Lorraine Duvalier, of the Family Services and Placement Unit with the Department of Social Services revealed that in 2016 there were over 600 cases of child abuse that came into the Department of Social Services.
Duvalier made this disclosure during a press conference for the National Child Protection Council’s (NCPC) first official visit to Grand Bahama earlier this month at The Bahamas Information Services (BIS) Offices.
“The type of case that had the most reports was neglect, followed by physical abuse and of course sexual abuse,” she said.
Duvalier added that neglect is a very broad category of child abuse. “It includes lack of supervision, failure to provide the basic needs of children, failure to provide for their medical, educational, and spiritual needs and their need for love. The large amount of reported cases are due to the category’s expansive nature,” she added.
Duvalier noted that many persons are not even aware that they are neglecting their children,” she said.
According to Duvalier, this is the reason the NCPC and the Department of Social Services, explain these different types of abuse and help families.
“If they are lacking in an area they can receive help,” she said.
Duvalier furthered that physical abuse is a very controversial topic, because of the Bahamian culture’s values with child rearing.
“Because of the Christian society a lot of times we say if you spare the rod you spoil the child, but there so many other ways to discipline children,” she said.
She added that physical abuse often is a result of persons ‘crossing the line’ by doing things such as hitting a child harder than they intended or hitting them out of anger and stress.
Duvalier stated that many people see that as discipline when it is not.
“Something is very wrong with that when you have a parent that is out of control and they put all of their strength, compared to the strength of a child they’re unreasonable in situations like that,” she said.
Duvalier spoke on other types of abuse such as emotional abuse, which is when children do not receive the love and support they need and verbal abuse which she admitted is very under reported.
“Verbal abuse we know is very prevalent and I’d like to say that it’s really high up there with neglect; because we see nothing wrong with telling children whatever it is that we feel we should tell them and we feel is justified,” she said.
She added that such behavior is wrong, because words can and do hurt children.
“This is where the self fulfilling prophecy comes in where you continue to tell a child that they would not amount to anything, that they’re going to be no good and we tell them a lot of hurtful things and these hurtful things eventually in many cases come to pass,” she said.
Fortunately, Duvalier was able to report that abandonment was the least reported type of abuse.
She said that it was rare for children to be abandoned by their parents and other members of their family, which proves that the Bahamian family system is strong.
“As a department we are very family oriented and we try to strengthen families as much as we can. There is no situation that a parent can’t be redeemed, so we try to work with the family. If the parent is non-responsive then we work along with relatives, somebody who would take that child and provide the love,” she said.
According to Duvalier, the department puts family first before considering alternative options such as adoption.
She also informed that abuse by teachers is also rare, despite some isolated incidents.
Duvalier finally stated that with the NCPC programs they could reduce the number of child abuse cases even if it is just by one case.