“I didn’t want to go this route [coming to the newspaper] but I feel that I have no choice, because for the last three years I have been looking for help with my situation and keep getting the runaround.”
This was the cry of 25-year-old Maryann Powell, an unemployed mother-of-two, including a three-year-old son with special needs, as she shared with Barbados TODAY the challenges she is facing in raising her two children on a miniscule income.
Powell explained that her son was born healthy, but an incident in 2015, when he was four months old, changed their lives entirely.
“From the time Amari was four months old, he was in the hospital. He was born normal, but he started getting seizures after he got an injection. One night I took him to the hospital because he had a high fever. They tried to stop the seizures but they did not stop, and as a result his brain shut down and he went into cardiac arrest for seven minutes. He suffered brain damage because of that, and this has prevented him from walking and talking.”
She said the hospital gave her a letter to take to the Welfare Department after that, but to this day the department has refused to honour her numerous requests for assistance.
“When I first visited the department in 2015, they asked me if I have his father in court [for child support] and I said “yes”. At one point I was working, but things got slow and the business closed down. Right now, all I get from my children’s father is $60 a week per child, which is completely ineffective in meeting my needs, and while I have reached out to some of my more financially stable relatives for help, they have completely ignored me.”
Naturally, with a special needs child, her situation is even more challenging.
“The $60 covers basic things like Klim, cereal and Pampers, but his medication comes to more than $100 a month. My daughter is six years old and in primary school, so I have to provide her with breakfast, and thankfully I get a ride to their schools three mornings a week, but I have to still look for bus fare.
“On my visits to the Welfare Department, they have told me that since I am getting child support, I cannot qualify for welfare. I wrote a letter to my parliamentary representative [Cynthia Forde], but there was not much she could do at first since her party was in opposition at the time. Since the general elections, I have called her and sent messages repeatedly but I have got no response at all.”
Powell, who currently lives with her mother and her brother in Cane Garden Park in St Thomas, said she will be starting a three-year course next week, so she returned to the Welfare Department recently since she understood they made special provisions for people who were studying, “but although I only went there to ask a question, they insisted that I make an appointment to see the relevant officer.
“I would like this issue highlighted so people can see what mothers with children with disabilities go through, because I know I am not the only one. I am trying hard to find a job so I can look after my own affairs and not have these people insult me all the time.”
When Barbados TODAY contacted the Welfare Department, Chief Welfare Officer Deborah Norville said she was unaware of the case, stating that its northern division, which covers St Thomas, St Lucy, St Peter and St James, would have dealt with it.
However, the current head of that section is presently on holiday and Norville said: “The new chief officer for that division was only transferred there a couple of months ago. Several officers have passed through that catchment area over the past three years, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing has come my way on this matter.”