Tips: Safety planning for children
The safety plan that you develop with your children will be aligned with your own. But because children within the same family vary in age, needs and abilities, they will require different plans.
The goal of the safety plan is to empower your children by making sure they know how to get help when they need it.
It is important for children to understand that they are not responsible or to blame for the violence or abuse they witness or are subjected to.
Preparing for emergencies
- Teach children that, during a violent episode, their job is to get away from the violence, stay safe and, if it is safe for them to do so, get help.
- Create a code word. This will be a cue for them to find a safe place and/or get help.
- Teach your children how to call 911 or local police services in an emergency. Role play with them by teaching your child(ren) to give their address and location, a description of the situation, their phone number and name. Make sure they remember to leave the phone off the hook until help arrives. This avoids the operator calling back and alerting the abuser.
- Depending on the ages of your children, you may want to talk to them about the five-finger system. In this system, each finger represents a safe person for them to contact in an emergency and/or someone they can talk to about what is going on at home: the police, a trusted neighbour, their teacher, the parent of a friend, a close relative.
Supports for children
- Talk to children about who they can go to for help in their community (family members, friends, teachers, neighbours, police, etc.).
- Talk to supportive people involved in your child’s life so that they know they are part of your child’s safety plan.
- If the Children’s Aid Society is involved with your family, consider speaking to your worker about the safety plan for your children.
- Connect with a counsellor who understands the dynamics of woman abuse and the impact on children. This person can help to formulate a safety plan and help children to emotionally deal with what is happening in their family.
- Use formal resources such as the family court, Children’s Aid Society and police to help ensure your children’s safety. It can be very helpful to do this with the support of an advocate or counsellor.
- Keep a journal of access visit dates and the impact of visits on your children.
- Remember that an access order can be changed if you believe that your child is being mistreated or abused.
- If your children have smart phones, tablets or other electronic devices, consider whether you should shut down any tracking functions. While these functions can be helpful to you and the police if the child is abducted or withheld by the father, they can also be used by the father to find you and/or your children. Check their devices from time to time to be sure no such functions have been installed by your ex-partner.
- Talk to your children about their experiences, worries and hopes, and allow them to own their feelings. Make safety plans for each situation that has happened or that you believe could happen to your children. This will help them to be prepared and to know what to do in those circumstances.
- Just as your safety plan will change as circumstances do, so will your children’s. Identify increased risk factors such as: a difficult court date, special events in the children’s lives, changes in the access schedule, threats from the children’s father, etc., and update the safety plan as needed.
Safety planning with infants and toddlers is challenging, because they are too young to play a role in keeping themselves safe or even to understand what is going on.
However, you can help a very young child feel safer and more secure by assuring them you will always come back if you leave, that things will be okay and that the situation is not one for them to worry about. If you do have to leave home, try to bring some of your child’s special belongings (a blanket, toy or book) with you to help them feel more secure in your new location.
Even though safety planning with children means you need to discuss risks posed by their father, you can and should make sure your children know that it is okay for them to love their father and to want to spend time with him.
Assure them that you will support them in spending time with their dad in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.