Contact with the perpetrator
Children and young people’s views on whether to have contact with the perpetrator (who may be in prison or in the community) are often not considered. Some may miss the perpetrating parent, struggle between wanting and not wanting to stay in contact or plan to do so in the future when they feel ready. In the same family, siblings can have very different opinions.
Often, children and young people don’t want to build a relationship with the perpetrator. They may be afraid of them, especially if the perpetrator previously tried to control or intimidate them. When children and young people do want contact, it’s often for reasons like obtaining information, seeking an apology, accompanying a sibling, or answering a request from the perpetrator.
Children and young people should not be forced into having contact with the perpetrator. Practitioners can help them consider a wide range of options – communicating through a postcard, social media or Zoom once in a while can feel very different from a prison visit. If contact is wanted, practitioners can help the child or young person feel safe (e.g. having someone accompany them, mediating between families).
It is important for practitioners to remain open minded in regard to the feelings that may arise for children and young people towards the perpetrator, as this may be a source of confusion, shame and guilt for them. Thus, practitioners face questions like:
- How do you maintain a trusting relationship with a child or young person when a decision is made that goes against what they want?
- How can we help the child or young person feel safe if they contact the perpetrator?
Additionally, we may also reflect on:
- Is there a possibility that the perpetrator is in contact with the child or young person without the knowledge of services (in person or using social media platforms)?
- Who informs the child, young person and their family when the perpetrator is released from jail?