Cleo’s Smith’s dramatic rescue sent shockwaves of relief across the nation, but a child psychologist has warned experts will have to ‘watch her carefully’.
A child psychologist has weighed in on the impact the abduction may have had on Cleo Smith after she was rescued from a home in remote Western Australia after a shocking 18-day saga.
Cleo was found inside the bedroom of a locked home in Carnarvon, just a few minutes drive from her family home.
Police said she was found alone and playing with toys and appeared physically unharmed.
An image of Cleo beaming from a hospital bed while eating an ice block has circulated across the world
A 36-year-old local man is now in custody.
Speaking to NCA NewsWire, Sydney University’s Professor Mark Dadds, who heads up the Child Behaviour Research Clinic, said Cleo might not necessarily experience a traumatic reaction, but if she did, she would start to show signs in the coming weeks.
“We often assume that somebody is going to have PTSD, like a traumatic response to the traumatic event, but that’s not the case,” he said.
“People are hugely varied in how they react to traumatic events. Some show traumatic reactions but others don’t.”
What happened during those 18 days that Cleo was missing remains a mystery that police are still frantically trying to piece together.
Though Professor Dadds said being separated from her parents for that long was considered a traumatic event on its own.
“Whether Cleo has a traumatic reaction to that we don’t know yet and that’s going to have to be assessed very carefully with her because the last thing you want to do with kids is suggest to them that this horrible and traumatic (event) happened to them,” he explained.
“Her reaction will be very individual to her. Some kids are incredibly resilient and some can show a traumatic reaction to even the smallest thing.”
WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch, who broke the news that Cleo had been found, said detectives must be really careful with Cleo when trying to get information out of her.
He said professional child interviewing experts would be on hand to speak to the four-year-old about those mysterious 18 days.
Professor Dadds agreed with that sentiment.
“We have to watch very carefully and help them (Cleo or other children) to process (what has happened),” he said.
“One of the best things we do at this point is to help the child to get back into the normal life of seeing friends, being with their parents and playing.”
If Cleo did start to show traumatic reactions they could be “direct” or “indirect”, he said.
“Direct” means she may start to feel afraid of certain things, like men, while “indirect” can manifest in a deterioration of behaviour, like throwing tantrums or being clingy.
“It’s a very individual thing that you’ve got to be very sensitive with and watch … and then respond to what the child is expressing,” Professor Dadds said.
The four-year-old disappeared from her family’s tent at the Quobba Blowholes campground near Carnarvon in the early hours of October 16.
Police feared she had been abducted because the tent zipper was open to a height Cleo couldn’t reach.
She had been missing for 18 days when detectives received a late-night lead that led officers to a house in the town, just minutes away from Cleo’s family home.
It was there that they found the youngster inside.
Mr Blanch announced Cleo had been found “alive and well” on Wednesday morning.
“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’. She said: ‘My name is Cleo’,” he said.
Cleo was reunited with her parents in hospital a short time later. She has since been released.
A 36-year-old local man is still being questioned by police over the saga and is expected to be charged at some stage on Thursday.
He was not known to Cleo’s family but lived nearby in town.
Cleo’s disappearance sent shockwaves through the small community in Carnarvon before the news spread across the country and eventually the world.
It sparked a wide-scale land, air and sea search, with authorities working around the clock to find the missing girl.
A $1m reward was also offered for information on her whereabouts.