The following questions are tools for evaluating the safety of your childcare options and preventing, to best of your ability, your child encountering sexualized behaviors or sexual abuse in a daycare setting. 40% of sexual assaults against children happen by other children (1). In addition to evaluating the daycare workers, an evaluation of the children your child will be surrounded by is a beneficial step in ensuring safety. Some of these questions will be more or less relevant depending on the child care setting. A simple rule of thumb is the greater the supervision and the lesser the amount of children (of the same age and size), the safer the environment.
1. Call the licensing body of the childcare provider/facility and ask about sexual misconduct allegations.
These cases are public record. It’s not enough to just ask the worker themselves (though we hope they wouldn’t lie). The licensing body is legally obligated to tell you if there have been allegations or convictions of the childcare entity you are considering. If you are considering a childcare provider who is not licensed, make sure to receive consent to conduct a background check.
2. What is the acceptable age range for children in your care?
Sexual abuse happens when one child imposes more detailed sexual information/behavior on a child from a position of power. Age, size, physical dominance, and developmental advancement all are forms of power that can open your child to potential risk.
3. Have your children ever exhibited harmful behaviors towards others?
This is a great question to ascertain your prospect childcare provider’s level of awareness. If they’re not sure what you mean by harmful behaviors or can’t think of much— that might be a red flag. Behaviors for you to keep in mind and potentially specifically ask about would be physical aggression (biting, scratching, kicking etc.), stealing, unwanted touching, sneaking in pornographic materials, discussing sexual content, urinating on others, inappropriate nudity, threats, coercion, intimidation, secrecy, or foul language/name calling.
4. Would you sign a release of information for me to interview your children’s teachers at school to evaluate if they have ever had aggressive or sexualized behaviors?
This is relevant for a childcare provider who stays home with his or her children and is offering to watch your children as well (an optimal childcare situation). This may seem invasive to some— a preface to the question detailing your intentions in asking for it might be helpful. You’re not trying to determine if they are a good parent or trying to learn personal information about their child. You’re simply assessing if the child has shown aggressive, or sexualized behaviors towards other children in school. A refusal to give a release would not necessarily be a deal breaker for me but it would go a long way in building rapport if they did. In the case of the childcare provider having a teenager who would be active in the care of my child, I would be more insistent on this point.
5. Describe what supervision means to you?
Are children always within line-of-sight? Can they play in the backyard/pool when you’re inside? Are children permitted to play in the bedroom with the door closed?
6. What are your beliefs regarding nudity?
What’s an acceptable amount between children? With adults and children? Every family has norms around nudity: is it okay for a two year old to run around completely nude? What about a four year old? Is it acceptable for boys to have their shirts off? What is the expected swimwear at their house? Do children ever bathe together? Do children use the bathroom or change together? Do they change diapers in front of others or privately? If your child soiled themselves what is their parodical for clean up? It’s good to ensure you are aligned on these points.
7. What avenues are there for children to access the internet? What are the blocks and parameters?
Children’s access to inappropriate media or pornography can be a highly influential factor in sexualized behavior. Children act out and dramatize what they are exposed to through pretend play— it’s important to know what the children are exposed to.
Ask about phone time, youtube, the apps on the tv, computers, iPads— get a handle on all the potential devices available in the home. Do children ever use devices unsupervised?
8. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with a child? What did you do?
Some examples might be a four year old child that wants to give open mouth kisses to every adult they see, a child looking through other people’s drawers, touching fragile objects, or wanting to snuggle in bed, or a child using profane language around other kids. Have their been times the child-care provider set a boundary with a child and how did they handle that? You’re looking for awareness around domains such as personal space, topics of conversation, conflict resolution, and authority.
9. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with an adult in regards to your children? What did you do?
This is valuable information. Does the daycare provider have awareness around children and other adults? Relevant topics would be personal space, inappropriate conversation, and discipline. Was there a time another adult tried to inappropriately discipline one of your children/children in your care? Was there a time an adult was using inappropriate language or talking about sexual topics in front of your child/ children in your care? What did you do? Can the childcare provider assert themselves and handle the conflict implicit in asserting boundaries with another adult?
10. What would you do if you witnessed sexual behaviors between children?
Daycare workers should have an understanding of what constitutes normal and problematic sexualized behavior (see “Was that sexual abuse? Or was that normal?”). Assessing the level of insight he or she has in regards to handling crisis situations is useful in knowing if you can trust this person to protect your child.
Ask for a list of 3 references of families who have left their children in the daycare provider’s care. When speaking to those references ask if there were ever any instances of aggressive or sexualized behavior. Did you feel they were adequately supervised or were there times the kids were off on their own? Was there access to pornography or inappropriate media? What was the discipline like? Ask questions regarding the content in the above questions to the point where you/they feel comfortable.
With these questions you will be able gather relevant information needed to promote your child’s safety.
1. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.
Matthias Barker is completing his masters in clinical mental health counseling at Northwest University and is currently practicing at Lutheran Community Services fulfilling his internship. Matthias is working towards specialization in treating children who have undergone severe abuse as well as men recovering from childhood abuse. Before pursuing a counseling career Matthias held pastoral positions at various churches serving as a youth pastor and college internship coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys making ceramic, collecting house plants, and cooking BBQ. Matthias and his wife Paige live in Spokane, WA.