Supporting a child or a young person

Parents/guardians

A traumatic experience will also affect the victim’s circle of family and friends. It is important that the child or young person feels that they are loved and accepted just as they are. Feelings of being appreciated strengthen a young person’s self-esteem and help them cope with difficult situations. Children and young people need support from grown-ups to develop and maintain their self-esteem and self-assurance. Adults can also give them the knowledge and skills they need to cope with problems.

When a child or a young person talks about his or her experience, they need to be told that to talk about what has happened is the right thing to do. It is important to tell the young person he or she is not guilty of what has happened and to emphasise the offender’s responsibility for the crime. You must always take the person’s story seriously. Crime victims must receive continuous help and support. Parents and guardians should ask about the incident and give the victim time to talk about it and cope with what has happened. The person should not blamed, suspected, or his or her experience downplayed. The important thing is to provide the safe presence of an adult and an opportunity for discussion and being heard. Continued everyday routines are also beneficial for the child or young person. A young crime victim needs a sense of security to be able to cope, and in this, uninterrupted everyday activities and handling of basic needs are important.

Parents and guardians find it distressing and emotionally difficult when their child becomes a victim of a crime. The way an adult thinks, feels or processes a crime is different from how child or young person does. Those who are close to a victim may have difficulty grasping the sequence of events and how the child ended up becoming a victim. The child’s experience can awaken all kinds of emotions in grownups, including shame, guilt and anxiety. Feelings of guilt can also arise from the thought that one was not able to protect the child. It is therefore important that parents and guardians also receive support for coping with the situation and are able to act wisely in spite of the crisis. In this way, they will also best be able to help child or young person recover from the crime.

Support from a friend

Often the person we turn to for help, support and advice when something awful has happened is a close friend. A friend will listen to you, show compassion and help and support you in difficult life situations.
The moods of a victim can change rapidly and involve a wide range of feelings. He or she may feel guilt, shame, anger, helplessness or fear. He or she may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, nightmares or increase their use of alcohol or drugs. It is also normal if a crime victim does not have the strength to keep in touch with friends and just wants to be alone. It can sometimes even seem that the crime has not had any impact on the victim at all. Although the victim may not seem to be in need of any help, it is still important to provide support and make sure that the victim seeks professional help.

Support your friend and encourage them to get help, even if you are unsure if a crime has occurred. If the victim talks about the event all the time, it may be an attempt to deal with the incident by “talking it away”. Even if you feel you would rather stop hearing about the incident, speaking about it can be important for your friend. When your friend tells you about it, it also shows that he or she believes you understand the situation. However, you should not feel offended if your friend does not want to tell you everything that has happened or if your friend won’t tell you anything. Sometimes, the experience is so distressing that the victim simply cannot talk about it with anyone. One reason for not talking about the incident can also be that your friend wishes to protect you and others from such a distressing matter. For example, the victim of sexual abuse may feel guilt or shame. It is also possible that the victim does not remember anything. You should encourage the victim to speak with a trusted adult or to contact Victim Support Finland.

Helping the victim as a friend can also be difficult for you personally. Hearing about a distressing event can evoke the same kind of emotional reactions as the victim. It is therefore important that you take care of yourself. Do not carry too heavy a burden for your friend. If what your friend tells you causes distress or fear, you may also seek help by talking to a trusted adult or by contacting Victim Support Finland. Remember not to talk with other people about matters that your friend has told you in confidence.

Professional support

An encounter with a young crime victim must be based on genuine human interaction and concern. Active presence and listening are vital to help the victim cope and process the experience and also find confidence for continued survival. Children and young people need an adult who takes control of the situation, because they themselves often find it difficult to understand the crime that has happened. A respectful and inclusive conversation provides a safe setting for processing the matter and talking about the incident.

Encountering a crime victim can awaken all kinds of feelings also in a professional helper, such as confusion, disbelief and uncertainty. The encounter can have an impact on the helper, both professionally and personally. As a professional, one must identify, accept and process such emotions so as to ensure one’s own capacity for coping and thus to provide continued support to the victim.

In any meeting with a crime victim, it is important to stay calm and to give the young victim time. If during the meeting the crime first comes out into the open, the key thing is to support the victim and guide him or her toward further help. At that stage, it is not necessary to know the exact details, and further questioning can be left to the police. Whatever the victim has to say should nevertheless be written down. Excessively specific questions about the crime may weaken the police’s ability to investigate the crime, as such questions can be interpreted as leading the victim.

Professionals working with underage victims are required to make a Child Welfare Notification and report the crime to the police, if warranted by the situation. The victim’s fears can be allayed by information about what the incident means and what can happen in their case in the future. An honest and confidential encounter with the child or young person will help them cope with the experience. A genuine presence and compassion do not require that the helper have any special skills.

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