Keeping children safe

Advice for guardians

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Health Assured team

15 July 2019

Keeping children safe from harm, abuse and exploitation presents many challenges for parents and legal guardians.

Many factors within society can influence a child’s growth and development. Thus, there is increased pressure on parents to keep children safe and ensure their emotional, educational and social development.

Internet use and social media

Online predatory behaviour and cyberbullying is a concern for many parents with children who have access to social media platforms and apps. Online safety is paramount for children who may not fully understand the online dangers, such as interacting with strangers, identify theft, cyberbullying and fraud.

Protecting children from grooming and predatory behaviour by adults or teenagers posing as a young child is crucial, as children can be naive and vulnerable to manipulation. Being aware of, and observant of your children’s internet activity and social media use is imperative to keep children safe online.

Mental health

Mental health problems within the family unit may influence a child’s psychological, emotional and physical health if they are not cared for appropriately. For example, a child may be neglected as a result of a parent struggling with a mental health problem. Moreover, children can occasionally become the unwitting carer without choice and may assume the role of a responsible person.

Nonetheless, mental health problems can vary in terms of severity and impact, and the influence on a child is subject to the parent/carer, the circumstances and the support available.

Divorce & family breakdown

A family breakdown can cause a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for children and parents, potentially affecting a child’s wellbeing and development. An unsettled home can lead to arguments and tension and during this time, considering a child’s emotional and psychological security is paramount.

Feelings of uncertainty and unfamiliarity can impact on a child’s education and cause potential feelings of isolation. This may often be an unintended situation caused by stressed parents who become embroiled in issues of their own and on occasion, domestic abuse matters, where support and intervention are required to protect children.

It is important for parents to maintain a strong and positive relationship to help children cope during this time. For example, avoid exposing children to arguments and disputes.

Educational needs

Parents have a legal duty to ensure that a child receives a suitable education. This can mean school attendance or home education. In either case, parents need to take an active role in making sure childrens' developmental needs are met.

Frequent school absences can impact a child’s success in school and can have serious consequences on their social development. School attendance helps children to interact with peers and adults and share experiences. Complex issues of frequent absence may require parental engagement with their child’s school or the local authority’s Education Welfare Service.

Home-schooled children have similar needs, which can be met in different ways. Academic co-ops, youth groups and sports teams are good ways to ensure a child has a healthy social circle—and in taking a child to such activities, adults will socialise too.

Financial hardship

Financial stress and living with debt can put children at risk of developing mental health problems, often as an indirect result of financial hardship. Parents may struggle to provide for their children, which could result in poor diet and malnutrition. In addition, children may be exposed to harassment from creditors, causing them to feel anxious, stressed and ashamed.

The risk of homelessness through rent or mortgage arrears is another concern, as maintaining a stable and secure residency is crucial to ensure a child’s basic needs are met. It is important to seek practical advice and support in such circumstances, Step Change Debt Charity (0800 138 1111) offer free impartial debt advice and solutions.

NSPCC (UK): 0808 800 5000

ISPCC (Ireland): 01 6767 960

If you would like more information on the topics mentioned in this article, or if you have any other wellbeing concerns, please call our free, 24-hour helpline on:

0800 030 5182

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