An example by Sherry Amelse, Carver County Children’s Voice Leads to Effective Safety Plans
Sherry’s Safety House Example Step-Dad Mom Dad 6 11 1
Background (#1) • Six year-old reports that she was awoken by her step-dad said he was touching her vagina with his ‘hand on her skin’. Said it made her feel like she needed to go the bathroom. Mom works closing shifts and was working at the time. • Six year-old said she felt so uncomfortable that she ‘stayed up the rest of the night’. Mother reports that when she came home early in the morning daughter was still awake and clearly looking uncomfortable. • In response to mom’s questioning six year-old reported above. Mother attempted to question step-dad who was drunk and asleep on the coach and could not be woken. • Mother took daughter upstairs, locked door and immediately called police. Dad was arrested. He later reported that he had approached six year old because he was concerned that she had wet the bed, although he did confirm touching her skin to skin. Not all facts fit the case but six year old later said “he could have just been trying to clean me” and district attorney declined to prosecute.
Background (#2) • Mother reported that “whatever happened it was enough to make my daughter uncomfortable and that’s not OK.” She asked father to leave house and father agreed. • As time passed (couple of months) however both parents did want to see each other, wanted to spend time together with their 1 year old child. It seemed likely they were going to begin seeing each other again in any scenario. • Child was exhibiting no particular symptoms and reported she was not frightened about seeing step-father again. • Sherry began working with the daughter to help construct a safety plan that Carver county, mother, daughter and step-father could both do and would keep daughter safe.
What Sherri wanted to do: • Interview the 6-year-old “giving her a voice”. Wanted to get her perspective on what happened and also what kind of plan she would want to see in order to feel safe • Respect Mom’s request: Sherry was not to talk anyone at school (mother was worried daughter would be labeled). Mother did give Sherry permission to talk to MD and other providers. • Deal realistically with the idea that step-dad was likely to be in six-year olds life for a long time. Need from Sherry’s perspective was to start creating more ongoing safety for the six year-old even in this scenario.
What Sherry did: • Attempted to connect with child • Asked (many!) questions (see handout) • Who would live in your safety house? Who could visit your safety house? What would the rules be in your safety house? Would there be a rule about touching? What would happen if someone broke the drinking rule? What is keeping M from being in the safety house? Could M ever visit the safety house? What would need to happen to keep you safe if he did visit? • Used the child’s exact words on the safety house • Respected the child’s boundaries • Let the child decide what we would discuss • Got the child’s permission to share • Honored the child’s competence • “Your Mom will be so proud of you for talking about this and still following the rule by not talking about this with anyone at school.”
What She Got: My Second Safety House B (6)’s Safety House
No Smoking • No drinking beer and stuff. No getting drunk for M. • Rule about touching places –boobies, eyes, peepee, butt, heels • No hitting, no grabbing hair • Hugs – like them • Mom told M not to do it anymore – what he did when he was drunk Daddy,Mommy B (1), M (11), B (6) • Grandpa & Grandma – babysit us while Mommy is gone at work • Daddy would visit the safety house one time • M (11) – would sleep over, make breakfast and help me clean my room • Kendall, Emma, Peyton & Ella – kid friends who would visit Step dad – He always gets drunk, acts like he can’t hear. Could visit the safety house because he wouldn’t do it anymore (what he did when he was drunk)
What She Got: My Second Safety House • Mom and Dad don’t smoke or do nothing like that . That’s how they keep me safe. Mommy won’t get drunk • Hugs – Mommy, Daddy, Brother, Sister, Grandpa & Grandma • If someone broke the rule about getting drunk, I would tell Mom. She would call the police again. • If someone broke the touching rule, I would tell Mommy to call the police. They would come and take the person who broke the rule.
What She Got: My Second Safety House • M could visit only if Mommy was there. She would be by me if I was talking to M in living room. • M could go in their bedroom with Mom. I would be in my bedroom . B (1) would be with me. • M could come to the house if Mom was working and I was at Grandma’s house. • B (1) would be with me. • M could not sleep at the safety house. Scaling: I attempted to scale safety with B (6) but was not able to find a way to ask that she could understand.
What She Did Next: • Shared the safety house with Mom • Asked Mom what was most helpful for her about B (6)’s safety house. • Definitely does not want him sleeping over. • Does not want to be left alone with M. • Okay for him to visit if I’m here. • Okay for him to come here if she’s not here. • Worked with Mom to make a safety plan based upon what she learned from B (6)’s safety house. • Provided copies of the safety plan and got commitment from M and the network.
Rule 1: M will live with J until Mommy, B (6), M and the rest of the safety network and social worker decide it is okay for him to come back. Rule 3: M will never go in B (6)’s bedroom for any reason. Rule 2: If M visits while B (6) is home, Mommy will always be in the same room with B (6). If Mommy has to use the bathroom while M is there, the bathroom door will stay open and B (6) will stay where Mommy can see her. M will never visit unless Mommy is home. Rule 4: M will only be allowed to sleep at B (6)’s house when B is not home. M will leave before Mommy goes to bed but he will always leave before midnight. B (6) and B (1) will stay with a safety network person if M is sleeping over. 14
What Happened Next: An Initial Safety Plan Rule 5: M will not drink any beer or alcohol until the safety network agrees it is okay. Rule 6: M will not take care of B (1) on his own until the safety network agrees it is okay. B (1) can spend time with M and stay overnight with him at J’s house as long as J and/or R are there. Signatures and Date plan was made with verbal commitment later from M, J and maternal grandmother. 15
Final Thoughts: What Sherry Learned: • The Safety House can probably get to solutions/safety more quickly than the Three Houses. • I still need to find a better way to ask scaling questions with very young children. • Again, there is nothing more powerful to a parent than the words of their own child. • Children should be at the center of every safety plan. • The more I try something new, the more comfortable and natural it becomes! 16