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Opinions of Monday, 6 September 2010

Columnist: Aidoo, Ato

Of Carers’ Abuse of Children in OSu Children’s Home

Part One: By Ato Aidoo, London

Please allow me to share my views on the recent undercover investigation by ace journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas about the abuse of children by their carers at the OSU Children’s Home. I have been shocked by these revelations and if this was to be in the UK the sector minister would have tended in his resignation the very next day. But this is Ghana, however should we see ourselves as a different kind of people from others in Europe and Americas who see abuse of children in the care system as having serious social implications?
As a society we should remember that parents and carers often have both positive and negative effects on children’s moral character, which clearly indicate the importance of their role in influencing children’s behaviour and shaping their future. Indeed, carers have the responsibility for teaching positive values and instilling good behaviour in children to assimilate and internalise positive values to improve their life chances. Although children normally respond to the physical and emotional lifestyles of their carers, many are often badly affected by neglectful, inappropriate and sometimes abusive carers and poor care giving environment. It is widely known that carers’ effects on children’s behaviour derive from the carers’ own personality, and those carers qualities can either be as a result of their present or past experience long before the children were born.

It is also known that children and young people‘s behaviour are often influenced by the kind of caring they receive, and the recent investigations by Anis Aremeyaw Anis of the neglectful and abusive treatment meted out to children at the Osu Children’s Home who through no fault of theirs, found themselves in the care system should be a wake up call to the Department of Social Welfare, the general public and all donor agencies about the welfare and care system in Ghana.

It should be noted that not only are these children being emotionally and psychologically scared for life, they are also being mentored to a life time of offending behaviour because they are likely to perceive their present situations as a basis of social standard of behaviour. It is therefore important to understand the reasons that initially led these children into the care system in the first place. Indeed, factors such as poverty, economic hardship, poor parental supervision, and parental divorce, cruel and rejecting attitudes of parents’ relatives may be alluded to as being the precursors of these children living in places like Osu Children’s Home, although these reasons are not exhaustive enough. It is against this backdrop that any further abusive and neglectful home environment as we have been exposed to at the Osu Children’s Home can seriously contribute to these children’s maladjustment, and they are more likely to become anti-social in later life. Carers who exhibit deficient parenting factors such as neglect, poor supervision and punitive behaviour contribute to a large extent, to the social disadvantages that negatively influence these children’s development. Eventually, these children may learn to develop aggressive and antisocial behaviour from their carers, if their actions go on uncontrolled. Abusive carers have no place in the care system and their behaviour should be scrutinised by a system where they cannot work with children anywhere again as in the western world. There should be a way of checking their criminal backgrounds to ascertain their suitability to work with children. Unskilled carer’s discipline increases the likelihood of children failing to internalise constraints of their own behaviour such that the effects of carers’ criminality could place these children at a greater risk than what actually led them into. In most cases, carers and parental rejection can lead to children growing with a general lack of warmth and support, thereby forcing them to seek love and affection from their peers outside the home who may themselves not be in any better situation to offer good advice.

Now the authorities must act to assure Ghanaians that the Department of Social Welfare is not in a state of social disorganisation where they are just being paid to oversee a total collapse of social care. Donor organisations will be closely watching Ghana to see what the authorities will do to bring these perpetrators to book. All meaningful citizens home and abroad must join hands to condemn in absolute terms the carers’ irritability as shown by their poor supervision over these children. We must not turn “a blind eye” to these acts of the carers and their bad behaviour should not go unpunished. The actions of the Minister E.T Mensah makes it even harder to encourage whistle blowing in places like this, so that hard working and good staff who do not condone such behaviours are often afraid to report any abuse for fear of victimisation .
Good caring practices can serve as protective factors for children and young people in the care system and this explains why some children from even ‘high risk’ background do not become offenders or social misfits in later life. The Children’s Home need trained carers who can help mould these children’s moral character to achieve resilience and desistance from crime. We need carers who would adopt sensitive and positive parenting strategies by seeking alternatives to punishment by rewarding children with praises for good behaviour. This often serves as a protective factor as it builds trust and confidence in children and strengthens the carer-child relationship. We should not forget that children choose whether to imitate their carers’ behaviour based on several factors, and the consequences resulting from that action. However, because carers are the most important people in the lives of these children, particularly in early childhood, it follows that these children are more likely to imitate their carers’ lifestyle. Ghanaians should be concerned about this revelation and Anas should be commended for his good work. The welfare sector needs better attention from the government and there should be some form of regulation to ensure that people who call themselves carers have some level of education and training as well as certification to prove their level of competence.