“Every Guyanese a child protector”
This is what is written on the Child Care and Protection Agency’s (CCPA) signboard, outside their office at the intersection of Broad and Charles St, in Georgetown.
What does it mean to care for and protect children? Does it mean taking them out of unsafe living conditions? Undoubtedly. Removing them from the care of people who abuse and mistreat them? Definitely. How are those situations assessed though, and those decisions made? Are CCPA staff trained enough to differentiate between deliberate abuse by individuals and systemic abuse perpetuated on families by poverty? To differentiate between parents who purposely starve their children and those who are simply too poor to afford three solid meals a day?
What responsibility does the government have to provide quality employment to their citizens? After more than a year in office and after giving themselves a salary increase, how many jobs has this government created? I’m not just talking training half a dozen people in half a dozen communities or employing people to pick up trash and clean nasty drains one or two times; I’m asking about large scale, systematic job creation programs. How much longer do Guyanese have to wait for those?
What are those Guyanese currently unemployed to do in the meantime? How are they supposed to feed themselves and their children in the meanwhile?
And to those self-righteous ones who will say that “she mus close her legs or bear the consequences if she want have fun”- i ask: where are the free vasectomies for men, the safe and affordable abortion services at public hospitals nationwide, or the education around consent and sexual and reproductive health/rights in schools? Where are the social and religious leaders (Other than Rev. Pat Sheerattan-Bisnauth) who are encouraging and talking openly/unashamedly about contraception and family planning (including termination of pregnancy if/when necessary), or the congregations that don’t just collect alms to build bigger churches/temples/masjids but that provide significant financial support and jobs for needy families in their midst? Who is doing the widespread cultural deprogramming that tells women and girls that they don’t *have* to all become mothers, that it’s not every girl/woman’s BIOLOGICAL DESTINY to bear children, that they are not misfits, freaks, or lesser beings if they choose not to have children? Where is the training for men and boys about fatherhood, about not being just sperm donors and deadbeat dads? How well is the child support law working?
Why is there more judgement and condemnation than support for economically disadvantaged women and families? How much support is there for working families anyway? How many parents have to leave their children home alone or in the care of others as they go to work? How many parents are working 8+ hours a day and still unable to meet all their basic expenses, save, or lift themselves out of poverty? How many workers are exploited by their employers and how much recourse to justice is available to them, or ever achieved? How many feel that they have no choice but to accept the abuse? How many drown their sorrows in alcohol and take their frustration out on their children and partner?
What happens after the State removes children from their families? Isn’t the caring and protection supposed to continue after that? How much training do CCPA staff have in child development and psychology? I don’t know where or how the CCPA staff is recruited or assessed, nor do I know anything about the Social Work program at the University of Guyana, but I do have direct, first-hand experience and knowledge of the inner functioning of the Drop In Center, having volunteered there for several years, and I can say with 20000% certainty that the answer to this question is NOT ENOUGH! Over the years, I have seen numerous instances of staff at the Drop In Center verbally abusing the children in their care, as well as threatening and actually striking them physically. I have seen vermin infestations onsite, as well as unhygienic and unsafe conditions (which I reported to both the Director of the CCPA, as well as the Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence). I have seen children in distress and ineffective counseling; children receiving this State ‘care’ for years who end up in no substantially better condition, who are ejected at age 18 with no real skills and left to fend for themselves on the streets, or preyed upon by others. I have also seen children respond to kindness and sensitive attention, children who are desperate for love and caring. I have read essay after essay written by children at the Drop In Center, about their families and their desire to be reunited with their loved ones.
Children need and thrive best in their families’ care- that is beyond obvious; one does not need a PhD to know that. Yes, many families in Guyana need support and assistance; many become parents without necessarily knowing how best to raise healthy children and many are victimized by oppressive socioeconomic circumstances. However, it is the role and responsibility of the State to devote all available resources to improve the conditions of daily life for its citizens; to tell a mother to get a job and better apartment before she will be given back her children is beyond heartless- it shows a fundamental lack of understanding and disrespect for the life and struggles of economically disadvantaged people in Guyana and a mentality that judges and further abuses people in distress, instead of assisting them. The fact is that CCPA staff- from front line responders all the way up to the highest level of management- have a history of bullying and terrorizing Guyanese families, of doing as much harm as good sometimes. This is why families who should, theoretically, be benefiting from the services they’re supposed to be offering, refuse to have anything to do with them, preferring to seek assistance elsewhere or just continue to suffer.
Another serious question that needs asking is what is being done to provide affordable housing to all Guyanese. I’m not talking granting house lots people who have been waiting for inordinate amounts of time- that is nonsense; giving people swamp land, with no infrastructure- no roads, no electricity or water lines, then expecting them to spend millions more dollars to “build up” the land, and construct a dwelling is not what I’m talking about nor what is needed. The question is why-with a population of less than a million persons and a land mass that can fit several of our neighbouring Caricom states- are numerous Guyanese citizens still living in squatting areas, having to “shit and ‘shie’, especially while some wealthy Guyanese and foreigners have multiple house lots? Why haven’t charges been filed as yet against Bharrat Jagdeo and his other peepeepee cronies, 9 months after a SARU investigation and report recommended that? What is the State doing to ensure that all Guyanese who need a safe place to live and raise their families are able to do so?
These are some of the questions that should be asked by all right thinking Guyanese, not where was Red Thread. Civil society could do more, yes. Individuals as well as organizations need to expand their scope, as well as collaborate and support each other more. However, many non-profit organizations are already stretched to capacity. I know that Red Thread in particular- the organization I’m most familiar with- regularly goes above and beyond what others would consider the normal call of duty. I know that for months at a time- almost a whole year actually, Red Thread members worked without pay, continuing to provide services to women, children, and families in crisis, in case and community after community. For a CCPA employee, being paid with tax dollars, to point the finger at this organization is clearly and simply a poor attempt to shift blame. That Kaieteur News reprinted that comment, as well as previous ones disparaging the grieving parents of the boys killed in CCPA care, is just another example of the lack of journalistic integrity of that entity- something that has been demonstrated multiple times over the years.
The facts cannot be erased though- Joshua and Antonio George died while in State care, not their parents’. For this, the Child Care and Protection Agency must be held responsible and by that we mean not just paying for the children’s funerals but opening themselves up to independent oversight, committing to and ensuring that all their staff are properly and regularly trained in all areas of child development and well-being, as well as respectful and empathetic communication, confidentiality and counseling guidelines. Though none of this will bring back Joshua and Antonio, we have a responsibility to demand that their deaths not be in vain and that government officials and State employees do more for Guyanese children and citizens.