Home is where the hurt lies

THERE are many sayings about home. Home is where the heart is; there’s no place like home; home sweet home etc. But for some children in care, there is no home and no family linkage — just painful memories of the past, and an uncertain future. Abused children who have no family to turn to are taken into care for their safety and well-being.

While in care, they have regular meals, attend school and receive clean clothes and a comfortable place to sleep. Every effort for children to partake in events, sports and entertainment is made, but the necessary attention and nurturing needed for their emotional and social development is sparse.

Children should only be in institutional care for a short period, (4 – 6 months) until alternative accommodation and provision are in place for their care. But due to one set of adverse circumstances or another, some children spend the majority of their lives in institutionalised care, void of family connection.

However, removing them from the certainty of institutional care and returning them to the uncertainty of a family home is not an option. They were rescued from an abusive situation before; therefore, it would not benefit them to return to the same unsafe environment.

After staying in residential care for three years, a girl of 12 recollects: “My sister and I were sexually molested by our uncle, and I am sure family members living nearby knew what was going on when he came home drunk at night. Our father worked nights and left us alone because our family were around, but they did not protect us.

“The first time my uncle trouble me, I kicked and fought and screamed for help, but no one came. I tried to tell my father, and he tell me ‘shut me mouth’. After a while, I stopped screaming. Now our Aunty wants us to live with her, but it’s she brother who trouble we. I don’t want to stay with her or go back to that village where our uncle and father living.”

Most people believe that only strangers abuse children, but ‘home is where the hurt lies’ for many of our children. This example and other similar cases are why some of them cannot go back home. But neither should they spend their developmental years in a residential care facility. It is against child rights for children to be raised in an institution. Children need to connect and bond with adults who will care for them and give them one-to-one attention – they need to belong.

There are over 500 children currently in residential care in Guyana, and a large percentage of them are eligible for adoption. Adopting a child means taking a child into your home and treating the child as if he/she is your own. It is a binding legal procedure. The child can even carry your surname if agreed upon by both parties. Adults who wish to adopt must consider the implications of caring for a child who has spent time in care. It will take time to bond with the child and to learn each other’s ways.

Adoptive parents need to be open-minded, understanding and allow for a little give and take initially, as teething problems may arise. Adoption should occur for the right reasons; e.g. Adults must understand a child’s need for parental support and family linkage. They must also recognise their role as compassionate, reliable, nurturing adoptive parents. Living in a home with caring adults gives comfort and security to children; it is a place where children should feel cherished, appreciated and protected.

The State is duty-bound to provide a family for every child in care, if not through reunification, (returning them to their own family or close relatives), then through adoption. However, those thinking of adopting are usually looking for younger children, which means that older children (11 – 15) in residential care run the risk of staying there until they turn 18, and then ageing out of the system.

Research shows that young people who leave an institutional setting, after living there for years, are victims of several social ills. Many of them have never experienced family life or received the attention, encouragement or assistance needed from adults or mentors for their self-esteem and well-adjusted development.

The Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA), through the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, is working with local NGO’s on a reunification project. The Project’s objective is to reunite children from care homes with their families, where possible. Background checks, evaluations and reports will help decide suitability – and where biological families cannot be found, adoption will be an option.

Children living in care, even adolescents, long to be adopted; every child needs to be part of a family. The National Alternative Care Plan for children in Guyana aims to make this a reality and welcomes public support. You can contact the Adoption Unit at the CPA on 225 7450 or write to them at adoptioncpa@gmail.com.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at childcaregy@gmail.com

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