Dr. Khadijah Williams, 50/50 Youth Cluster member, presented at the 2018 Caribbean Child Research Conference (CCRC) at UWI, St. Augustine as part of her Village Academy Jamaica Team. Her focus was on child protection in low resourced settings, stemming from an ethnographic study and participatory action research completed in residential child care in Trinidad and Tobago and a social agricultural intervention in rural Jamaica with children and young people (CYP). Key messages to educators, practitioners and policymakers from her presentation included:
- The importance of focusing on CYP participation, such that they develop skills for self-protection, especially in settings where specialist skills are lacking. Providing opportunities for CYP to take responsibility in their spaces provides great opportunities for developing agency, developing confidence and learning by trial and error in a managed space.
- The importance of focusing on the quality of training for practitioners working in low resourced settings with emphasis on critical thinking, cultural sensitivity, advocacy, care ethics, innovative thinking, negotiation and networking skills. Practitioners should be equipped to successfully navigate the challenges associated with marginalised groups, thereby reducing the inequity that exists using their skills. The intellectual and caring qualities of practitioners are therefore vital to child protection. Colleges, universities and other training centres need to address the challenges of graduates not being adequately prepared to work in child welfare/protection due to curriculum deficiencies. By this, there needs to be psychological testing of potential candidates as well as training programmes which include critical self-reflection through human skills labs for the duration of training, an enhanced presentation of social work/child protection to candidates who are less inclined to become disillusioned upon beginning practice/training (requires adequate orientation to the profession), specialist training and post qualification training, regulation of practitioners as students and professionals. Students in this field should also be accountable to standards of practice by a local body through registration and licensure.
- Creative and strategic ways of “indigenizing” practices of child welfare and child protection by interpreting and applying to the culture what are relevant practices. In training, managing practice requires a good understanding of how to interpret the realities of child welfare and protection and how policies and practices can be adapted to ensure that the best interests of children are paramount.
- A problem exists in how the concept of ‘child rights’ and ‘child protection’ are interpreted. Child rights has not been received well in the Caribbean and is seen as a threat to adult authority. At the same time, people are concerned about the welfare of children but child protection services are not receiving the support they need from the wider public. Similar experiences are seen in other countries such as Canada, the USA and the UK, particularly among minority groups who hold on to their indigenous child care practices. Child protection has been problematised and if not managed well, excludes the majority of children who are out of state care and also require protection and nurturing so that they can enjoy successful lives. While a child rights approach is welcomed, it should be applied with caution, taking into account adults’ perception of it, children’s agency and their everyday experiences. A more positive, balanced and consistent approach to promoting child rights and child protection by policy makers, educators and practitioners is therefore required.
In general, an argument for a less paternalistic approach to child rights/child protection/child welfare is being proposed in order for innovation and adaptability to take place in low resourced settings. However, this must be supported by robust safeguarding policies and practices, which are monitored by both practitioners, managers and CYP themselves.
Khadijah Williams is an educator, sociologist and social work practitioner, specialising in the welfare and protection of children and young people.