Cox: Help available for parents

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PARENTS under distress can find many sources of help, Minister of Social Development and Family Services (MSDFS) Donna Cox told Newsday on April 8.

She was responding to statements from clinical traumatologist Hanif Benjamin on the type and level of state support available for parents with mental-health and other struggles.

Earlier on April 8, Benjamin spoke to Newsday on charges against a San Juan woman for abusing her daughters, aged nine and three. She was arrested last week after video of her children being abused went viral.

The woman appeared in court on April 8 charged with two counts of cruelty to a child.
Benjamin said more must be done to prevent children from falling victim to abusive adults.

“Protecting our children should be our main priority and we need to question whether the nation’s mental health capacity is there to fix whatever is going on with parents before children become punching bags.”

“Parents go through stress all the time and one of the challenges we face is not understanding our limitations when it comes to mental stress.”

He said that parents need to be given the tools to be able to recognise when they need to call in the troops to prevent the violent stress reactions that have gone viral across social media.

He said officials were not good at preventative measures but rather follow-up measures that were often punitive.

“For too long in Trinidad, people are at the end of the spectrum before any kind of help is given, so people must be arrested or the child needs to be abused before people get any help.”

He added, “All health centres should have psychologists, social workers and mental health practitioners. So in the first instance when a parent is feeling overburdened, they can go there to seek help without feeling stigmatised.”

Contacted for comment, Cox urged people to tip off the authorities about cases of child abuse.

“We (MSDFS) provide psychosocial support to parents, for anyone, for any type of problem.”
She said last year, the ministry launched a suicide-prevention programme for people “at their wits’ end” or “if you need someone to talk to.”

She said her ministry provided family counselling, as did the Child and Gender Division in the Office of the Prime Minister.

“We (MSDFS) are interested mainly in the family unit, so in a situation like that, our ministry would step in.

“The ministry also conducts parenting seminars, virtual and in-person. We have also included grandparenting seminars.

“So I don’t think it is fair to say there is not enough support provided.”

She said the Children’s Authority and Police Service Victims Support Unit also help.

She said her ministry sent people to the Ministry of Health for mental-health counselling beyond the capacity of its social workers.

Cox hailed the neighbours who had exposed the woman’s abuse of her children.

“All the authorities may not be on the spot to know what is going on. They say ‘it takes a village,’ and we expect everyone to be able to report what they see.

“We try to follow up in situations like that. We go in and follow up.”

Cox said the MSDFS had a relationship with the Child and Gender Division, reporting information to each other.

“We have many avenues for people who may be going through stress or abuse.”

Her ministry will report issues involving children to the Children’s Authority and the Victims Support Unit. Cox said her ministry’s Family Services Unit had been strengthened by more social workers and when it gets a report, it “is on it immediately” including at weekends.
Cox wanted all agencies to co-operate.

“Because sometimes it stems from mental health issues and they have to be directed in the right quarter.

“Once you have those issues, you need help. You need a support base.”

She said her ministry must move quickly to help people.

Asked if teachers at schools and nurseries were good avenues to report suspected child abuse by a parent, Cox said in the past, dedicated teachers might visit family homes out of concern if seeing a pupil coming to school filthy, but nowadays teachers often did not get involved in suspicious cases.

“These things don’t happen any more.

“Some people do not report it. They are thinking it is not their business. Some do not report those incidents.

“I don’t know when we became such a callous society where people don’t look out for each other as they used to.”

“That is why I congratulate all those who look out for persons in situations.”

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