I HAVE read Ariana Gordon’s article, ‘Empowering Children in difficult circumstance – ChildLink Inc. takes up the Mantle’, published in the January 24, 2016 issue of the newspaper, and am pleased with the insights and vision that were shared by Ms. Omattie Madray of ChildLink, Inc.Several critical issues were addressed as they relate to developing the Child Protection and Child Welfare agenda in Guyana. I have spent 30-plus years in delivering social service programmes in New York City, and a significant period of that time in providing leadership in the delivery of both Child Protection and Child Welfare services. I would like to use this opportunity to provide some further insights into a few of the issues that were raised in the abovementioned article. They are the use and expansion of the child advocacy centres and developing the role of stakeholders utilising a strengths-based model to support children and families, and institutional care settings versus family-based care settings.
These are all very critical elements to strengthening the continuum of care for children and families as they engage in services.
Ms.Madray stated, “ChildLink, Inc. would like to see not only more children accessing the services, but parents as well”.
When a child comes into the care of the state, it is critical to keep the parents and extended families engaged in the entire process. Therefore, it is imperative to utilize a strengths-based approach towards the families, acknowledging that even in the midst of the presenting crisis, the family’s role is very important.
Therefore, child advocacy centres (CAC) should be positioned and viewed in the community as providing a viable and trustworthy service that would work to restore and strengthen families. The centres should develop the reputation as a place to go before the situation reaches a point of crisis. Equally important, the centre should be part of a continuum of services that inform and educate the community at large regarding child protection and child welfare policies, procedures, and practices.
Ms. Madray’s vision as stated, “We are aiming to look at how we can bring more partners on board to expand the child advocacy services”, is another very important facet of a robust child welfare delivery system.
It is very important to garner a broad base of stakeholders who are willing to accept that they play a positive role in ensuring the welfare of children and in strengthening communities.
At the same time, it must be clear as to which stakeholders have a responsibility to take action to report on child abuse, neglect or exploitation; and who is authorised to respond to situations and make decisions on behalf of the state and on behalf of the child and family.
For example, if a child or parent makes a report or complaint to the teacher, spiritual leader, neighbour, etc., those individuals should have clear guidelines as to the actions that they are required to take. Co-locating CACs with other community service centres, such as schools or hospitals, has proven to be a very successful model for responding to child welfare services and engaging the relevant stakeholders.
Best practice has demonstrated that when all relevant decision-making stakeholders are in close proximity, the communication and collaboration around the family situation improves. It also reduces the trauma experienced by the child and/or family, since they get to tell their story once, and this expedites the investigative process and development of the case plan.
Co-location fosters stronger collaboration and allows a multi-disciplinary approach and interventions based on the child, adolescent, family, and the environment in responding to the presenting crisis.
The article also addressed the issue of placing children in institutional settings, such as orphanages versus family-based settings. Several studies and research have been done on the value of institutional care versus family-based care, and none of them has placed any greater value on institutional care either in the outcomes of safety or well-being.
When I managed the child welfare service delivery system in New York City, we found it necessary to maintain institutional settings for certain therapeutic purposes.
Residential treatment centres (RTCs) was one such setting in which children with various needs were housed. These settings require a higher level of licenced and certified staff members who are trained to support the needs of the children. Additionally, the programming must be designed to respond to the specific needs of the child. Once we determined that the child had benefited from the services in the RTC (which is considered as a high level of care), the child was placed in a family-centred setting (which is considered as a more normal level of care).
The family-centred home, whether it is the child’s original home or foster home, would have received training to respond to and support the needs of the child.
Family-based care is the most appropriate setting for children when removed from their families. It must be recognised that the family unit continues to be the primary source for socialization, and that it also facilitates the recharging of the capacities of the family.
Exploring all family-based resources as support options should always be considered and supported. It is important to identify who are the potential immediate and extended family support at the earliest stage of the services. Non-kin-related family-based resources should also be considered in the event that kinship placement of the child is not an option, or when such placement might compromise the safety of the child.
Engaging the necessary support allows for sharing in the case planning process, and affords the family the opportunity to own the intended final outcome.
In conclusion, the practice related to the intersection of the family and community is in a developmental stage, whether it is in Guyana or the rest of the world. However, despite the stage, the paradigm that is collectively supported by academics and practitioners is the need to develop partnerships amongst diverse groups, including the community and multiple systems.
I do believe that once the national vision for community development remains focused on strengthening families and communities, the relevant stakeholders and strong community participation will develop practical responses to support children and families who are experiencing challenges.