Child abuse is a global issue – present in Grenada as everywhere else on earth. SGU’s students have become involved in elevating awareness of this pervasive societal problem in Grenada. In observance of Child’s Month, a four-person panel of experts assembled by The Humanities and Social Sciences Student Association (ALPS), a St. George’s University student group, weighed in on the issue of child abuse at a seminar hosted last month at St. George’s University.
The panel was comprised of neuropsychologist Barbara Landon and psychotherapist Bruce Wallace, both of SGU, and Ms. Melisse Ogilvie, a social worker with the Child Protection Agency, and Mrs. Andrea Cadet, a police officer who specializes in social work. Each presented their ideas on understanding child abuse, including warning signs and its long-term effects.
Dr. Landon, who has many years of experience with pediatric neuroscience, demonstrated how abuse affects the brain. In particular, the most common form – neglect – is most damaging, lowering IQ, arresting physical brain development and impairing brain function.
“The younger the child, the more vulnerable he or she is to abuse, and the brain is the organ that is most affected by child abuse,” she said.
Child abuse also affects an individual’s personality, according to Dr. Wallace, who presented on how abuse affects attachment styles in childhood and adulthood. While infants who are not abused or neglected should develop secure attachment styles, children who are abused may develop anxious/resistant, anxious/avoidant, or disorganized/disoriented styles in childhood, and preoccupied, dismissing, or fearful styles in adulthood.
“Our earliest relationships have a profound effect on our future ability to regulate our emotional states,” Dr. Wallace said. “Parental behaviors that promote and instill fear in children set them up for emotional and relationship disability.”
Ms. Ogilvie presented on the legal frameworks that seek to prevent abuse of children in Grenada, the role that the Child Protection Agency plays in protecting children from abuse, and factors that can make children more vulnerable to abuse, including poverty, the availability of alcohol and drugs, and inadequate policies and programs to prevent maltreatment of treatment.
“Even those not directly affected by child abuse are indirectly affected by it because of the toll it takes on society as a whole,” she said. “Child abuse has implications for our health, mental health, financial, judicial, and education systems, and it is important that we all work together to combat it.”
In her presentation, Mrs. Cadet provided several tips that parents could use to protect their children from abuse or detect signs of abuse. “Know who your children’s friends are, maintain excellent communication with them, be open, honest and approachable, educate them on what is inappropriate, and do not ignore unexplained bruises, changes in sleeping or hygiene patterns, or overly explicit conversations or behaviours,” she advised. She also explained how to report abuse and the law relating to abuse, including relatively recent developments like the extension of the definition of rape to include male victims and penalties to parents and caregivers who do not report incidents of abuse. She urged using a multifaceted approach to target child abuse.
“I believe the law alone is not enough to significantly deter abusers,” she said. “Much more needs to be done to ensure that child abuse incidents are reduced and prevented. In addition to our social entities and political directorate, each of us must play a role in addressing this problem.”
The ALPS student group operates with the aim to create, inspire, enlighten, and to change both its members and the world around them. The child abuse seminar is one of several outreach projects planned for this semester.