to work. Is my child safe and happy with their carer? In Singapore, the carer is most likely your maid. If you’re lucky, your parents or in-laws help out. Or your child is at a childcare centre.
Are our children safe with our carers?
A story recently published in the Daily Telegraph (an Australian newspaper) about a Sydney family whose daughter was photographed by their maid and her boyfriend sent shivers down my spine. The maid and her boyfriend took naked photos of the children in her charge and sold the pictures to a paedophile ring. All this happened while the family was living in Singapore, but their daughter told them only 3 years after the event.
In another incident, a teacher at My First Skool dragged her young charge across the room and pushed him down with force, which had parents up in arms after the video of her doing this went viral. The teacher was arrested but parents are not sleeping any easier at night.
If an incident like this could happen at an accredited daycare centre which presumably screens its employees, then what could happen with a maid in your own home? After all, there is no official screening for maids. Maids don’t have to be accredited in any way. There is no minimum training required.
Children are vulnerable to abuse or injury through the poor judgment of their carers, be it a grandparent who leaves the stove on; a babysitter who lets her boyfriend in; a maid who uses her mobile phone while crossing the road with a toddler; or a childcare worker having a bad day.
So what is a parent supposed to do? Studies show that children are more often harmed by people they know than strangers. So don’t be afraid of being labelled as being overprotective or “bubble wrapping” your children. Demand high standards from their carer.
Here are some guidelines that might help you to ensure that your child is safe with your carer.
1. Do your research
Do ample research about the care you are going to put your child in.
Find out what other parents are saying about the childcare centre or stay at home with your maid till you feel confident about her character and childcare skills (or get a trusted family member to do so). Even when leaving your child with a family member, make sure your child is comfortable with them before you give them sole charge of your child(ren).
2. Make surprise visits
Stay out of sight and observe the interaction. This is the absolute best way to see what happens when you are not around. If it makes you feel better, install CCTV in your home. Do what it takes to ensure your child is safe.
3. Act immediately
Raise any issues immediately. Be firm but respectful. Trust your instincts. Do not ignore anything that bothers you. Be clear, be calm. Your goal is to establish the facts.
4. Be clear about your expectations
Be very clear about who your child can play with, where your child can go and what your child can do. When we co-parent with grandparents, we are often reluctant to do this for fear of being disrespectful. Don’t be. It makes for a better long-term relationship to be clear about your expectations.
5. Be vigilant about any change in behaviour and check out any bruises or cuts on your child’s body
Strange cuts or bruises on your child could be a sign that he is being physically abused.
As a personal example, I make sure that I shower my son at the end of the day so I can see his body and ensure that there are no changes that I should be aware of. Any bumps, cuts or bruises are investigated immediately. If my helper says it’s from school, I email the teacher immediately with a photo to check. The school should inform parents about any injury at school.
6. Be grateful
Thank your child’s carers when you see that they make a positive difference to your child. Send the teacher an email or text message when your child says something loving or positive about them. Give your helper a bonus or little gift when she takes extra-special care of your child during a stressful time. They contribute to keeping children safe.
7. Be realistic
No one will care for your child as you will, but that doesn’t mean you have to watch your child every moment of the day. You should, however, spend quality time with your child every single day. Even 20 minutes can make a difference. Keep some activities as sacred mummy time like their bedtime routine, dinner, or weekend swim class. Whatever it is, schedule it, put it in your diary and stick to it. Make exceptions rarely.
8. Listen to your child
Let your child tell you silly stories and listen to the story of her day. She might tell you about her toys, her friends or her toilet schedule. Somewhere in there will be the information you need to know if your child is happy or stressed. Don’t interrupt. Don’t just ask how school was. Ask about the most fun thing about her day. Ask her who she enjoyed talking to today. Ask her if she felt sad or happy today.
9. Teach your child the words
Don’t call genitals by cute names. Teach your child the correct word to describe his or her genitals. It has been shown to scare off perverts. When a child says, “don’t touch my penis”, it scares paedophiles off. Even my conservative Muslim Indonesian helper knows that in our house, we refer to genitalia by their proper names – vulva and penis. However squeamish you may be, know that it empowers your child.
As a mother myself, reading horror stories about carers hurting children is the worst part of my job. The best part is that perhaps I can make a difference by writing about it. Every parent wants to protect their child without stifling their energy or innocence. I hope these ideas help to empower you as you set the boundaries and expectations for your child’s care. Above all, trust your instincts and listen to your child. You know them best. You love them the most. Keep children safe, in every way, always!