GERVAIS, Christine et ROMANO, Elisa

What do you do when your child has hurt another child?

This webpage provides information for parents whose child has sexually harmed another child.[1]

“As long as everyone focuses on trying to get the kids the help that they need … that they’re crying out for … as long as everyone looks towards that instead of kind of judge and … tear people away from each other … as long as they focus on the well-being of … the children involved and make sure that their lives are the best for them in the future, as long as they focus on that,  I think everything else will just fall into place and work itself out.” 
(Father of 15 year old male)[2]

The study that inspired this resource page and the pamphlet

This webpage is based on a study being conducted by Dr. Christine Gervais (Associate Professor of Criminology, University of Ottawa) and Dr. Elisa Romano (Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Ottawa)[3] that recognizes the often paralyzing, exclusionary, and silencing effects against young individuals who sexually offend, as well as against their families. It aims to provide parents of youth who have sexually harmed other children with resources and services available in the Ottawa area.

Based on interview data from parents within Eastern Ontario, this study has focused on the challenges that parents of sexually offending youth face as they negotiate the best interest of their child, while at the same time attempting to manage the best interest of the children harmed and of other children (including the offending child’s siblings, cousins, neighbours, and friends). The overarching goal of this study was to better understand the impact that a young person’s sexual offending behaviour has on his or her family members, in particular the parents.

Conference

On April 4, 2014, the researchers hosted a conference entitled

The Voices of Parents Affected by Youth Sexual Offending: What Are They Telling Us and How Can We Respond?

It was an inclusive network-building conference that brought together professionals and practitioners in the fields of children’s rights, law, criminal justice, child welfare, mental health, and education who were interested in improving services for families of youth who have offended sexually. 

Based on ideas generated among the conference participants, as well as by participants at previously-held workshops, the research team developed this resource list and the pamphlet featured below.  

The researchers extend a special thank you to the parents who contributed to the development of the pamphlet, as well as to the research assistants in Psychology, Criminology, and Law who contributed to this project.  The researchers also acknowledge the feedback provided by professionals and practitioners.  

Challenges Experienced by Parents

“[It] never came to mind that it could possibly even happen.”
(Father of 13 year old male)

“You have to accept that your child did this, you know, accept that there’s going to be a lot of hurt that comes your way; there’s definitely going to be a lot of shame. You definitely feel alone, even if you have people to talk to … it’s important to have a support team, most definitely.”
(Mother of 15 year old male)

Through the interviews, parents shared a number of concerns related to their child’s sexual offending behaviour. They were worried about what might have contributed to their child’s actions and what might happen to their child as a result. In addition, parents expressed concerns about the well-being of the children who were hurt by the sexual offending behaviour. Given the numerous repercussions of their child’s behaviour, parents understandably experienced a great deal of stress as they tried to manage the best interests of all individuals who were impacted by their child’s sexual offending behaviour.    

In addition to managing the significant changes in everyday living (e.g., constant supervision of the offending child with siblings and in the community; discontinued contact with extended family in situations where the victim was a younger cousin), parents also spoke about the emotional strain related to their child’s sexual offending behaviour. They shared their sense of shame, stigma, and isolation over the actions of their child and over others’ reactions when they found out (or should they find out) about the offending behaviour. In situations where the victim’s family discontinued contact, parents of the offending child spoke about the difficulty in not having the opportunity to apologize  for the harm done and to inform the victim’s family that they are taking serious steps to ensure that their child gets the help needed so that the sexual offending behaviour will end. 

Pamphlet for Parents

Additional Information for Parents

“I think accepting it and then knowing that you’re not alone … It’s a really hard thing to accept that your child is the one who did something wrong and I think the moment that you do accept it, that’s when you start to change it.”
(Mother of 15 year old male)

In coping with the difficult circumstances surrounding your child’s sexual offending behaviour, it would seem important to remember a few things. First and foremost, it is important to care for yourself and reach out to supportive others as you work through the challenging situations you may encounter as a result of your child’s behaviour. Your child has engaged in behaviour that has harmed other children, and he or she will likely undergo a process to assess the nature of the sexual offending behaviour and to make recommendations (be they at the legal, child welfare, and/or mental health levels). During this time, it will be important to offer support and guidance to your child. You can certainly empathize with how your child is feeling, while also conveying the message that the sexual offending behaviour is unacceptable and that there must be accountability for his or her harmful actions. 

Additional Resources

“One of the biggest things I remember is feeling like a failure as a parent. So for me, understanding that it was less about blame and more about how to help my child learn how to be accountable was helpful … Be willing to ask for, and accept, help and support.”
(Mother of 13 year old male)

Below please find a list of Ottawa-area resources, as well as more Ontario-wide resources. Please note that this information is current as of January 2015, and updates will be limited.

Websites

Telephone Help Lines (Ottawa and Ontario wide)

 Child, Youth, and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario 613-260-2360 / 1-877-377-7775
 Distress Centre of Ottawa 613-238-3311
 Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868
 Tel-Aide Outaouais 613-741-6433 / 819-775-3223 / 1-800-567-9699

Services (Ottawa)

 Catholic Family Services 613-233-8478
 Centre for Psychological Services and Research (University of Ottawa) 613-562-5289
 Centre Psycho-Social-Enfants 613-789-2240
 Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario 613-737-7600
 Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre (Saint-Paul University) 613-782-3022
 Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa 613-237-7427
 Family Services of Ottawa 613-725-3601
 Jewish Family Services 613-722-2225
 John Howard Society of Ottawa 613-789-7418
 Legal Aid Ontario 1-800-668-8258
 PLEO Parent Support Group 613-321-3211
 Odawa Native Friendship Centre 613-722-3811
 Ottawa Sexual Health Centre 613-234-4641
 Ottawa Victim Services 613-238-2762
 Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health 613-748-0657
 Youth Services Bureau: Mental Health Services 613-562-3004
 Youth Net (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario)  613-738-3915

Other Helpful Links

Contact Us

“I have no problem talking about [it] … yeah like I cry about it but I don’t have a problem talking about it cause...
I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel alone.”
(Mother of 15 year old male)

For more information on this project, please contact:

Professor Christine Gervais
christine.gervais@uOttawa.ca
613 562-5800 x 8962

Professor Elisa Romano
eromano@uOttawa.ca
613 562-5800 x 4403

Sponsorship and Financial Support

This project has been sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child.  While financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario, the developers of the research project, the pamphlet and this website are solely responsible for all content.

Webpage created: December 2014 - January 2015

Last updated: January 15, 2015

Future Updates: Only periodically


[1] This page provides information on general resources that are available in the community. It is not a program offered by the University of Ottawa. 

[2] All quotations shared on this webpage and in the pamphlet are part of Dr. Christine Gervais and Dr. Elisa Romano’s study. The quotations are not to be copied or used for presentations or publications without written permission from the researchers and without proper referencing.

[3] We acknowledge Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who contributed to the study’s design.

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