As the Child Care Board (CCB) intensifies its efforts to educate persons about child abuse, parents are being encouraged to learn more about this issue which can seriously affect their young ones.
Senior Child Care Officer at the Board, Colin St. Hill, has reminded parents that child abuse is grave, and it has a short and long-term impact on children. Therefore, he has called on them to take measures to ensure their child’s safety and seek help once it was suspected that abuse occurred.
Mr. St. Hill said: "The parents’ response to a child disclosing that he/she was abused will determine, to a large extent, how he will overcome or cope with the abuse that may have occurred. If the parent is supportive, the child stands a better chance of coping, but if the parent does not believe the child and takes no steps to protect him, then that child’s entire life could spin totally out of control in terms of his behaviour."
According to him, the CCB is continually looking for creative ways to engage parents and get organisations they are involved in to put child abuse discussions on their agenda. "Within recent times we have been educating religious leaders from all the denominations about what has been happening in Barbados in relation to child abuse. We are trying to get them on board in developing child abuse education programmes within their churches, as well as their immediate communities, that would target primary school-aged children and their parents.
"We are currently in the process of training 100 Sunday school teachers from the Wesleyan Holiness Church so they could implement a programme within their churches," he disclosed.
Child abuse has been defined "as causing or permitting any harmful or offensive contact on a child’s body; and any communication or transaction of any kind which humiliates, shames, or frightens the child". Some child development experts have gone a bit further describing it "as any act or omission which fails to nurture in the upbringing of children". The four major categories of child abuse are neglect and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
The Board currently manages a Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Programme and just over 6,000 children from the majority of this island’s 71 public primary schools have been sensitised about child abuse, with some of those institutions getting a ???bite’ of the proverbial cherry twice.
This project was started in 2000 and it has been developed for children between the ages of five and 11. The six-week programme is offered in three schools every school term and some of the areas they look at include: a discussion on the correct names of body parts; and explanations on sexual, physical and emotional abuse, as well as abandonment and bullying.
Mr. St. Hill continued: "We also look at secrets because when persons abuse children they try to encourage them to keep it a secret. We let them know that abuse should not be kept a secret, so we discuss what a good secret is and what a bad one is. We look at some of the things they can do to keep safe such as not walking home alone or through lonely, dark areas, not being in the house alone and not getting into a stranger’s car."
He pointed out though that some children already had extensive knowledge about some of the topics discussed with them, disclosing that they shared "real life examples" of what they or their friends had experienced.
He explained that during the sessions children were taught to "yell and always tell an adult they trust until someone hears, believes and acts on the information that has been passed on".
Describing the programme as being "pretty successful over the years", the Senior Child Care Officer recalled that in a few of the cases reported to the Board, the children had indicated that they were a part of the programme, and as a result of being aware of what to do, they were able to report any incidence child abuse to someone. "So, that is a message that the programme is working," he opined.
Acknowledging that some children go home and share the information with their parents, Mr. St. Hill noted, however, that before the sessions with the children, parents were invited to group meetings with staffers of the Board, but many did not attend. He, therefore, urged parents to come out to participate in these informative meetings which would be beneficial to them and their charges.??
Child abuse is said to be a universal problem, affecting approximately 40 million children each year. It is believed that "eradicating it is a monumental task".
Some members of the public and journalists are always keen to hear the child abuse statistics, but Mr. St. Hill is of the view that "it is immaterial… The fact is that we have these children out there who are being abused and statistics are not always true because it depends on if a neighbour decides to report it this year and if the neighbour decides not to report it next year. The fact is that it is happening.
"I believe we need to focus on the abuse that is occurring, what we can do as individuals and as a community to combat abuse and really recognise that it is out there.
The numbers don’t tell the true story of the abuse that is occurring and I think that we have to move away from looking at statistics because as true researchers know, these can vary," he maintained.
So, the resolve of each of us as Barbadians must be to educate ourselves about child abuse and play our part in trying to stamp it out.