Helping your child cope with the effects of crime

A child can be both a direct and indirect victim of a crime. Direct crimes include bullying and theft, while indirect crimes can be crimes against the home or against friends and family. It is important to recognise they can both have a great affect on a child, no matter what age they are.

The effects of crime

People react to crime in many ways. Fear, worry, guilt and anger are just some of the feelings that crime can cause, for both children and adults. But lots of other reactions are common too, and quite normal. Boys are just as likely as girls to be upset by a crime and different children in the same family may react differently. No child is too young to feel shock, fear and distress. However, young children may find it particularly difficult to understand what has happened, and why they feel the way they do.

Crime can trigger physical symptoms as well as emotional ones. Your child may complain about headaches, stomach pains, feeling sick and general aches and pains.

Other reactions may include:

• problems eating

• problems sleeping

• poor schoolwork

• a fear of the dark

• avoidance of other people

Children, and those around them, may not realise that these problems are related to the crime.

How you can help your child

There are a number of things you can do to reassure your child and to help them recover. As a parent or carer, you know your child best and have the most experience of coping with any problems your child has.

Encourage them to look at www.youandco.org.uk . This is Victim Support UK’s site for young people. It can be a good starting point for a conversation about how the crime may affect them. Children and young people are much more able to come to terms with a hurtful experience when they have the love and support of their family. Because you know your child best it is important for you to think about your child’s needs and to be sensitive to any changes in their behaviour and feelings after a crime. Your child can also contact ChildLine, a private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of 19.

If you were affected by the crime as well, it might be difficult for you to realise that your child might not be affected in the same way as you. And it is natural to be distracted by the crime, so you may not be as aware of your child’s feelings. If you (or other members of your family) have become anxious or distressed by the incident, these feelings can be picked up by your child. This may make them feel more anxious and afraid. It is important for you to address your own anxieties, possibly by seeking help or by using relaxation techniques to help you through this time. One of our volunteers will be here for you if you need them. Reassuring your child is very important. Children may find it difficult to tell parents or carers about things that have happened. They may think that they will get into trouble, or they might feel guilty. Don’t dismiss their worries. Let your child know that you’re available to talk – when they open up; encourage them to discuss their fears.

Giving as much information as you can and answering questions truthfully can help. If your child keeps wanting to talk about what happened, let them. Teenagers can often go the other way and not speak – this is normal teenage behaviour – but make sure to make time to listen if they do decide to talk. It is important to let your child know that you are glad that they told you. Your child will hopefully feel reassured to know that you are more concerned about their safety than the fact that, for example, their bike or mobile phone has gone.

Even if you think that your child was taking a risk, breaking a rule or being careless, this does not mean that they deserve to be assaulted or to have things stolen. Your child may be very worried about how you might react. You may need to reassure them that what happened was not their fault. Taking reasonable steps to protect yourself against crime is part of everyday life – but at the same time you won’t want your child to spend all their time worrying about crime prevention. You may feel that talking to your child about the crime could make things worse.

But keeping quiet can make children – especially younger ones – wonder why nothing is being said and this may confuse or frighten them more. Avoiding the problem may allow fears to build up over time. Some younger children will find it helpful, when they are ready, if you go back with them to the place where the crime happened. But in the wrong circumstances this could be a frightening idea – so once again be sensitive to your child’s needs.

Other things to consider

• Don’t try to rush your child into returning to their old routines or habits.

• Children need to move at their own pace and encouraging them slowly and in stages may be more helpful. New activities (sports, clubs, etc) or new friends can help children to feel more positive.

• ‘YES’, the Youth Enquiry Service, offers free and confidential advice and information to anyone aged 14 – 25, including a drop-in center and counselling service. For more information see www.yes.je/

• For a list of Youth Clubs in jersey click here www.gov.je/Leisure/YouthClubsProjects – Youth Clubs are an excellent place to meet new people and experience different things.

• Give your child plenty of time to come to terms with their feelings.

• Some young children find it difficult to talk about unpleasant things that have happened. They may find it easier to draw pictures or write stories about it. Encouraging them to do this will help them.

• Why not ask your child what would make them feel safer? Perhaps they will suggest something that you have not thought of.

• Getting advice from your family doctor or your health visitor may be helpful, especially if your child has worries or health problems that you cannot help with.

• Let the school know something has happened – most schools in Jersey have a counsellor who pupils can go and see.

Information for specific types of crime

Bullying

Bullying is very common and causes a lot of distress. Some people think that bullying is not a crime as it is usually carried out by children against children. But if adults were subjected to some of the things that bullying involves it would often be treated as a criminal offence (e.g. violent attacks, theft and extortion). Bullying is serious and it is important that action is taken. Help or information is available from us (for example, a trained Victim Support volunteer could, if you wish, help you to raise the issue with the school) and from other organisations such as, please see www.jerseycommunityrelations.org/What-We-Do/Anti–Bullying

It is also important to be aware of cyber-bulling. www.thinkuknow.co.uk and Childline offer more information on this. Encourage your child to explore this with you, so they are aware it can and does happen. Crimes against the home or property A child may be seriously affected by a burglary at the home, whether or not they were there, even if they were asleep when it happened. Children can react in many ways. Some become afraid at night, have disturbed sleep, bad dreams, fear of the dark or of sleeping alone. Others may be very unsettled at home, frightened of being left by themselves or of going into rooms on their own, or worried that a burglar will come back. This can affect a child’s behaviour, making them search the house or refuse to leave the home.

Things you can do

These are things that other parents have found helpful in making children feel safe again at home:

• Giving the child a personal alarm or a torch might give them a greater sense of security or control. We can issue you with a personal alarm.

• A nightlight left on all night, or until you go to bed, may help to reduce a fear of the dark. If you don’t want your child to rely on this, think of it as a temporary measure – your child may need to adjust gradually to sleeping in the dark again.

• Music can help a child to relax and feel calmer. Leaving the bedroom door open will let your child know that they can call out for you and may help to reassure them.

• Involving your children in talking about or improving home security can help them to feel secure. If new locks are being fitted, let your children watch.

• You should be able to get home security advice from the police crime prevention officers.

Crimes against people known to the child

This kind of crime can be particularly difficult as parents or carers will have to deal with the situation and with their own feelings, as well as those of their child. We know that children can have very strong reactions to crimes committed against people who are close to them – such as a parent or carer. Typically they may be anxious about a loved-one’s well-being and safety, as well as concerned about their own security.

Violent or aggressive behaviour between family members is particularly distressing for children. Children may need a lot of reassurance in these situations. Take time to find out exactly how the child is feeling. Children may also need a lot of help to understand what has happened and why other things are happening as a result. For example, if someone has been injured and is in hospital, you may need to explain what a hospital is, why the person has cuts and bruises, and that hospital is where people usually go to get better.

Help with other types of crime

Children can be affected by the same number of crimes as adults – if you are worried about other, possibly very serious, crimes that are not covered here please contact us.

We have specially trained volunteers who can provide help to cope with the effects of most crime.

Specialist support and counselling for young survivors and their families of rape or sexual assault from the age of fourteen is available from JAAR (Jersey Action Against Rape), helpline 01534 482800,  www.jaar.je

If you are worried about the welfare of someone else’s child, we can put you in touch with an organisation which has responsibility in this area.

How Victim Support can help

We can offer a trained volunteer who you can talk to in confidence. They can see you and other members of the family to go through the issues raised by the crime and discuss different ways to help you and your child to cope with the effects of the crime. Victim Support normally only sees children under 16 with your permission and in the presence of their parents or carers.

Practical help and support

A volunteer can go with you and your child to the police station if you want them to. They can help you to deal with other agencies, such as schools. They can also give you information about police and court procedures, repairs, insurance, home security and compensation.

Help at court

If your case is going to court, Victim Support’s Witness Service can help children, you and other family members to understand and cope with the experience.

Help for you

Your child may not be the only one needing support. Both you and other family members may be having strong feelings. Some parents or carers feel very angry or upset themselves at what has happened. Others may find it difficult to be as supportive to their own child as they would like to be.

The family section of the Citizens Advice Bureau’s website www.cab.org.je offers information on all family related matters.

The Bridge run some excellent parenting courses – their contact details can be found here: www.gov.je/Caring/Organisations/Pages/Parentingsupportservices

The following UK based charities have excellent websites offering information, advice and support:

Parentline www.familylives.org.uk

NSPCC www.nspcc.org.uk

States of Jersey Police home and belongings webpage, see www.jersey.police.uk/be-safe/home-and-belongings/

Victims of crime are usually referred to us by the police, but anyone can also contact us directly, whether or not you want to report the crime to the police.