Within the past five years, ending last March, the Child Care Board (CCB) received some 5,766 cases involving allegations of children being abused and neglected.
This revelation has come from Director of the CCB, Joan Crawford, who said 1,320 physical abuse cases, 1156 sexual abuse ones, 527 cases of emotional abuse and seven abandonment cases were reported during April, 2003, and March 31, 2008.
She stated: “Neglect remains our greatest challenge, with 2756 reported allegations during that period… On this matter of neglect, parents, guardians and adults who provide care for children continue to leave them unsupervised for extended periods or simply do not provide for their basic needs.”
She made the comments recently while addressing the second annual conference on Family Law which was hosted by the Family Law Council, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Ms. Crawford pointed out that there were many other types of child abuse and several ways in which it had occurred. She listed some of the categories as pornography and physical violence on mobile phones.
“Child abuse can happen to children at any stage of development from birth until they are able to act independently… No system, however well prepared, and no staff, however sensitive and skilled, can provide a total insurance against the abuse of children.
“It is often said that reported cases only touch the tip of the iceberg, and as such, the nature and extent of child abuse cannot be accurately determined since there is no mandated centralised system for receiving reports and collecting data,” she noted.
Ms. Crawford reminded parents that they had the primary responsibility for their children, saying that in many circumstances some children at home would remain at risk no matter how skilled and sensitive the family support systems might be. She stressed that all children deserved an opportunity to achieve their full potential in that they should be safe, healthy, enjoy life, achieve goals, make a positive contribution to their families and communities and eventually achieve economic well-being.
She observed that for these to be achieved, children needed to feel loved and valued, and be supported by a network of reliable and affectionate relationships. “If they are denied the opportunity and support they need to achieve these outcomes, children are at increased risk, not only of an impoverished childhood, but also of disadvantage and social exclusion in adulthood. Abuse and neglect pose particular problems for society as a whole,” she said.
Director noted that most of the child abuse reports came from family members and concerned individuals who, at times, wanted to remain anonymous. She pointed out that referrals or reports were mainly from the lower socio-economic groups; however, some had come from middle income groups.
She lamented that some individuals tolerated emotional abuse because of the old saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never do”; therefore, the number of children affected by emotional abuse would be higher since some level of indignity and injustice was attached to all categories of abuse.
Ms. Crawford said the process of child abuse reporting “is not complex” and urged all Barbadians to “be your brothers’ keeper and report cases of suspected abuse even though conclusive proof may be undetermined.
“Such reporting can occasionally lead to abuses of the system, in particular, if there is some feud between the caller and the alleged perpetrator or perpetrator’s family. However, to combat this, it is the role of the Board’s Child Care Officers to investigate each referral to ensure that our children are indeed safe,” she stated.
The child protection process involves reporting, investigation, devising a care plan, legal intervention, placement and follow-up. When reports or referrals are made to the Board, they are assessed, categorised and assigned to a Child Care Officer. Action may be taken immediately depending on the facts of the referral.