I FIRST saw the children –aged around 10 and eight–who were undoubtedly siblings, sitting in the Foster Care area at the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA). They did not look happy nor sad, interested nor disinterested with their surroundings and the flurry of staff members who were busy tying up loose ends. It was New Year’s Eve or Old Year’s Day, depending on where you are from, and it was also evident that these children were having a rough ride. One would imagine most children would still be enjoying the festivities and the magic that this season brings; for example, lots of food and drink; presents and toys to play with; and merriment and good wishes for the new year with family and a few friends, despite the setbacks of the pandemic. But not these two, sadly they were not with family members and after passing and seeing them still there in the afternoon, I could but hope that who or whatever they were waiting on would hurry up and arrive.
Later, as I was waiting outside for the heavy drizzle to lighten, the CPA driver came downstairs followed by the two children. They shadowed his movements as he stood still and asked, ‘Has Miss Hudson left yet?’ they stood still by his side. Having his notion confirmed by the security guard, the driver turned to them and said, come, and they moved in unison’ step and step’ behind him towards the parked vehicle. ‘Where are you taking them?’ I asked him as he opened the vehicle door and they climbed inside. He replied, ‘Sophia’.
I know nothing about the children’s backgrounds or what family problems they have. I don’t know why they were at the CPA on New Year’s Eve and why they were being taken to Sophia (children’s centre). But I do know that they are in limbo. They exist without the security and love of a family, and it is affecting their development. They will remember this juncture of their lives with trepidation, regardless of whatever else happens to them along the way. The experience of not belonging to a family or being parted from a family can be traumatic for children. No one can measure or see trauma. Therefore, no one can tell the impact it will have on children’s lives.
Last month, due to the pandemic, the CPA’s annual Staff Conference was held virtually. Initially, there were concerned about the types of technical problems this might incur, but the event was a success. As usual, officers shared a great deal of information with colleagues and stakeholders regarding performances, challenges and projections for 2021.
From January to October 2020, the Monitoring and Data Officer’s statistics show that 2,761 child-abuse cases were reported to the CPA. This figure implies that every day seven children are abused. It appears that over three years the statistics for child abuse have dropped, but this is not necessarily because fewer children are abused. For every report of abuse, several more incidents remain unreported. There are more opportunities to spot abuse when children are in school because eachers may recognise changes in behaviour and other tell-tale signs, and students often confide in their peers about their ordeals.
The Monitoring and Data Officer revealed that, like previous years, neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse and that children between the ages of 0 -3 years are the most neglected, followed closely by the four -seven-year-old age group. No one should be mistaken about the elements that constitute neglect.
When parents fail to provide food, clothing, shelter, adequate medical care or supervision for a child, to the extent that it affects the child’s health, safety or welfare, that is neglect. Sexual abuse is the second-highest recorded form of abuse. Most parents tell their children to beware of strangers, but records show that 96 per cent of perpetrators in 2020 were family members. Parents are still failing to protect their children from sexual predators, or are turning a blind eye when they know their children are being sexually molested.
Another fact that remains predominant in the statistics for 2020 and preceding years is that mothers are the main perpetrators of child abuse, followed closely by fathers and then step-parents. Many mothers–and fathers– do not recognise their mental state of stress and frustration, as requiring intervention. They violate their children’s rights and exploit them, ignorantly or deliberately.
Adults can learn parenting skills and acquire relevant information through the CPA. There are training programmes and counselling to enable parents to cope effectively and to strengthen their families. For 2021, the CPA through the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security will continue to help children, like the siblings mentioned above on New Year’s Eve. Children are more vulnerable during times such as pandemics and being locked down and out of school only adds to their dilemma. The CPA is also urging you, the public, to keep an eye out for signs of child abuse and make a report when you see it before the situation gets out of hand.
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM THE DIRECTOR AND STAFF AT THE CPA. TOGETHER LET US PROTECT GUYANA’S CHILDREN.
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY, MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY