THE statistics on child abuse released by the Children’s Authority and published in yesterday’s Sunday Express cry out for a whole of Government response to plumb the sources of the problem and build effective policy. Until the fundamental problems leading to abuse are resolved, the demand on the Children’s Authority will continue to swell and undermine its value.
The signs are already evident. The recent escape and subsequent murder of two teenagers who were under the Authority’s care should be recognised as the danger sign that it is and prompt urgent intervention before it is too late.
The Children’s Authority’s abuse count is just the statistical tip of an iceberg which should be drilled for what lies underneath. Its finding that 35.4 per cent of the perpetrators of abuse against children were their mothers is heart-breaking but hardly surprising. It is a known fact that mothers, especially single mothers heading low-income households and working for minimum wage, are under intense pressures. The community systems which once provided cocoons of support for them and their children have broken down under the influences of modernisation, urbanisation and government policies that consistently undervalue the work of community systems.
Natalie Brathwaite, mother of Simeon Daniel, one of the two teenagers killed after leaving the Children Authority’s safe house in Valsayn, exemplifies the case of many mothers who are bringing up children under seriously stressful conditions. At age 15, her son was a teenager out of control and destined for trouble. Her intervention was to seek state support which, although ultimately failing them both, describes the extreme circumstances under which mothers are trying to bring up their children. Indeed, many mothers themselves are victims of abuse.
Until the Government comes to terms with the structural problems underlying child abuse, its response will focus on merely papering over the cracks in a broken system. Failure to deal with the structural problems of the society which support systems of abuse will only lead to more and more resources being thrown at symptoms rather than the problems themselves.
After eight years of being enacted, the Children’s Act of 2012 should have had more impact in reducing the incidence of child abuse, not less as is suggested by the increased demands on the Children’s Authority.
Before children get to the point of having to be taken into the Authority’s care, there are many points of intervention which, if activated, could rectify a situation and resolve the problems. The systems of community health, social services and early childhood education, in particular, should be equipped to detect problems and guide individuals toward support and assistance. Resources for support may lie within the social support services, community development, sport, culture, youth affairs and national security. This is why we advocate the need for a whole of government approach co-ordinated by the appropriate entity.
No change, however, will be possible without a cultural shift away from the deeply ingrained attitude of victim-blaming and exceptionalism, including in public policy, which view the problems of the poor and marginalised as that of their own fault.