National Child Protection Week (CPW) is observed in South Africa annually to raise awareness of the rights of children as articulated in the Children’s Act of 2005.
Since its inception in 1997, the Child Protection Week programme has and continues to raise awareness, educate and mobilise all sectors of the society to holistically develop, care and protect children.
However, despite all the awareness programmes and strategies launched by government, the reality is that many children still remain vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation. For many practitioners it would seem that this Mental Health calendar event does little in terms of changing the context in which children live nor add specific guidance or support to those working with victims and/or perpetrators of child abuse.
This begs the question how have we as psychological service providers positioned ourselves within the Child Protection Week narrative? Have we been actively seeking opportunity to take the lead on this conversation or have we been silenced by our own sense of feeling overwhelmed by the shear numbers of vulnerable children in the public and private space?
Certainly, a multifaceted approach to this contentious societal problem needs to be advocated. But there is no harm in Psychology speaking out and directing the conversation to where change is most needed, namely, in 1) policy development regarding government’s response to child abuse, 2) funding allocation and the resourcing of community clinics to offer both preventative and treatment programmes for victims of abuse, and 3) guidance to university- and other training programmes to equip practitioners with the necessary skills and knowledge to intervene in these spaces.
In 2017 (leading into Child Protection Week), the government made the following call:
“As a society we have a duty to do more to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society do not suffer abuse. It is in our hands to stop the cycle of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation of children. By working together, we can create safer and healthier communities so that our children can thrive.”
In this 25th year following our democracy, let us create opportunities to respond collectively to child abuse as a nation, but also purposefully pursue conversations where our contributions as mental healthcare providers can be heard and be felt.
Nelson Mandela once said that “our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people”.
Let us ensure that we invest into the future of our beautiful country.
By Dr Ewald Crause