DR RADICA MAHASE
LAST week there was a sad incident where an eight-year-old girl was murdered by her father and her father then committed suicide. Initial media reports said that the child had autism and that she was beaten to death because she had wet the bed. Later, in an interview, her mother said that she was just a slow learner and this was the result of injuries the child had suffered when her father hit her when she was only six days old.
Over the next two days after this incident occurred social media was filled with condemnations and criticism of the father, the mother, the grandmother, the police service, etc. Judgment was freely passed and various persons were condemned to hell.
If we deconstruct this horrible incident who do we actually blame? Do we blame a mother who said that she was in an abusive relationship and left but did not take her children (the little girl had a bother who is ten years old) because she was so scared? Did she have a safe place to take them? She said that she left the children with her mother-in-law so do we blame the grandmother who let her son take his children? Do we blame the police service after the mother reported that she was abused but nothing apparently was done? Do we blame all government structures for not providing a proper framework to ensure the safety of this child and all other children, special needs or not?
As a country we express anger, regret and sadness when any bad incident happen but do we do make any changes that can prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future? In this situation, here is a child with special needs living with a father who, as the mother claimed, was violent and abusive. How does someone like that take care of a child with special needs? Being a good parent to any child has its challenges, being a good parent to a special needs child takes a whole different level of financial, mental and physiological commitment. What kind of support system did this father have? What kind of support system did this child and her brother have?
The Minister of Social Development and Family Services, Camille Robinson-Regis responded to the incident by saying that, “People who find themselves unable to cope with their life situations should seek help which is readily available” and the ministry provides counselling support, which is free of charge to individuals and households.
The fact is help is not readily available because it is not so easy to simply walk into the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services and ask for counselling services. Last year I tried to get help for a special needs parent who desperately needed counselling and after numerous calls I was still unsuccessful.
The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services has been trying to reach out to communities through its outreach programme but the ministry needs more resources, manpower and programmes to cater to the needs of the special needs community. There should be workshops specifically for special needs parents with some kind of care available for the children while parents attend and counselling services which are more easily accessible.
We need a system in place where all relevant ministries are working together – when a report of abuse is made and a child is involved who steps in to ensure that that child is protected? Is there a proper plan in place involving police service, Children’s Authority and the various ministries? Can this be made public to citizens?
Every time an incident happens with a child, as a nation we get angry but yet we don’t try to change the structures in place to ensure that incidents like this won’t happen again. When it comes to special needs parents/caregivers, the reality is that many of them struggle on a daily basis – they struggle financially, they struggle to access opportunities for their children, they struggle mentally and physically and they need extra help. Often that help comes from the extended family and when the family is broken the situation is even worse.
Safety is a real issue on a daily basis for many children with special needs and until we put things in place at a national level, with all relevant ministries working together then sadly this will not be the first or last horrible incident involving a child in this country. The whole system is to be blamed.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism TT