Save the children

Stabroek News
July 8, 2000

A prevalent and often misconstrued form of domestic violence seems to be rising from obscurity. Reports of flagrant child abuse by parents have surfaced in the news over the past week.

An eight-month-old was flung against the wall by his father, who was angry that he had been asked to make the bed. A five-year-old was neglected and ill-treated by his father and stepmother. A 15-month-old was dehydrated and malnourished after being abandoned by his mother and left home alone by his father. Two of these children had to be hospitalised.

In the first mentioned incident the father was jailed for one month. The second is pending as the magistrate has ordered a probation report and in the third, both parents were jailed for one year and nine months respectively.

Ideally, children removed from an abusive situation ought not to be returned to it until after the parents/guardians have undergone a period of probation in which they are psychologically evaluated, counselled and declared fit and ready to be parents.

Guyana currently does not have a welfare institution that caters specifically to children who have suffered the trauma of being abused by their caregivers. The system in place sees them taken to the public hospital and subsequently transferred to one of the privately run orphanages, the Red Cross Children's Convalescent Home or returned to their abusive parents. Children who have been abandoned share the same fate. The Red Cross-run facility is now overrun with abandoned children. Thus, there is often no room for children needing to convalesce after bouts of difficult illnesses.

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, recognising the difficulty, announced recently that it was going to aggressively seek adoptive parents for children who needed homes. However, the problems facing these infants are extremely complex, finding homes will only address some of them. While the Ministry appears to have the interest of the children at heart, it unfortunately has neither the capacity nor the skills to completely provide the response needed. However, it can perhaps supply technical and other support to any programme developed to deal with this issue.

Such a programme would necessarily involve the training and retraining of parents and the provision of a halfway home where abused children would receive counselling, care and attention in an environment removed from the clinical atmosphere of a hospital. The halfway home would also allow for bonding/re-bonding with the natural parents where this is applicable. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) could be approached for assistance with setting up the halfway home, which ideally should be run by a NGO. In support of the halfway home system the government, through the Human Services Ministry, must establish a solid fostering programme, which would work in tandem with the orphanages to ease their overcrowding. This would involve providing foster parents with financial assistance. It would also entail a thorough assessment of would-be foster parents and their homes, along with continuous monitoring. The fostering/halfway home situations could also cater for the children who are victims of rape and indecent assault in their homes.

Vital to the success of these systems would be the retaining of a cadre of committed social workers, who would have undergone specialised training in child welfare. The Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Guyana churns out the largest number of graduates each year. Of these, the majority are said to be from the Social Work Programme; ready skills for the child welfare programme, which would otherwise go to waste, just as the lives of constantly abused children would.

The Genesis Home, Help and Shelter and countless orphanages in existence are testimony to the fact that NGO-run welfare systems work. It is time to establish one that will save our children.

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