Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leading up to the 16 Days of Activismn 2016: The children nobody wants, a systemic child rights failure.

 A 14 year old girl needs a home, a residential care facility, someone to care for her. No child and youth care centre, no foster home wants her and attorneys advocating for the child are seeking a high court order to compel at least one institution to take her in and develop a permanent care plan for her. The girl entered the care system at the age of two and has been raped on numerous occasions since the age of 4. She was placed in a series of children’s and foster care homes, all of which failed to deal with her behavioural problems which include sexual promiscuity. She has not been to school for years and has no family or guardian to protect her interests.

Moira Simpson, founder and Director of the Kids Haven, a child and youth care centre in Benoni, has the following to say about the problems facing social workers and other professionals trying to find appropriate care and therapeutic intervention for this child and many others whose exposure to horrific and ongoing abuse since early childhood has left them with deep emotional and psychological wounds which in turn express themselves in what is referred to in professional jargon as ‘conduct disorders’, or ‘anti-social behavior’.

“It is one thing working with children on an outpatient basis, and totally another working with them in residential care. Children with anti-social personalities and conduct disorders and/or those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, are difficult to place because no matter what you try you fail to reach them. So everyone rejects the problematic child to avoid admitting the seriously damaged child, and then when things get tough being told ‘it is your child, deal with them’ when they do not cope.’ It would be better not to label them ‘conduct disorder’; because once this label has been affixed the children have no chance of being accepted by anyone.

In fact, the system is not working for these children at all and children are repeatedly failed by parents, families, foster care settings, the community, society, and education. Most children have multiple placements that break down. The whole system needs to be re-thought.

Some of the children need to be assigned a capable adult around the clock. At any one time four adults may be needed to contain, manage, and care for one child, including security personnel. It could take a whole team of professionals to attend to the needs of this one child. Resources get stretched, as they smash windows, toilets, doors, let off fire extinguishers, cut CCTV camera, break TV’s, light fittings, and much more. 

Worse than this is what they are capable of doing to staff and other children. In the past there were always a few extremely problematic children who would fall through the cracks and land up in jail, but now there are huge numbers of severely disturbed children needing specialized and resource-intensive interventions with barely any services available for them. Far too many of these children also have cognitive deficits and most of these require permanent long term care, as will never be able to function independently.  But there is nowhere for them to go. Child care organizations are collapsing under the strain, and going to the high court to force them to take the children could be the final straw for them.

Everybody has a different standard of what difficult behaviour is. Some children described as ‘monsters’ are just acting out at the neglect, abuse and trauma they are experiencing, and with proper care and intervention are able to heal and thrive beyond expectation. For others the damage is too deep.

Kids Haven tries to give all children a chance, but would like the system to allow us to ‘give the child back to go deeper into the system’ if we find we cannot meet the child’s needs, and often this need to be immediate, after a serious incident. If it turns out that that one child is single handedly destroying the organisation, we need to be able to say no. If we are not able to give them back at this point, KH will also have to be more careful about the children we admit in the future, and unfortunately some children we would have reached will lose out.

 I am sure other organisations would be more willing to accept a child if they knew there was some recourse should they not cope. But again, at what level would that be?

The child being removed needs some form of intensive and secure care. At the moment children have to commit a crime, face arrest and conviction before there is any effort at getting them “deeper into the system.” Could we not spare our most damaged children this additional ordeal and get them into specialized and contained care settings long before it reaches this point?”

The JCAF Team


  1. It's truly sad to read that text. And it seems that this neglect of the system is a global 'trend' in children's aid (which should not be named like that any longer) - whether in the global north or south. Even in Germany the so-called children's aid has nearly no lobby and has to obey to the orders of the political financiers and their security-driven personnel. Ignoring pedagogical and psychological recommendations, ignoring decades of trying to understand humans, it's still the judicial system which is responsible as the last but insufficient because penalizing resort to say 'no' to a behavior which could have been contained before. Because there are chances in helping, in educating, in establishing long-term relationships to recover trust. There are options. But they need to be seen and wanted and supported. I think it is time to feel personally more responsible for the society we want to live in. No external attributions anymore ('The politicians , the police have to...'). No outsourcing of the satisfaction of individual needs ("I would really like this-and-that to happen, but...'). It's time to act. Not violently, but understanding. And to ask questions publicly.

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