What does every child who is brought into this world need and deserve?
Every child needs unconditional love and protection, provided by those who brought them into this world.
Parenting can be one of the most difficult but most rewarding responsibilities we will encounter in life and it requires education of parents and guardians so they have a substantive appreciation of what parenting entails, what nurturing looks like, and an understanding that parenting requires us to have a good and honest look at ourselves in order to be our best selves for our children.
Parenting requires responsible and selfless choices. To love and protect our children does not require money, as much as it requires us, as parents, to identify and heal our own trauma and pain.
As adults we can choose to do better and we can choose to heal from our own childhood pain so that our children aren’t the recipients of our unhealed scars.
People who have learnt to address their own pain and hurt often have a greater empathy and care for hurt children. Empathetic parenting of children requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of our children.
We must remember what it felt like to be a child. We must understand that children are not mini-adults. We must remember that children will act out, especially when they have been traumatised, are hurting or feeling unloved and unheard.
Raising empowered, healthy children requires all of us to respond with love in every situation.
Those who choose to work in the field of protecting or caring for children must have an opportunity to heal from their own childhood wounds, to prevent them from falling into the trap of taking out their frustrations and pain on innocent, undeserving children.
Every child deserves to be protected and safe and to feel protected, safe and loved, simply by virtue that they are children.
Are we surprised that children who have been rejected, abandoned or abused, coupled with the emotions of feeling unloved, unprotected or not heard, would act out and have behavioural challenges?
Where in the world do we think pain goes?
Similarly, adults who work in the field of childcare and protection, who have not healed their own pain, may project in various forms, their pain and anger on to children.
To ensure that children who are placed into institutional or foster care are not neglected or abused requires the highest levels of accountability.
This level of accountability for the welfare of children in protective care must start from the top of every child welfare system, organisation and institution.
People who don’t have a passion and love for children shouldn’t be caring for children, fostering children or working in systems and institutions that are designed to protect and care for children.
As a society, we must ask and answer important questions to safeguard children entrusted in the care and control of institutions both locally and overseas:
• What are the expectations in that institution?
• What is the criteria for its employees from the highest executive level to the lowest level?
• Do these institutions promote self-care of their employees working with children of trauma?
• Do they utilise psychological tests and assessments as part of their employment recruitment process?
• What safeguards are in place to ensure that children do not experience more trauma?
• What does their employee code of conduct look like and what are the consequences when it is violated?
As a society, can we say sincerely that each institution our children may be referred to has a huge heart for children?
If we can’t answer the latter question with an overwhelming yes, and if we don’t know the answers to the former questions, then that poses a significant problem and risk for our children.
It is important for children to be able to express their frustration, anger, disappointment and pain.
They should be able to do this in a safe, loving and caring environment.
Only when absolutely necessary should children be separated from their homes, family and country.
There will certainly be times when children are better protected by being removed from harmful situations in their homes, but we must ensure that we are sending them to reputable, safe, accountable and caring institutions or families.
Bermuda’s children should only be placed in a culturally respectful place where competent, diligent and compassionate professionals work together for the best interests of children in their care, in a manner that is transparent and beyond reproach.
Regular follow-up of our children placed in overseas institutions is critical.
Frequent, unannounced visits to overseas institutions housing our children are prudent and imperative.
Recurring visits will serve the dual purpose of ensuring the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of our children and will prevent our children from feeling abandoned and suffering the associated trauma of abandonment.
Established guidelines should be consistently evaluated to ensure best practice in shaping our public policy regarding the institutionalisation of our children.
It is also vitally important that, as a society, we commit to making sure that the necessary resources and support systems are accessible to families and children.
This will facilitate and enable healing of families so that they can ultimately provide what every child needs and deserves: unconditional love, protection and support.
• Debi Ray-Rivers is the founder and executive director of the child sex abuse prevention charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets