Keeping children safe

St Annes Home pre-school teacher Veronica Titus took part in the silent protest near Red Cross War Memorial Childrens Hospital ahead of Child Protection Week last Wednesday.

Child Protection Week rings hollow in the Western Cape, where almost a third of the country’s child murders happen, but a change in attitude can roll back the grim statistics, says a Claremont-based early-child-development expert.

Professor Eric Atmore, the director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), says there would be far fewer child killings if adults treated every child as their own.

And with children spending much of their day in the care of others, Professor Atmore says principals and teachers need to be vigilant at all times.

“The gates of every ECD centre must be kept closed and locked during the day. Never allow an unknown person into the centre. If a child is to be fetched by anyone other than the parents, the parents must inform the ECD centre in advance.”

All school-transport drivers should be vetted for criminal records and their driving practices checked to make sure they weren’t overloading.

Child Protection Week, from Sunday June 2 to Sunday June 9, raises awareness of the dangers facing the country’s children, and in the Western Cape those threats are particularly alarming: there were 279 child murders in the province, almost a third of the national total of 985, according to the 2017/18 police statistics.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde says deep societal change is needed to tackle the problem.

“Our focus on child protection should not be for one week in the year, but should include an ongoing focus on making communities safer, tackling societal problems like drug and alcohol abuse that contribute to child abuse and violence and developing programmes that are aimed at educating young people and keeping them safe.”

Mr Winde said he hoped a child commissioner – to lobby for and protect children’s rights – would be appointed in the province before the end of the year.

“We have seen countless children become the innocent victims of gang violence. I have seen first-hand how drugs and alcohol ravage communities in this province and the neglect, abuse and trauma that comes with that,” he said.

Social Development MEC

Sharna Fernandez has urged the public to work with government to fight child abuse and neglect.

Her department funds the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum.

“When we receive a report of a child living on the street, our social workers will assess the child’s circumstances, and thereafter take the child off the street and place him or her into a place of safety or a child and youth care centre.”

The department had taken more than 100 children off the streets in the past three years, she said, but some children ran away from places of safety, while, in other cases, social workers’ efforts were stymied by adults accompanying the street kids.

“In such cases, the social workers need to go to court to obtain an order for the children to be removed from the street and get the police to assist them,” she said.

Southern suburbs non-profit organisations, like Sisters Incorporated in Kenilworth and St Anne’s Home in Woodstock, use play therapy to help traumatised children.

Sisters Incorporated social worker Celeste Solomons said positive parental guidance, supervision and open communication were not only key to a child’s growth but also to their safety.

Martin Gumpo, the children’s programme coordinator at St Anne’s, said play therapy helped children talk about their trauma in a “non- threatening environment”.

Parents should make sure their children were always within reach and have a secret code they could use if someone else had to pick them up.

Sergeant Lutchmee Chetty, of Claremont police, talks at primary schools,warning children about the dangers of talking to strangers.

School staff, she said, should pay close attention to children’s behaviour and strictly control access to the school grounds.