WITH over 800 of the country’s children in institutional care,foster and residential, there is great need for some of the strategies employed to be revised.A recent study conducted by ChildLink Inc Guyana in collaboration with the European Union (EU) has revealed that there are 829 children in alternative care in Guyana at the end of April this year. Of that number, 179 of them are in foster care, while 650 are in residential-care facilities.
According to the report, having 829 children in alternative care in a small country such as Guyana speaks to a crisis, as it relates to the safety and well-being of children.
“Although having a place for children to be housed and taken care of is useful, institutional care is known to have its disadvantages for the growth and development of children,” the report stated.
As such, it has been recommended that systems need to be improved for children entering residential care here. It was observed during the study that many children “run away” from the institutions in which they are placed because they are ill-prepared to be separated from their parents. This preparation, according to the report, should be done by their parents or the Child Protection Agency (CPA).
“It was not uncommon for children, having made a report, for example of abuse to a teacher, to be taken from school to [the] CPA. At [the] CPA, the decision to place the child in a facility is made. “Invariably, the child was unprepared for that response, and many reacted with anger and resentment.”
It was discovered that in many instances children who were removed from their homes due to reports of abuse blamed themselves for the removal and were resentful to authority.
“Caregivers reported that children, whose parents/guardians told them beforehand that they are being placed in the facility temporarily, tended to adjust better to life in residential care.”
The report recommends that each child must be informed of the importance of his or her safety, care and protection. “Some form of dialogue is necessary between the residential facility and CPA before a child’s admission, so that an informed response based on the particular needs of the child could be provided.”
In this case, it was found that oftentimes those at the institutional facilities were not properly briefed, if at all, by the CPA on the reasons the child or children were being placed in the facility.
“That was found to have inherent challenges as, invariably, caregivers did not know what to expect and, therefore, were unprepared for the circumstances presented by each child…There is a grave need for sensitization of children in residential care as to their rights and responsibilities,” the report stated.
There are a few adults who continue to live in the institutions as a result of disability along with other challenges. It is believed that these persons should be given specific attention for alternative care. Special-care facilities should be designated for them as the attention required for them to be fully developed cannot be addressed adequately by a residential facility that is not designed specifically for them.
It was also discovered that children placed in institutional care are seldom involved in recreational activities. It is recommended that this changes so that children can bond with others from their respective communities to “create synergies in sport and games or any other activities.” [sic]
It was recommended that the children in residential facilities be integrated into the mainstream of community activities.
Lack of visiting committee
Meanwhile, the lack of a visiting committee to ensure compliance with the government’s minimum operating standards for residential institutions is cause for concern. It was noted that a visiting committee was established in 2012 and is responsible for visiting private as well as state-operated residential facilities and report to the CPA on the conditions observed and make recommendations for improvements. However, the committee has not functioned since the second quarter of 2015.
According to the report, instructions were given to place the activities of the committee on hold until the end of the National and Regional Elections held last May.
“At the time of this analysis, it had not yet received instructions to resume operations. However,the CPA stated that the committee will be resuscitated by the end of the second quarter of 2016.”
It was recommended that the visiting committee be reinstituted immediately.
Additionally, there is a need for the reduction of long-term institutionalization of children here. According to the report, there is urgent need for the formulation of policies and strategies that recognise and address the special need for protection of children between the ages of 10-15, with particular emphasis on girls aged 13-15, because of the extent to which they are at risk for abuse.
“The Family Court should be established with urgency. This can assist greatly in reducing the length of time many children spend in residential care, as the study found that many children remain in care for extended periods of time due to unresolved legal matters in the court. In these instances, the perpetrator remains in the home where the child resided prior to placement in the care facility.”
It is believed that the sensitization and empowerment of women, communities, and the Guyana Police Force is critical and should be addressed. Also, it was revealed that there is a need for the accurate and consistent documentation of cases of children in residential care as the need to assess the children, make a determination of the period of time they would remain in care, is essential, as there are too many children being placed in care on an open-ended basis.
It should be noted that much of the information requested from the CPA could not be provided to ChildLink and that which was provided had gaps and inconsistencies.
“Only one residential facility was willing to provide information on the reasons for placement for each child in their care without inhibitions. There are no established criteria used by [the] CPA to determine in which facility a particular child is placed. [The]CPA reported that based on an informal determination of the facilities’ strengths as well as the care facilities’ preferences with regard to age, sex, etc., a child is placed.”
Meanwhile, it was recommended that there be a component to residential care which speaks to a more enabling environment for the re-integration of children. According to the report, the focus should be on self-improvement/livelihood enhancement.
Additionally, parents who have not called or visited children can be traced and invited for discussions or counselling. In such instances, the parents may not be aware of what “agony children experience and the extent to which they blame themselves for the parents’ or guardians missed opportunities to visit.”
It has also been recommended that the “restriction policy of [the] CPA regarding visits of parents and guardians should be reviewed.”
“While there is a high risk of perpetrators gaining access to the children while in care and [the] CPA needs to ensure that this does not happen, the policy of visits being conducted at [the] CPA is not necessarily working in the best interests of the child. The ambience at the CPA does not lend to the bonding and privacy required during visits. Parents, therefore, prefer to make other arrangements as opposed to visiting at the CPA,” the report added.
Parents are allowed only a once-per-month Sunday visit, which requires a slip from the CPA to visit the facility; this is deemed inefficient.
ChildLink also believes that there are several areas for institutional strengthening of the Child Protection Agency and residential-care facilities for children here and as such,there have been calls for there to be a review of the national response to child care.
There is also the need for strengthening of the CPA’s capacity to collect and manage data regarding children in residential facilities.
“The matter of the need for more case workers cannot be over emphasised as the analysis found grave discrepancies between the number of children requiring psycho-social intervention and emotional support and the number of case workers. This is a matter for urgent attention, so that the gaps can be closed regarding case worker/client ratio. Currently, for children in alternative care, this ratio is 21:1.” There are 23 residential-care facilities for children in Guyana, all of which are located in Regions Three, Four and Six.