It is noteworthy that the government and non-governmental organisations in Guyana have come together and done a study on child neglect. It is well known that there is a dearth of information on various issues and that the lack of proper statistics makes it difficult, if not impossible to formulate plans that will properly address these problems. In addition, approaches to international funding agencies for grants and loans to correct social issues are much more favourably decided if accompanied by sound data clearly showing the extent of problem.
This new study, which was made public on September 15, has found that a lack of finances is the leading cause of child neglect in Guyana; this is according to a report about it published in this newspaper on September 16. It stated that according to the study, more than 40% of the cases of child neglect are a direct result of the financial shortcomings within the family.
This, of course, is not information that was not known before now. It stands to reason that where there is a shortfall in finances things that are necessary to properly raise children, such as health care, education, good nutrition and clothing, among others, will either be not up to par or non-existent and the child or children in that situation will be neglected. However, the study means that there is now empirical data that can be referred to rather than relying on common knowledge.
Beginning with statistics also provides a base for measuring whether interventions work, as the figures will either go up or down in continuing research; going forward nothing about child neglect should be based on guesstimates or all of what has been done to date would have been for naught. The purpose of doing the research, the report said, was to “engage all key stakeholders with the findings and promote the introduction of evidence-based advocacy to influence policies and actions to safeguard and protect children.”
Meanwhile, the research report has recommended the establishment of a special victims’ unit; 24-hour service provision for children; reintroduction of a child protection and monitoring information system; functioning national and regional rights of the child commissions; and a more realistic ratio of school welfare officers to schools, among other things. These are all solid suggestions which should be implemented as soon as possible. However, it must be recognised that it would be impossible to do so without the requisite personnel, and there is a real dearth of such people in Guyana.
The number of social and welfare officers working directly with children who have been sufficiently educated to carry out that mandate can perhaps be counted on the fingers of one hand, if any can be counted at all. There may be quite a number who have the necessary empathy for the task, but when one considers that there is a ratio of one child protection officer, as they are called, to 356 abused children in Region Seven, which has the highest number of reported cases in the country, the question as to whether anyone really cares must be asked.
How many abused children can a single case worker deal with? One must consider that the worker may only have the benefit of a social work diploma or degree. How realistic is this? Is it any wonder then that many children in crisis are not counselled? Does no one see that not only are abused children being shortchanged, but case workers must also be facing burnout?
There are three regions—One, Two and Seven—where there is only a single case worker employed. What happens when that worker goes on leave? Or has an emergency? Their cases, regardless of how critical they are, or the point to which they would have advanced, must also come to a screeching halt.
One must consider too that there is no specified course of academic study in this country to deal with children in crisis. The so-called child protection officers are drawn from a general pool of social work degree and diploma applicants and could just as well be placed in service to the elderly, welfare recipients or any other social group. Workshops and seminars on child abuse barely scratch the surface of the knowledge needed to really implement child protection in the field. It is a fact that many of the case workers act on instinct and some have good instincts, but there are others who simply go through the motions, hence the problems remain or worsen and the result is difficult children, who grow up to be troubled adults; it’s an unending cycle.
The child neglect research was absolutely necessary as it not only revealed the extent of the problem but the fact that it is hardly being addressed. There really must be a concerted effort to increase the number of case workers and heighten the knowledge base otherwise research and studies will continue to be just for the compiling of statistics.