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Be a trusted adult — that’s the most important thing you can do to help protect children and teens in your community. No matter why a child or teen is in your life, if you are a person they know they can trust, you are in a position to help them if they are ever in a self-harm, depressed, abusive or other dangerous situation.
Who is a trusted adult?
A trusted adult can be anyone a child or teen knows they can rely on enough to talk to about what is happening in their life. You don’t have to be their parent to be a trusted adult. You could be their teacher, bus driver, neighbor, parent of one of their friends, coach, a member of the same religious or volunteer organization, a relative or anyone who is a part of their life.
Among other words and actions, you may be a trusted adult because you:
- Make the child or teen feel safe and willing to share how they are doing
- Show them that you respect their body boundaries (personal space)
- Are kind and thoughtful – you listen to the child or teen and believe them
- Prove you are dependable, honest, available and willing to help
- Are patient, open-minded and nonjudgmental
Safety check for you and the child
If you are not the child’s or teen’s parent or guardian, make sure you are transparent with their parent or guardian and that they are comfortable and aware of your contact with the child or teen. It is important to always be transparent when spending time with someone else’s child or teen. Here are some good rules to follow to ensure you protect the child/teen and yourself:
- Always spend time in a public place that’s visible to others.
- When a child or teen confides in you that someone is harming them, remain calm and listen.
- Reassure the child/teen that they did the right thing by telling you and that you believe them.
- Explain to the child/teen that you will keep their confidence, which means you will only tell the people that need to know to keep them safe.
- Tell the child’s parent or guardian if the child discusses safety or well-being issues that are concerning (but don’t involve the parent as the issue).
What can a trusted adult do for a child or teen?
Being a trusted adult also makes you a role model or mentor. The child or teen will be learning from what they see you doing as well as from the conversations you share. Here are some things you can do to build a safe space for the child or teen in your life.
- Learn about what they are in to. It’s important to know about the latest gadgets, apps, games, books or topics they are in to so you can understand their references.
- Create time just for them. Schedule regular time together. Activities such as gardening, crafts, eating a meal, walking or riding in a car may help them open up more.
- Ask open-ended questions. What is your favorite … ? What do you like most about … ? Follow-up questions can be as simple as: “Why?” or, “What makes you say that?”
- Keep the conversation flowing. Ask about their feelings: How did that make you feel? What do you think of that? Share your experiences. Play the game, “Would you rather … or ….?”
- Share your feelings. They need to see how you handle the good and bad events in your life. They need to know that it’s OK not to be OK sometimes and how to handle all emotions safely.
Another thing to consider is how to answer big questions. Children and teens may ask some deep or uncomfortable questions. Keep the following strategies in mind to help you answer the big questions.
- Take a moment to think about your answer before you give it.
- Consider their age/maturity and tailor your answer to meet their level.
- Ask what they think the answer is. Or ask, “What made you ask that?” This can tell you their level of understanding or clue you in to what may be going on behind the question.
- Be honest with them if you don’t know the answer. Tell them you’ll research it and get back to them later.
- Put your answer on hold. If you need more time to think about your answer, let them know you want to think about it and that you’ll answer them later. Make sure to get back to them.
How can a trusted adult get help for a child or teen?
A child or teen who trusts you may share with you that a parent, guardian, other adult, child or teen has abused them. Or you may notice that they have injuries that don’t match up with their activities or what they say happened. Through your conversations, you may discover that the child or teen is stressed about what sounds like an abusive relationship.
Always trust your gut instinct.
If you suspect a child or teen is in an abusive relationship, even if you aren’t 100% sure, you should seek a professional’s help. Call a staff member at your installation’s Family Advocacy Program office. Your FAP office is a safe space for the military community to get support. You can call them for any reason, and even if they don’t handle the resource that will solve your problem, they will connect you with what you need. There is no harm in reaching out to them.
FAP is a safe space for the military community
Family Advocacy Program offices are staffed with compassionate professionals who care about the safety and well-being of those in the military community. They are there to help families thrive in military life. They are also there to support families who are struggling with any issue.
If you are concerned that a child is in an unsafe situation, you can call your installation Family Advocacy Program office and speak with a professional, who will:
- Assess the situation. The Family Advocacy Program staff member will gather the information you provide, assess the situation and determine the next steps. FAP staff members are not investigators. They only gather information and coordinate support resources for the family.
- Secure the child’s safety. FAP staff members don’t take kids away from their families. They coordinate services to ensure a child’s safety.
- Enlist support to help the family heal. If the child or family needs counseling, the FAP staff member will coordinate that support through FAP or a civilian counseling office. FAP also offers support services such as the New Parent Support Program and education and local community resources.
Trusted adults ensure child and teen safety — so make the call
When a child or teen trusts you enough to share the scariest parts of their life with you, such as the trauma of abuse, you owe it to them to find the help they need to stay safe. Calling FAP to report a suspicion of abuse is not about getting anyone in trouble. It’s about keeping a child or teen safe.
Things to know before you call FAP to report suspicions of abuse include:
- Anyone (civilian or military) can call FAP to report a suspicion of abuse.
- National Guard families that aren’t in active status can still report to a FAP staff member, who will make sure the family is safe.
- If you are not a mandated reporter, you can anonymously report a suspicion of abuse.
- If you are a mandated reporter of child abuse, you must state your name when you call.
Be the trusted adult — protect the child — make the call. Family Advocacy Program office staff will help you determine the next steps. They will protect the child and get the family whatever support and resources they need to heal.