Dear Hobie & Monk,
I’m in an awkward situation with the family of my 8-year-old daughter’s best friend. I recently learned that this friend might have been abused by a family member. I trust that this is reliable information and also know that the incident was reported by school personnel to child and family services.
Although I don’t know how the situation was handled, I do know that the accused family member is still around. The problem is that my daughter has been asked by her friend and her mother to sleep over at their house, and though I’m very fond of this little girl, I’m not comfortable with a sleepover or even a play date. My daughter wants to hang out with her friend, and I don’t want to offend the family. What should I do?
– Better Safe than Sorry
Monk: If you have concerns that an environment isn’t safe for your daughter, keep her out of that environment. In this case, I would trust my instincts and find another way for these buddies to spend time together. In addition to having play dates and sleepovers in your home, you might arrange a time for you, the girls and the best friend’s mother to get together.
In the meantime, have an age-appropriate conversation with your daughter about her personal safety, emphasizing that she can always come to you (also identify a couple of other trusted adults) if she is uncomfortable or hurt. Be specific about what “uncomfortable or hurt” means, using language that is appropriate for her. Consider this conversation ongoing and evolving, one you will repeat and update as she matures and becomes more independent.
Hobie: Yes, and I’d go even further, frankly. The additional red flags are that the possible abuser is a family member who is “still around” and that school personnel reported the incident rather than the child’s family.
Without knowing more about the situation — and it’s a serious one in which the details really, really matter — these two factors certainly suggest that the other adults in this girl’s family at a minimum are not focused on keeping her safe and may be exposing her to other ongoing risks. You need to stop worrying about offending anyone and focus solely on your daughter’s safety (and her friend’s), and that means constant visual supervision of the girls even under your roof.
Children exposed to inappropriate behaviors often display inappropriate behaviors around their peers, and you’ll need to be watching for safe interactions to protect both girls. Although as a concerned adult you’re not what’s legally deemed a “mandated reporter” of suspected child abuse unless you also are a health care and/or school employee, you care about this child and can and should pass on information if you sense that she’s in any danger.
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