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How to be a safe adult for children during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

16th June 2020


Darkness to Light is a non-profit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Their work is guided by the belief that violence prevention is possible and that it is an adult responsibility to protect children.

Katelyn Brewer, President and CEO of Darkness to Light discusses how during the COVID-19 pandemic, adults can modify their approach to protect kids and prevent child abuse. There are actionable steps we can take as a parent or caregiver towards preventing and responding to sexual abuse and creating safer environments for children.

Why do children face an increased vulnerability to sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Katelyn Brewer: The unfortunate reality for some children is that home is not safe under normal conditions. However, according to a 2019 study, stress associated with a disaster, or in this case a pandemic, can lead to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse. Children may be quarantined with their abuser.

School and after school activities served as a much-needed reprieve and access to a safe adult. COVID-19 has forced those students to be separated from educators and administrators, responsible for 52% of child abuse reports in the US.

We know from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study, that without the support of caring and competent adults, stress can become toxic for children, with profound effects on brain structures and functions that develop later in childhood.

Many educators, caregivers and youth-serving organizations are not interacting with students right now in-person. What can they do to make sure children are protected from sexual violence from afar?

Katelyn Brewer: The Mood Meter App is a great way to check-in on kids’ emotions and what is going on with them. Another idea is to have kids keep a journal on what they are noticing, witnessing, feeling, and experiencing. To help protect kids from sexual abuse and minimize opportunity, it’s important to prevent isolation, keep situations interruptible, and set expectations. These 3 things can be applied to any situation, in-person or virtually.

Even though kids may not be going to classrooms, camps, and extracurricular activities, you can still be a safe adult for them. If you have contact with them virtually or via phone, ask some open-ended questions to gauge their reaction. You can create a code word they can use if something is wrong. For kids who may not have internet access or you can’t get in touch with, do a drive-by of their house and see if you can check-in from afar.

What do you wish people understood about child abuse?

Katelyn Brewer: Child abuse is preventable.

The effects of child sexual abuse can lead to prevalent lifelong health issues, but by preventing child sexual abuse, we can help dramatically reduce depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

What tips do you have for parents who want to protect their children from sexual violence?

Katelyn Brewer: Darkness to Light’s 5 Steps to Protecting Children™ is a guide for developing protective behaviors against abuse.

The 5 Steps are:

  1. Learn the facts
  2. Minimize opportunity
  3. Talk About It
  4. Recognize the signs
  5. React Responsibly

Let your kids know you are there for them and that they can tell you anything and you will believe them.

Talking about sexual violence can be scary. Any tips for starting conversations with kids?

Katelyn Brewer: Talking openly about our bodies and healthy boundaries with kids helps to build a strong bond that will make you the “go-to-person” when they have questions or if a situation arises. If you are feeling unsure, take a deep breath!

The most important thing is to make sure your kids understand that no matter what happens, they can share with you without fear of being blamed and that you will protect them. Here are some tips to get started.

For people who would like to learn more about solutions to prevent VAC during this pandemic, what resources do you recommend?

Katelyn Brewer: In response to the unique challenge of keeping kids safe during this time, Darkness to Light launched a new training, Protecting Children During a Crisis. This training is specifically designed to help parents and caregivers navigate through the unusual circumstances they may be facing our current global health crisis. The training is provided at no cost, takes 30 minutes, and can be taken online.

Through Darkness to Light’s partnership with an advocate and champion gymnast, Aly Raisman, individuals can take the Stewards of Children® prevention training at no cost Learn to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse Use the code FLIPTHESWITCH at

Darkness to Light also has created resources on taking protective steps, minimizing the opportunity for abuse, and online safety protocols of teachers and parents. See more resources here.

Solutions to prevent sexual violence

Learn more about the Darkness to Light intervention to prevent sexual violence against children