An intervention is needed

On Saturday last, ten-year-old Roseann Akeila Harris, a Grade Five pupil of St Stephen’s Primary School lay in her bed at home and died. Ms Samantha Peters, her mother, had spoken to her just a short while before, promising to give her a bath once she had finished doing her laundry. Though the fact that a ten-year-old was not up and about and bathing herself on a Saturday morning should have been cause for concern, her mother knew she had not been well and most likely imagined that with rest and care she would have recovered. She could not have been more wrong.

Nine days prior to that, Roseann had been kicked in her stomach, reportedly by a classmate. It was not a playful or accidental blow; it was so hard that Roseann was unwell when she got home. No doubt, she was in pain. It is likely that she would have cried at the time it occurred. Yet, no teacher at the school saw it fit to call her parents and inform them that she had been injured. However, her mother was concerned enough about her condition to take her to the hospital. There, the mother told this newspaper, a doctor ordered an x-ray and an ultrasound. The mother was told that neither of these tests, nor the doctor’s examination showed any sign of injury and so Roseann was sent home. But the fact that the child died days later, is a clear indication that there was an injury to at least one of her internal organs. If we suppose that nothing was visible on an x-ray, then the sonography (ultrasound) which allows professionals to view the organs and structures inside the body, including the liver and kidneys should have indicated that something was amiss, assuming that these examinations were done and done correctly. It is also difficult to imagine why a clearly unwell child was not even kept overnight for observation and why other tests were not explored.

Days later, Ms Peters was back at the hospital with her daughter as she was still in pain and vomiting. Not deemed an emergency because she obviously was not dripping blood, Roseann was not attended to and after a long wait, she asked to be taken back home as she wanted to lie down, her mother told this newspaper. Tragically, she died the next morning.

What was telling about the backstory related by Ms Peters, was that Roseann had gone home with minor injuries before, which she had reportedly told her parents she had suffered at the hands of the same classmate. All the signs pointed to Roseann being targeted by a bully. Ms Peters said the child’s father had gone to the school a few times to lodge complaints. But clearly, the bullying never stopped; instead it seemed to have escalated.

One wonders what action was taken by the school after the complaints were made. Was the child in question disciplined? Was the child’s parent/s called in? Were any efforts made to sensitise the children to bullying and its effects? There are other questions too. Was Roseann the only target or were other children similarly affected? Are there other bullies at this school?

Unfortunately, Roseann’s death is not the first such. Four years ago, eight-year-old Joshua Hubbard, a Grade Three pupil of St Margaret’s Primary School, died as a result of a fractured spine, blunt trauma to the neck and haemorrhaging in the brain after he had been pushed down by another child in school. It was Valentine’s Day and Joshua had bought his mother a rose. The other child had attempted to take it away, but he had refused to give it up and was injured as a result. While Joshua had told his father that he was bullied, he had not indicated that he was hurt until the wee hours of the next morning. He was taken to a private hospital but died while being attended to.

The Ministry of Education had launched an investigation, but it took one year before the report was ready and it was then handed over to the police “for them to conduct their own investigation,” then minister Priya Manickchand had said. There was no further word on that case.

Sadly, there was also no indication that the ministry took the matter seriously enough to definitively address the issue of bullying, especially in the city’s overcrowded primary schools. There is still no provision for guidance and counselling staff at primary schools and while there should be at secondary schools, many operate without one.

One hopes that by now, a corps of social workers and counsellors would have descended on St Stephen’s Primary as Roseann’s peers are no doubt psychologically affected by her death. This newspaper had reported on Tuesday that Roseann’s alleged killer had stopped communicating on learning that she had died. There is also great need for psychological interventions with both families, which must be sustained for a period.

Apart from the police/education ministry investigation into Roseann’s death, one must also be done by the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation into why her obviously serious condition was not diagnosed. One hopes too that these investigations are not dragged out over a long period and that Roseann’s family is afforded justice and closure.

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