Worried about Molestation

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My sister says there's a high incidence of sexual abuse in preschool

February 2004


I have recently begun the process of finding a preschool for my child who will be three in the fall. My sister has instilled some serious fear in me by asking me to wait to put my child in preschool for another year because of the high incidences of sexual abuse in preschool (she apparently knows someone who's daughter was molested by a preschool teacher, and the child is not considered a credable witness b/c she is not yet 4 y.o., the age determined to be when a child can determine the difference b/w the truth and a lie...and therefore nothing can be done about or to the teacher) and the incidences she is referring to are in a nearby city, not ours, which is Berkeley, I should add. She has made me very nervous now, and I wonder if there is anyone out there who has had similar fears and was able to find out more about such situations? How does one do a background check on teachers? Do you ask the school? Do you go to the Better Business Bureau? I am at a loss as to where to start. I told my sister that I cannot live my life in fear of every person that comes into contact with my child, but I don't want to be naive either. Does anyone have any advice about how to deal with this?

Hmmm. I know someone who was molested by her uncle. Does this make ALL uncles child molesters? It is crazy to suggest that children in preschool are molested more or less than any other child. In fact, most child-molestation happens from a family member. Most preschool rooms have more than one teacher (at least two or more at all times), are open areas, and any official preschool does a background check on their teachers anyway. I worry much less about my children who are in preschool than I do about my one child who is still with a babysitter. Shame on your sister for sharing her ignorance about molestation with you, and scaring you. Preschool is a wonderful experience for children. Mom of four

I don't mean to invalidate your concerns, but you may be overreacting. Of course there are rare incidents when stuff like that happens, but there are SO many reputable pre-schools in this area.

I'd suggest asking parents of kids already in pre-school or slightly older which schools they like. Go check out the schools, talk to the teachers, ask to talk to some of the parents with kids attending the schools. Personally I don't think 3 is too young for pre-school (on the average...depends on the kid) and it's good socialization for them.

My boys, now 8 1/2 and 13 went to Arlington pre-school on the Arlington in Kensington. They were very happy there and I always felt my kids were absolutely safe and taken care of there. Good luck to you....I say, talk to lots of parents about their pre-schoolers experiences.

This is a question for BANANAS. Not only do they know the preschool and daycare licensing process very, very well, but they can give you information about the actual incidence of abuse in preschool and daycare settings. The number is 658-7353. Jennifer

I don't believe you can check the background of individual teachers since that would require personal information you wouldn't have, like their ssn, address ect. However, to be licenced a preschool must have all their teachers pass fingerprint clearance. You should check the licencing, because even if all their teachers have clean records, it will tell you if they have other citations, such as not meeting teacher to student ratios, safety, cleanliness ect. Those problems are much more common than sexual abuse. I have walked into my child's former preschool and found them out of compliance on teacher ratios several times. Contact Banana's they can give y! ou the number to call to check the preschool's licencing. It should also be in the phone book bev

I am a public school teacher of 17 years, and prior to that I worked in Pre Schools and Daycares during college. I do know that Bananas Childcare Referral Service in Oakland can give you a number to call to check up on almost any childcare institution in the Bay Area, including Montessori's etc.. I checked up on my daughter's daycare. What they can tell you is whether or not any complaints, suspensions, or legal actions have been filed/taken against the said pre school. I can't remember the name of the agency and cant call to get it because I am online, but call BANANAS Childcare Referral in Oakland. But let me just take a moment to put your mind at ease... In order for someone to get away with molesting a child in daycare, everyone has to be involved, b! ecause otherwise the other adults present would see or know something. I guarantee you, your child is safer in a pre school than in most places, because there are so many people around(children and adults.) Also, I believe that any liscensed PreSchool is bound to disclose whether or not their teachers have been fingerprinted at the Police Department. Hope that helps. Olive

I am a former preschool teacher, so please feel free to contact me with any further questions... Preschool directors, teachers and assisitant teachers are all required to have a live-scan done, which is to be fingerprinted. That covers state background checks but not FBI records. Trustline, which is the typically the nanny background check, checks FBI records too. Once an individual has been fingerprinted, it only costs like $40 more to be trustlined. If you are really concerned, I dont think it would be too outrageous to ask the staff of your child's preschool to be trustlined (but you should probably offer to pay for it). As a teacher, I would have respected and honored that request. That said, I do not know the statistics on sexual molestation in preschools. But I do know that there are many great preschools in this area. Schools with loving, respectful people who care deeply about teaming with parents to raise children in an intentional and caring manner. Good luck with your search, and do not hesitate to ask for what you need to be comfortable with a preschool. Helene

From a professional point of view one could do the following: Obtain the names of all people who might have contact with your child from the school. Ask the school director if, and what type of, background checks have been done on these people. Do your own background on them: 1) Ask other parents who have children there if they've had any concerns; 2) check their criminal/civil records.

As to the frequency of crime against children read the Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Sept. 2001, Crimes Against Children by Babysitters. (http://www.ncjrs.org/html/ojjdp/jjbul2001_9_4/contents.html) Here is a summary statement: ''The fact that babysitters account for approximately 4 percent of crimes committed against children less than 6 years old\x97a rate below that of complete strangers\x97helps put the matter in perspective. ''
Tamara Thompson, Tamara Thompson Investigations

hi, I completely understand your need to keep your child(ren) safe without being in a constant panic or so overprotective that nobody and nothing seems safe. By thinking about this before sending your child out into the world, and by realizing that any child is at risk for abuse to some extent, you are giving your child a huge gift. I am not really sure how helpful this response will be, but I hope it will be of some use to you. I know that there is no easy way to recognize a child molester; to my horror, I found out (after the relationship ended) that someone I was involved with for years is a child molester. I had no idea; there were no warning signs I was able to pick up on; this person, like so many child molesters, had no criminal backgrounds, had a resume that indicated a great interest in children and the ability to work positively in settings including children, and most parents of the children he worked with were happy with the way he interacted with their children. I know now that he fits quite a few characteristics of the ''profile'' of a child molester (do a search online--it will tell you there's no ''true'' profile, but there's a generally agreed-on set of characteristics that, with any reason for suspicion present, would reinforce the suspicion--but please don't start thinking that everyone who fits some of these charac! teristics should be suspect). In this person's case, the ''red flag'' would have been excessive interest in children, accompanied by extreme identification with children, as well as working relentlessly to earn trust and respect of parents in order to gain one-on-one access to children, some of whom he molested. These people usually gravitate towards kids who are needy in some way or another and identify and fill the need, ensuring secrecy and a sense in the child that she or he is partially responsible for the abuse that has taken place. Most offenders molest a great number of children before they get caught. Most victims never tell. Most adults to whom children disclose abuse never report. Most offenders, even if investigated, are never convicted, and even if suspected of the crime, there is nothing in the offender's record to show that he or she was suspected of the crime. Most abuse ! leaves no physical evidence. Most offenders are male.

I personally wouldn't be very panicked about having my child in a daycare setting. Most licensed daycare centers are well supervised and there is usually more than one adult with the children at all times, in addition to a policy of allowing parents to come in anytime without advance notice. If you're worried, choose a daycare with a low teacher-child ratio and with more than one teacher in the room at once. Choose a daycare with open spaces and very few doors, where children and adults can be watched from inside as well as from outside. And, though I feel a need for apologizing to all the male readers out there, it is important to remember that almost all child molesters out there are male (more and more documented cases are recognizing female offenders, but the fact remains that most are men), and if you're really concerned, then choose a daycare in which there are no male teachers, though this ! seems like a bit of an extreme move. Remember, a huge proportion of abuse occurs within the family, in the family residence. You are doing a lot by providing your child with a safe home in which nobody would dream of molesting your child.

Talk to your child about good touches and bad touches and have him or her practice saying ''no'' loudly and tell the child that if touching by anyone, even a close friend or a family member, doesn't feel good, they can scream and get help from an adult. Tell your child that ''we don't keep secrets.'' You will be empowering your child. (I'm sure there's no need to make your child paranoid. Just be straightforward about it) anon

In order to teach in a legally licensed care center in California, all teachers need to be fingerprinted before being hired. They are then checked for any criminal activity and child abuse. If there are any counts of abuse or any major criminal records, they are not able to be hired by centers. However, there are sometimes criminal counts that can be counted as minor and will still allow people to be hired -- things such as petty thefts that happened years ago. These are, however, public information. For any of the centers, you can call the State of California Department of Social Services Childcare Licensing at 510.622.2602 to ask if there is anyone working at specific centers who might have any ''strikes'' against them. While they are not able to reveal who has the record, they have to tell you if anyone there does. In any case, you can call Licensing for more information on the details. -- Learning the details


How are teachers screened for sexual abuse background?

November 2003


Given the recent sexual abuse allegations made against a former student teacher at Mills College, I want to learn more about how teachers and staff are screened for this and other harmful behavior. Do public and private schools need to adhere to the same standards? Is there a state or federal law that must be met? During tours of schools I've asked each school what their procedures are but being new to this whole process I'm not really sure if what they are doing is enough. Is there a way to check on if a school has had complaints or litigation? Does anyone have any information, comments, advice? Thank you

I am a credentialed teacher. In order to receive my credential I had to be fingerprinted. My fingerprints were sent by the university to the state and they did a background check on me. Conviction for sex crimes is one of the things they look for. I can't remember well now, but I think they also check for other criminal convictions as well.

Additionally, when hired by a public school district I was again finger printed. The district refingerprinted me because if they do the check then they will automatically receive updates from the state upon any future conviction.

Recently I left public school employment and began teaching in a private school. They did not require refingerprinting since I hold a current credential. I suppose they can run a check on me through my credential, but I presume they won't get automatic updates.

I don't know if that eases your mind at all. Based on the fact that most abusers work their way through numerous victims before being caught, and then most are not convicted, the system isn't very effective, but it is better than not doing any check at all. teacher mom

This is in response to the parent who asked a broad question a while back about issues to be aware of (or look into) in approaching potential schools, in light of the recent guilty plea of sexual molestation by a former student teacher at Mills College Elementary School (you can find articles about it online at oaklandtribune.com).

As a teacher subsequently posted on this network, background checks are done on potential staff who work with children, but obviously this can go only so far, as first time offenders-to-be are not picked up this way. I guess trying to stay safe in this regard is a bit like trying to guess where lightning will strike next on a mountain, so I'm not sure if I have a good prophylactic solution. I'm sure a molestation is the last thing any school administrator wants to deal with.

Nevertheless, I think sharing my experience as a former parent at the Mills Children's School may be of benefit here. My child was in the very class the student teacher mentioned above trained in '97. Unbeknownst to me (and some other parents), there were several parents who had complained about this man's objectionable behavior to various school officials, some more than once (I've found out about this more recently). They were left with the impression that their complaints would be dealt with. I knew nothing of these complaints and even allowed this student teacher to be alone with my child to collect information for a paper he was writing late in the semester.

Recently, I talked to one of the parents who had complained back then and she told me she wished she had been more persistent and vocal about it. Perhaps, she said, she could have prevented a tragedy.

Now, obviously paranoia could have ill consequences, but I suggest that whichever school your child attends, if you find an official's behavior objectionable, if it rubs you the wrong way, even if you feel it's subtle (it was not so subtle in this case), complain about it. Follow up on your complaint--ask what exactly was done to address your concerns. Even though school officials generally don't want parents to ''talk amongst themselves'', I suggest that you compare notes with other parents. Don't assume that those in charge will always do the right thing. Don't let anybody make you feel guilty about honest dialogue with other parents. anon


Fears about toddler molestation - am I overreacting?

April 2003


Help. I need advise. I am in a nightmare that I don't know how to get out of. I need to hear from others that may have gone through this. I have a 1 -1/5 year old. Sometimes I have fears about my child's father being a molester. I have had two periods of great streess about this but in between have felt like I was making it all up. All I have to go on is my gut and two tiny little incidence where I left the room to take a shower and came back to find my babies diaper off or his overalls off and his father saying he did it himself. Feats that have never happened in my presence before but that are not inconcievable. That I even question him has sent me reeling because I love this man--though obviously trust is an issue for me. When I was a teenager I had an intuition about a man who was molesting my sister and it ended up being true. If I'd done something, my sister and 13 other girls would not have been raped as well. How do I know if I'm over reacting based on my past?

I don't know whether or not the father is molesting your son based on the information you gave. I have spent many years working with children who have been sexually abused, and the repercussions of even the slightest transgression can have a very negative lifelong impact on the child. Even a child as young as your may have difficulty later on with issues of sexual development, self esteem, trust, etc. Children act out in many different ways if they are being molested, and it may be almost impossible to tell if your child is being molested. You may want to have your pediatrician check your son. He/she could recommend you to a more specialized sexual abuse treatment facility if necessary. You may also want to work with a therapist to help you identify some of the signs and symptoms of abuse and help you and your son deal with the after effects of the trauma. Lastly------if you have even the slightest suspicion, trust your gut. This is your son's life you are risking. jesse

First I would like to say that it was very brave of you to post about your fears and that I\x92m glad for you and your son that you chose to do so. I haven\x92t gone through a situation like this, but as a child my father abused me. Through dealing with that I have learned to take my gut instincts and fears very seriously. They are almost always very accurate and if they aren\x92t I at least know that I was trying to protect myself or others. I can not give you very specific advice as to what to do next except to say that your son relies on you for his safety and well being and it is your responsibility to provide that to him. Perhaps confront your husband and seek therapy. I hope that was at least a bit helpful and I also hope that there are other people who can give you advice about what to do from here. Lump in my throat for you

I wanted to respond to your post because I can relate to your Concerns. But first I wanted to let you know that I am very sorry to hear about what happened to your sister and the other girls. But you are in *no way* responsible for what happened to them! The molester and thier caretakers are responsible! You don't know what would have happened if you had spoken up. Children, even teenagers, are all too often ignored when they speak up. It is the responsibility of adults to protect children not other children. So try to let go of this guilt.

I can relate to your fears. I was molested as a child and since I have had my first child all these old fear I thought I'd dealt with have come up for me. Being molested has really distorted my perspective. I think I am more able to recognize molesters but also suspicious of everybody. I have been worried about almost everyone I have left my son with, my husband, other family members and caregivers. In reality I know that not all these people are dangerous but I still worry because I am responsible for my son's safety. In reality, there are some real possiblities for danger in my extended family. I talk to my friends and some trusted family members about my fears and use them as a litmus test. If there is any real evidence that makes me suspicious I keep my son out of those situations. I've been thinking about re-entering therapy to help me sort out my fears from reality. You might consider this, too. But find a therapists who is open to considering all possibilities. Don't see anyone who dismisses your concerns. Good luck. You will figure it out! Anon

I, too, come from a ''molested'' family and I, too, have problems trusting any men including my husband. My father cheated on my mom and molested my sister. I never knew until my sister told me when I was about 14. So, now this experience is part of who I am. I have read a great deal about incest and seductive fathers and the most helpful book was by Judith Herman, I believe, called ''father daughter incest''. Two things I remember from the book: 1. Have your partner read a book about incest or abuse 2. Make it clear to him that if anybody, really ANYBODY touches your child, you are going to the police. You are going to protect your child at whatever cost Most men think they are kind of immune because you love them and educating them on the subject might alleviate the problem. I don't know if you are overreacting, I hope so but keep your eyes open. good luck

Is this baby your partner's son? If so, isn't he changing diapers at least on occasion? If he was going to molest I would think he would contrive time to be alone with the baby for more than a brief period while you are in the home. With the understandable trauma you have experienced (wanting to protect your sister, and feeling you weren't careful enough) I can understand trusting men would be very difficult. If you love this man you have to face your trust issues- something has to change if you are afraid of leaving him alone with toddler for even a short time. If the man is completely innocent, he deserves to be free of suspicion, too. I don't think I would tell him about your worries yet- it could destroy the relationship. I would seek counseling for yourself and be very observant, but try to control suspicion at home. I wish you a life free from fears like this... Anon