SAVF senior social worker in Louis Trichardt Ms Friede Meissenheimer. Photo supplied.
Date: 02 June 2019 By:
In an era where children are subjected to extreme acts of violence, National Child Protection week is being celebrated from 26 May until 2 June.
“We would like to make the public aware of when a child is in need of care and protection, and what type of services can be rendered by social-work professionals,” said Ms Friede Meissenheimer, senior social worker at the Louis Trichardt SAVF (South African Women’s Federation). The SAVF’s theme for this year is “It takes a community to nurture and protect a child every day”.
According to Friede, social workers who work in a Child Protection Office mainly work with the Children’s Act, Act 38 of 2005. In terms of Section 111 of this Act, certain people are legally obliged to report any suspicion of abuse and neglect, for example any educational or medical professionals. “However, any person who suspects that a child might be in need of care and protection may report such suspicions to a social worker or the police,” said Friede.
In terms of Section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act (Act 32 of 2007), ANY person of the public who is aware of a child or disabled person being sexually abused is legally obliged to report it to the police. “Failing to do so is a crime and could lead to a fine or imprisonment,” warned Friede.
But what constitutes a child in need?
In terms of Section 150 of the Children’s Act, a child might be in need of care and protection if the child has been abandoned or orphaned; displays behaviour that cannot be controlled by a parent or caregiver; lives on the street or begs for a living, is addicted to a dependence-producing substance and is without any support to obtain treatment for such dependency; has been exploited or lives in circumstances that might expose the child to exploitation; lives in or is exposed to circumstances that may seriously harm that child’s physical, mental or social well-being; may be at risk if returned to the care of a parent or caregiver of the child as reason exists to believe that he or she will live in or be exposed to circumstances that may seriously harm the physical, mental or social well-being of the child; is in a state of physical or mental neglect; and is being maltreated, abused or deliberately neglected or degraded by a parent, caregiver, and a person who has parental rights and responsibilities or a family member or by a person under whose control the child is.
Regarding the above, Friede said numerous signs to look out for existed. In case of physical abuse, the child may: have bruises, welts, cuts, burns, bite marks, fractures and other indicators of physical abuse that do not correlate with the explanation offered; display the presence of several injuries and repeated injuries over a period of time; and have bilateral injuries, injuries at various stages of healing, absence of injuries or differences in the location of the injury you would associate with the explanation of the injury.
Sign of emotional abuse may include: low self-esteem; impaired or inadequate mental or emotional development; may behave like an adult or display regression behaviour (inappropriate for age); have a fear of failure, setting overly high standards for the self; be reluctant to play; have mood swings, aggression, depression, overly controlled or dramatic expression of emotion; and overly compliant behaviour, too well-mannered, excessive concern about neatness and cleanliness.
In cases of sexual abuse, the child may have psychosomatic complaints, such as abdominal pains, headache and nausea; any physical complaints, such as difficulty to walk or sit, unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area due to infection(s), have sexually transmitted disease(s), be pregnant and have injuries to the mouth or the genital or anal areas such as bruising, swelling, sores, infection) and have had an abortion(s). Some children will also often cry or display undue anxiousness. An older child may display low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence, or may even display a lack of self-care. They may also experience sleep disturbances and/or nightmares and have a fear of persons or places (a sudden fear of a family member, bathroom or closet).
As for neglect, this may manifest as unattended medical, dental or educational needs (e.g. no immunisation and no medical check-ups when required); poor hygiene, consistent hunger and associated nutritional deficiencies; and persistent conditions (e.g. scabies, head lice, diaper rash, skin disorders) that remain untreated.
So how can the SAVF help? Friede said they rendered numerous services, including prevention campaigns to make people aware of the social problems and prevent such problems in the first place. “We look at early intervention. This is when a family has become involved with social services, but the service rendered does not include Children’s Court at this stage,” said Friede. On the flipside of the coin is statutory intervention. This is where the Children’s Court is involved, but it does not necessarily mean that the children will be removed from the family. “Other services may include temporary safe care or foster care. It can also include orders for mediation, skills development such as parental guidance, or rehabilitation,” said Friede. Lastly, the SAVF offers reunification and after-care services. This entails foster-care supervision and ensuring that children are reunited with their parents.
“If you have suspicions that a child is being abused or neglected, please phone us,” said Friede. The office of the SAVF can be contacted at Tel 015 516 3841 or 071 628 7949.