If there were any doubt left in your mind about whether or not we take children seriously and value them in Barbados, three recent instances would perhaps have led you to a negative conclusion.
First and foremost, there was the much-publicized closure of a day care nursery on Monday, amid a number of worrying allegations. However, by Tuesday the said nursery was back in business, according to media reports. Which leaves you to wonder about the way in which our Child Care Board (CCB) carries out its investigations. Should a nursery that is under such scrutiny be allowed to be back in business, 24 hours after the CCB got started with its probe into the operations?
It sort of reminds me of how our Royal Barbados Police Force operates. Lest you forget, it has been two weeks now that the Force has been trying to ascertain if a man in a video in what appears to be full Task Force uniform is a member of their ranks or not. Let us see how long it will take our child care authorities to determine whether a nursery is safe or unsafe for our children, amid numerous reports from parents and former ‘aunties’ to the contrary.
My sweet, sweet island home!
The reality is that many of us parents who have had to send our children to private nurseries across Barbados are generally relieved when our tots reach official school age. Many of us can readily recall at least one or two incidences of our children returning home with one unexplainable injury or another which made us very uncomfortable to say the very least.
We also know full well that the complaints mechanism within the CCB is less than satisfactory and that these problems stem not from the level of the nurseries themselves, but from the level of official policy.
As a mother I fully understand the benefits of having a child in a nursery that is close to the workplace, so that breastfeeding could be done for instance. Lamentably though, we had a political party that outlined such a policy in their social manifesto contract with us, but nine years later we are no closer to having such a reality for our working mothers.
The next development I wish to highlight is the planned closure of the Alma Parris School by the Ministry of Education, effective September, 2017. You would recall that the school was opened in the nineties to cater to children with cognitive learning deficits. After years of trying to cater for these children in the mainstream, it was finally acknowledged that their curricular and disciplinary needs required them to be put in a separate facility. In a retrograde step, our Government has now decided to re-distribute the students from Alma Parris into mainstream secondary schools across the island.
While there are some cases where students with learning deficits can be facilitated in mainstream schools with learning support, the reality is that children who are intellectually disabled – what we formerly referred as mental retardation – will not be able to function in the normal classroom setting for various reasons. Therefore, the Ministry of Education has now removed one of the only Government-supported options for these children and their parents. This is significant given the statistical fact that people who are intellectually challenged mainly come from families where parents have intellectual challenges and there are high levels of poverty.
As it stands, the regular school system is not set up for children with learning challenges, far less students who have clinically been diagnosed as intellectually challenged. Therefore, many of these children will not have the coping skills to manage their mainstream experiences and become well-adjusted students who can excel.
In announcing its decision, the ministry argued that Alma Parris had several challenges, including low morale. However, I think the fundamental issue was that even though the school was set up as a special needs facility, it was being run too much like a mainstream school. The predilection we have with ‘paper’ certification makes education which ends in tests the only model we are open to. But the world has moved past chalk and talk and multiple modes of education have been created so that students can get a quality education no matter where they fall on the IQ scale. We have been less able to move our educational system past its colonial orientation to a connected and 21st century compliant system.
The final unfortunate incident played out last weekend when what seemed like a teenaged boy was videotaped gyrating on a woman. As if the incident itself was not unfortunate enough, there were several comments on social media which outlined how much work we need to do to get Barbadians to understand what child abuse is, and how to protect children from it.
The act was sexualized by several people who weighed in online. When we cry out about teenaged girls who are molested or raped by men, it is not just a sexual act that we are lamenting. We are lamenting the abuse of trust, the erosion of the child’s innocence and the deep and everlasting scars caused by premature sexual experience. These scars occur partly because of the discrepancy between emotional and physical maturity which is a feature of puberty.
Both teenaged boys and girls have the discrepancy between what their bodies can do and what their emotions can process. Therefore, to expose a teenaged boy to that type of activity in the full public glare is unfortunate and reckless.
We have been raised in the Caribbean to believe that men have no emotional ability. We think they do not feel, are not scared or need comfort and reassurance. Robbing the Caribbean man of his emotions is one of the ingredients which help to keep his oversexed, hyper masculinity in vogue.
It is unfortunate that women would encourage boys to gyrate on a woman as several mothers stood around looking on. It is the manifestation that our women were raised in a culture where they have come to believe that a girl’s sexuality needs to be controlled, while a boy should be encouraged from the cradle to ‘get as much as he could’.
If we are serious about producing a society that is more productive and rounded then we need to pay more attention to childhood and how our children experience it. We are not doing enough evidence-based decision making about the types of environments children thrive in and we are also not enforcing the laws which have been set down to protect the vulnerable. But we will have to keep building prisons if we do not want to invest in the care of our youth!