The CYC-Net Press CYC-Online

eJOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 87  APRIL 2006 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

rights

Institutional abuse and the rights of children and youth

Jacqui Michael

“The effects on children of being abused within a context in which they had every right to expect safety can be devastating. ” (Giles)

There is no ethical defence of practice which removes children from a familiar but violent context and places them in an unfamiliar and violent one. Children and youth are removed from unsafe and troubled environments and supposedly placed in institutions so that they can be adequately cared for. Very often their environments have been impoverished, deprived, disrupted, abusive and violent before they came into care.

As child and youth care practitioners, our task is to create a therapeutic milieu which does not repeat any of the factors for which children and youth were removed. Young people in care tend to feel insecure and commonly experience relationship difficulties. They deal with many issues around separation, loss and bonding, and are vulnerable because of the experiences they have had and the fact they are living in institutions away from their families.

It is imperative that the “care” they receive is consistent, competent and responsive to “their” needs. The environment created by the staff must be such that all the developmental needs of these children and youth can be met. It is not enough to place the child in an environment which may not be violent, but is “still inconsistent”, “incompetent ”and “not able to respond” to his needs in a way that promotes his development.

Definition
There have been numerous attempts made to define institutional abuse. Giles, in his chapter on “Violence in group care” quotes the categories suggested by Rabb and Rindfleisch. These are:

Institutional abuse can refer to abuse by individual staff members, abusive practices within the institution and or in society in regard to institutional care.

For the purpose of this paper, we will present in tabular form the needs and rights of children and youth and how the violation of these constitutes abusive practice.

PHYSIOLOGICAL
Provision of:
Food/drink

 

 

 

 

Abusive

Insufficient provision;
Deprivation of,
Cooked, served
and presented without
care and consideration;
Lack of regular meal
routine.

 

Non-abusive

Ensure meal times
are pleasant and
avoid conflict;
Know children’s
needs;

Monitor basic care;
Ensure equal and
appropriate distribution

 

Warmth
Shelter
Fresh Air
Personal Hygiene
Sleep and Rest
Recreation/ exercise

 

Insufficient provision
and deprivation
of these needs.
Ensure equal and app-
ropriate distribution of
resources. Assess needs.
Apply standard of care.

Personal Space

 

Not giving any
personal space
or belongings;
Removing personal
belongings as a
punishment;
Intrusion in child’s
privacy.

 

Appropriate alloc-
ation depending on
available space and
resources e.g. own
bed own locker
private time etc.
PHYSIOLOGICAL
Provision of:
Clothes

Abusive

Inappropriate
clothing;
Unfashionable
clothing;
Clothes that
humiliate e.g. fit,
style etc.
Clothes that draw
attention to them
dirty, unpresentable clothes.

 

Non-abusive

Own clothes, if
possible;

Fitting clothes;
Appropriate to
occasion;
Clean/ tidy;
Presentable;
Fashionable.

 

Sexual Needs To deny child’s
sexuality; To ignore child’s sexual
development;
To label child’s
sexual behaviour.
To understand
child’s feelings
and confusions re
sexual development;
To provide safe, non-
judgemental environ-
ment for child to
question and discuss
sexual issues e.g.
development, contra-
ception, sexually
transmitted diseases,
sexual behaviour, etc.
SAFETY NEEDS
Protection from:
Physical Abuse

Abusive

Any form of physical
harm, i.e. pinching,
hitting, pushing,
punching, etc;
Corporal punishment;
Harmful restraint;
Deprivation of
medical/dental care;
Allowing children to
hurt each other;
Allowing children to
carry out discipline
procedures which should
be done by staff.

 

Non-abusive

Definite philosophy
about acceptable
discipline;
Procedures for
children and staff to
report abuse;
Procedures for
preventing recurrence;
Accountability!
Teaching children
to resolve conflicts
and problem solve
constructively.

 

SAFETY NEEDS
Protection from:
Emotional Abuse

Abusive

Lack of respect;
Humiliating
children;
Lack of value for
children and youth in
talking to and about;
Ridiculing/ making
fun of;
Labelling;
Putting down ;
Breaching
confidentiality.

 

Non-abusive

Respect for each
individual’s dignity
and equality;
Praise;
Encouragement;
Laughing “with them”
not “at them”
Non-judgemental;
Respecting
confidentiality.

 

Sexual Abuse Any form of sexual
touching by staff of
child;
Allowing or condoning
any form of sexual
touching from other
residents;
Not keeping child safe
from any sexually
abusive situation;
Not taking action.

Teaching children
to care for and
respect their
bodies;
Staff must be
knowledgeable about
sexual abuse in order
to prevent it;  Staff must ensure protec-
tion of children and youth
at all times;
Encourage openness
to discuss these issues.

 

Discrimination Any form of discrim-
ination based on age,
sex, sexual orientation,
race, colour, culture,
social circumstances,
sickness or handicaps.
Ensure admission and
reatment criteria
are based on available
resources, NOT
discrimination;
Constant evaluation
of philosophy.
BELONGINGNESS
AND LOVE
Family
Involvement

Abusive

To discipline by -
preventing family
contacts/ access
unnecessarily;
Ignoring
existence of child’s
family;
Being judgemental
of child’s family;
Not doing
permanency planning;
Child care workers
trying to replace family;
Not involving
families in decision
making.

 

Non-abusive

To involve families
from the beginning
whenever possible;
To understand
the importance
of families;
To empower and involve families;
To accept the family as part of the child.

 
Staff Incompetent care
and lack of commitment;
Uncaring behaviour
and environment;
Constant complaints
and resentment re job;
Resistance to
training;
Inadequate supervision;
Haphazard, unplanned
intervention.

Receive training and
supervision;
Self-development;
Self-awareness;
Providing youth with;
better opportunities
to develop than
previous settings;
Being informed about
developmental needs and
appropriate intervention;
Must be trustworthy.

 

ESTEEM/SELF

Build Self-
Esteem

 

Abusive

Humiliation;
Lack of encouragement;
Lack of individual
knowledge of the child -
his strengths as well
as weaknesses;
Lack of acknowledgement.

 

Non-abusive

Understand where
the child is at;
Encourage and praise;
Find out child’s
strengths and weaknesses;
Be person-focussed
not problem focussed.

 

ESTEEM/SELF
Developing


 

Abusive

Disempowering
children;
Not creating growth
opportunities;
Not allowing
children to master tasks
and situations;
Not allowing
independence;
Making decisions
“for” not “with”;
Not “gloating” if
they make mistakes.

 

Non-abusive

Being aware of
one’s own needs;
Not keeping
children dependent;
Allowing them to
resolve their own
situations with
support; Creating situations
where they can
develop
and master life tasks;
Involve them in
decision making;
TRUST them.

 

Summary
In summarising this paper there are some important points to mention.

Finally, I would like to stress the fact that we are all accountable for everything we do with, and to the children and youth in our care. In caring for children and youth we are challenged to examine our own behaviour as scrupulously and rigorously as we examine that of these children’s parents.

Are we prepared to do this?

The message we give children and youth is ... “This is a caring place. We will protect you and help you grow. Try us.” If we violate that promise and trust, we have failed.

I would like to end with a quote from George Thomas:

Children coming into care need to grow and develop. Institutions must meet this need for each individual. Failure to do so, represents in the most fundamental sense, an abuse of children’s developmental progress and constitutes Institutional Child Abuse.

Let us not be guilty of this!
 

Reference

Giles C. Violence in group care. In McKendrick, B. and Hoffman, W. (1990). People and Violence in South Africa, pp. 373-404.

 

This feature: Michael, J. Institutional Abuse and the Rights of Children and Youth. in Gannon, B. (1994). (ed.) Children and Youth at Risk: HIV/AIDS Issues Residential Care and Community Perspectives, Cape Town: NACCW. pp.41-47