The goal of workers with Child Protective Services
is usually to keep families
together. If members of the family are removed from the home, professionals
may work to restore the family unit. If external agencies are not involved, and the offender
was not found guilty in criminal court, you as the mother still hold responsibility for the decision to reunify or not reunify the family. Successful reunification of a family where sexual abuse
was perpetrated by a family member
depends upon critical factors. If these are not present, children are at risk of further abuse.Factors that need to be in place prior to reunification of the family:
- Perpetrators admit and take full responsibility for the abuse.
- Perpetrators acknowledge harm done to the victim and ongoing consequences of sexual abuse in the life of the victim.
- Perpetrators successfully complete sex offender treatment.
- Mothers accept, without reservation, that sexual abuse took place.
- Mothers commit completely to the belief and support of the victim.
- Victim and siblings are willing to reunify the family.
- An Emergency Plan is in place.
- House rules and guidelines are in place.
- Family therapy has occurred with potential problems discussed and explored and the Safety Plan agreed upon by all family members.
- Open communication is occurring in the family.
- Family members have learned new ways to manage conflict, painful emotions, and crisis.
- Mothers have realistic expectations of family members, communication, emotional responses, potential conflict, and ongoing consequences of sexual abuse in the lives of victim, siblings, herself, and external family members.
- Other family risk factors are absent. These include child-endangering behaviors such as domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse or dependency.
- Children have an Alert List.
- Family members are knowledgable about the Warning Signs in Offenders.
Matthews et al. (1991) outlines desirable preconditions for reunification. Mothers play a critical part. The offender is completely responsible for his choice to perpetrate sexual abuse. However, the mother's responsibility following reunification is to maintain full awareness of family dynamics in the home, including warning signs in offenders, warning signs in victims, and support and protection for all children in the home. This is the highest priority. Maintaining this focus will create ambivalence and internal conflict in the mother. She will never be able to totally let down her guard. The risk is always present. It will not go away. It is recommended that the offender take a Polygraph Test prior to his return to the home and take polygraphs every three months for the first year and every six months from that point forward in order to maintain accountability for the offender and increase the safety of the home.
It is crucial for the non-offending parent in the home to have ongoing support and accountability. She needs a support group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, where she can go and talk about issues with other mothers that understood. She needs a safe place that offers experience, wisdom, and hope, without judgment. Mothers cannot be involved in reunification, whether incest involves father or sibling, without that supportive, objective, outside perspective.
It is also very important that mothers take good care of themselves. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health provides the foundation to get through crisis times, make tough decisions, and always be on. An off button does not exist for the mother who chooses to reunify the family after incest. Trust is not an operative factor in this situation. It is well to remember that a perpetrator of child sexual abuse is never a safe person.
Mothers must enter the reunification process and continue their lives with children (and later grandchildren) with their eyes WIDE OPEN. This is the logical, natural consequence of the choice to stay with a partner who has sexually abused. Certain behaviors in perpetrators are red flags for increased or high risk of sexual abuse.
Prior to reunification, mothers need to be sure of their honest answers to the following questions:
- Do I really want to reunify the family or am I doing this because I don't feel that I have a choice?
- Am I choosing to reunify the family because I want to please someone else?
- Am I choosing to reunify because I'm afraid of the offender? Afraid of being alone? afraid of being unable to survive financially?
- Do I believe that the offender is absolutely responsible for the abuse?
- Do I have increased self-awareness of my relationship with the offender?
- Can I place the needs of the children ahead of the needs of the offender?
- Have I worked out my own issues in counseling?
- Do I believe that I can protect my children from the offender?
- Do I believe that it is my responsibility to be awake, alert, and aware at all times to protect my children?
- Can I have a relationship with someone whom I can never trust?
- Can the offender accept the change in family dynamics and recognize that you must have significant authority and control in the home in order to provide protection to the children?
- If the family reunifies, can I get past the abuse, heal, and recover?
- Do I believe that the victim can heal and recover if the offender is in the home?
- Am I teaching my children to pretend that everything is okay when it is not?
- Do I have enough support at this time to survive the reunification process?
- Do I believe that the perpetrator is genuine in remorse and intention to change?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would I rate the perpetrator as a risk at this time?
Mothers should take some time to answer these questions. Think about the questions themselves and situations that have occurred in the past and may occur in the future. Journal about the emotions involved in answering the questions. Discuss them with your counselor or other support people in your life.
Risk assessments for offenders and reliable prognosis for success following sex offender treatment are both difficult. Sex offenders are usually highly intelligent, skilled in presentation, and able to say what treatment professionals want to hear. In other words, they can fool everyone, including you. Powell and Ilett (1992) put together a list of factors that predict good and poor prognosis. Sibling incest involves a different set of family dynamics. Hackett et al. (1998) outlines criteria that should be met if reunification includes a sibling offender.