The influence and support of a parent or caregiver plays a vital role during a child’s personal and educational development. Another almost equally important factor is the role that we as a ‘village’ play. This edition offers an insight into what’s happening locally to ‘build that bridge’ between parents and community, as well as the perspective of the youth and parents.
Manager Student Support Services Division | Member Transitional Child Protection Working Group
What usually comes to mind when you hear about protecting children? Who would you say is responsible for protecting children? Many would say that parents are. I agree that parents play a major role in protecting children, and support must be given to them in their role as primary caregivers. Child protection, however, is everyone’s business and as a community we all have a role to play. The famous saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”, conveys that it takes many people (the village) to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children. It acknowledges that the primary responsibility is with the parents or the primary caregivers, but the support to parents from the “villagers” is fundamental.
These days supporting parents to protect children is even more critical. With the breakdown of families, the extended family not being as connected as it used to be, economic pressures, parents working multiple jobs, and the negative influences of social media, all these factors, individually or collectively, increase the vulnerability of our children. This vulnerability can expose them to harm, which in turn affects their wellbeing and development. If we truly believe that our children are the future, then it is critical that we protect them today. We can no longer talk the talk but not walk the talk. We can no longer sit on the fence and point fingers at parents, instead we should ask, what can I do to provide support?
At the Student Support Services Division (SSSD), our motto is “if every child must learn, then every parent, family and community must be a part of the process”. Here again you see this village mentality that we encourage. We truly believe that we must rally around our children, and one way to do so is to provide support to parents in order to protect children. Children that are supported feel safer and are better equipped to deal with challenges from the external environment. Government, the business community, and civil society organisations are key supporters, but there is a role for us all.
We are at a critical stage in our development here on St. Maarten as we build our island nation. How can we develop leaders if we do not protect our children so that they are able to lead? How can our children benefit from education (a key pillar) if they are unprotected and as a result develop barriers to learning? How can we say we are building a nation if we do not see ourselves as builders and take on the responsibility that role requires of us?
Child protection is everyone’s business. Ask yourself: how can I support that parent in my community? How can I reach that parent, whether it be our neighbour, co-worker, church member, etc? We all have a shared responsibility and as such we must get back to being an active member of that village. The future of our country, our communities and our families depend on it.
The Positive Parenting Support Program is training child protection professionals in innovative parent engagement strategies - to be able to provide more accessible parenting classes for the public. Professionals, parents, and children gave input towards its development.
Ceceile Minott and Linda Craigie-Brown are part of the large team of experts developing the Positive Parenting Support Program (PPSP). This is a new parenting program, tailor-made for Sint Maarten. The parenting curriculum aims to support parents in building a more positive relationship with their children. Parents and children were consulted in the research phase of the development of the PPSP. Interestingly, both groups voiced many similar concerns about parenting.
They were concerned about not having sufficient activities for children and youth, not having access to information about parenting, and they wanted to have a more open and trusting relationship with their family. Ceceile: “In addition, finances remain a worry of families on Sint Maarten. Parents are unsure how to balance the high cost of living, work multiple jobs, and still have time for their children.”
The PPSP teaches parents that it is not about the quantity of time a parent spends with their children, but the quality. “A parent can be at home all day with their child but have made no effort to connect or support their child. On the other hand, a parent can also spend an hour with their child and actively build their relationship with them”, explains Linda. The classes will teach parents positive approaches to communicating, disciplining, and building a better connection with their children.
During the PPSP training, Linda touches on two definitions of positive parenting. First, a set of parenting behaviours to teach children to love, trust, explore and learn. Second, the continual relationship between a parent and child includes caring, teaching, leading, communicating, and providing for the needs of a child, consistently and unconditionally.
Positive parenting, or just parenting, has many different descriptions to embody the meaning and responsibilities of being a parent. But what it comes down to, according to the experts, is encouraging the parent to see and treat their children in a positive manner. “Words stick, hurt, describe and prescribe. If we tell a child that they are worthless and good for nothing – this is what they will believe and act accordingly.”
Fifty-six professionals, such as teachers, social workers, counsellors, etc., are being trained to become facilitators of a new Positive Parenting Support Program (PPSP). The PPSP facilitators will provide guided parenting classes to the public. The parenting classes will help parents and caregivers to increase their knowledge and understanding of positive parenting practices.
The program has been a long-term goal and initiative spearheaded by the Department of Youth in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (MECYS) and is being implemented with technical support from UNICEF the Netherlands. The curriculum for the PPSP was developed after extensive research and data collected from dozens of focus group discussions and stakeholder interviews. The teams tasked with the development of the curriculum include the University of the West Indies Open Campus, through the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC), in partnership with Parenting Partners Caribbean (PPC).
Twenty PPSP Facilitators will be selected to continue their training and become ‘master trainers’. Master trainers, in turn, can train others to become PPSP Facilitators, ensuring the continuity and accessibility of parenting education classes on Sint Maarten. The PPSP is part of the Child Resilience and Protection Project (CRPP), financed by the Government of the Netherlands through the Sint Maarten Trust Fund, and administered by the World Bank.
Follow updates about the PPSP
Providing more accessible parenting classes also plays a large role in ensuring that children are protected. “Every child goes through different stages from birth till eighteen years old. At every stage, a child can face different threats and needs different protective measures that parents should be aware of,” explains Ceceile. For example, a two-year-old will want to explore and does not recognise certain dangers. They might fall, cut or burn themselves, so parents must know how to assess hazards in their home to prevent accidents.
On the other hand, teenagers can be tempted to engage in risky behaviours as they are figuring out their identities and relationships. In this stage, they must have an honest and open relationship with their parents. This way, the parent will be better aware of their online presence, who their friends are, and possible negative influences.
Currently, professionals who work with children and families are being trained as facilitators to provide parenting classes to the public in 2023. Ensuring that these classes are accessible to the public and especially vulnerable groups is a community effort, conclude Ceceile and Linda. “Just because there are parenting classes available doesn’t mean parents will attend. Various agencies must work together to encourage and support turnout, such as providing time off work for parents to attend. Parenting advice can also be provided through community outreach and professionals who work with families. If they don’t come to us – we must go to them!”
“Once I have completed the Positive Parenting Support (PPSP) training, I will facilitate parenting classes in small groups. I think that the PPSP is a special and much-needed initiative in our diverse communities. The parenting classes will support parents by providing a safe space to connect with other parents and build their skills as caregivers. As a social worker at the Women’s Desk, I also guide many parents. My work in past years has taken me to some of our most vulnerable communities. This has been an eye-opening experience. Due to the stigma and fear surrounding poverty and violence, many Sint Maarten residents are unaware of the hardships endured by the population.”
“Most of my clients struggle financially, leading to an unbalanced and stressful life. I also see a lot of substance abuse destroying families. These challenges do not make it easier for parents to find time to connect with their children; in addition, corporal punishment is still often used. When parents seek our assistance, they are coping with a great deal - so much, in fact, that advice or a referral may not be sufficient to alter their attitude or behaviour. The PPSP teaches us innovative parent engagement strategies. The most impactful: allowing them to hear from and discuss with other parents who are going through similar challenges.
Attending the PPSP Facilitator Training has refreshed and built on my knowledge. It’s a bonus that I can connect with other professionals in the same field. Some topics we have touched on so far include growth and development, positive parenting skills and child and parent resilience. The training session on resiliency resonated with me. I was reminded that although people go through difficult moments, we all can bounce back. Finding the strength to get back on your feet is never easy but remember, this will pass.”
Connecting with teenagers can be difficult; adults aren’t always able to decipher their thoughts. Their unpredictability and temperaments make everyone cautious of their words and actions around teenagers. What advice do they themselves have?
“I play a lot of video games. It’s a bit annoying when my mom limits my time spent playing video games, but I also understand, as I get distracted easily. You can put a time limit on certain applications or block applications or websites that might not be appropriate. I don’t think parents know how to do this, but they should just google or YouTube it – there are a lot of tutorials online.
My friends, also my online friends, are very supportive of me. For example, I have been a bit insecure about how skinny I am. Yes, they make fun of me here and there, but it’s all in good fun. However, they will also tell me: you look good, or you have gained weight. If something bothers me, I know I can talk to them, and they lift me up.
Since I am a gamer, I also spend time in online communities on Discord. These communities have thousands of people. Yes, some people might try to bully others, but then we can vote to remove them from the group. I feel safe because of this. If someone tried to bully me, I would trace their IP address to find out who they are and where they live. I also take screenshots to have proof if I ever need it. I think involving parents will likely make the bullying worse!”
“I have a difficult relationship with my mom, I feel like she doesn’t understand me. She wants me to talk to her, but when I try to, I often feel that she isn’t there for me. It’s also hard for me to share things with my mom because I feel like she focuses on the negatives. As an example, if my grade isn’t the specific grade that she expected.
I do think my mom did a good job teaching me about different substances that can be addictive like alcohol, weed, pills, or other drugs. She went over them one by one and explained the dangers in a pretty honest way.
My self-image is good, and I don’t really care much about what others say. I think it would be nice if my mom accepted my style more. She wants me to wear bright colours, but that’s just not me. Also, I don’t appreciate that she expects me to care for my younger siblings – that isn’t my job. I think my best advice to parents is to really listen. Instead of jumping to conclusions just try to understand us.”
“My mom once looked at my WhatsApp messages – I didn’t really mind. But I think in most cases teens would feel like you’re invading their privacy. If you have a good relationship with your parents, I don’t think parents need to check your personal things. I have an open relationship with my father. I think it’s easy to talk to him, you know, ‘man to man’. If I was in any trouble, I’d feel comfortable going to him. I think he is a good listener, and I appreciate his advice.
At my school, they have blocked certain applications and sites to help prevent cyberbullying and kids from going on inappropriate websites. I think this is something parents can look into as well. I am not really bothered too much with social media and how it can affect your self-image. My mom often expresses how handsome she thinks I am and takes a lot of photos of me. I do notice that it bothers me when photos that I post get fewer likes than others.”
“I think that I have a very supportive mom and dad. However, I am very independent, and I’m not particularly eager to share a lot – which can lead to butting heads, especially with my mom. I feel that when I share something, she asks a hundred questions as if she is interrogating me. If she didn’t make such a big deal about things, I’d be more comfortable.
As teens, we have different lives and images that we like to present to the world. I present myself differently with my parents, in school, with my friends, and online. I used to have a big fear of failure and put a lot of pressure on myself. I think one day something switched and I felt: this is not worth it – which has affected the way I view schoolwork.
I do think it’s easy to compare yourself to others on social media. I’ve been trying to love my body more the way it is and doubt myself less. But social media isn’t all bad, I also follow pages that motivate me about fitness, business, and travel.
If I ever become a parent, I want my kids to come to me to talk about drinking or drugs. Instead of getting angry, I’d offer them a safe space and open conversation.”
The teens in the photo are not the teens quoted in in the article.
Since the Student Support Services Division’s establishment, the division aims to increase parental skills and awareness. Through the Parenting Programs, for instance.
“Our motto is ‘If every child must learn, then every parent, family, and the community must be a part of the process’”, share Sophia Badejo-Auguiste (photo left) and Sherritza Peterson (photo right), both social workers at Student Support Services Division (SSSD).
One of the goals of the SSSD is to keep parents, families, and the community involved, enabled, and empowered. “We love what we do; it’s beautiful to know that your work is meaningful for your community,” explain Sophia and Sherritza, adding that they “are a great team.” As part of their work, they organise and facilitate quarterly Parent Support Group sessions and Parent Education Workshops.
Since the SSSD’s establishment, the aim of the division has been to increase parental skills and awareness. Through consultations and frequent contact with families, the SSSD identifes the most relevant topics to design the Parent Education Workshops. Some of the topics the division has covered in the past include bullying, substance abuse, sexting, conflict resolution, fighting in school, youth anxiety and depression, and family self-care.
“It’s important to us to pick relevant topics in our community and through our workshops to keep parents ‘in the know’”, Sherritza says. “This way, they can feel better equipped to address issues if they arise in their family. Parent Education Workshops are open to the public, and parents, educators, care team members, and concerned citizens often attend the sessions.”
The SSSD supports students and their families so that they can reach their full potential. Diverse professionals provide this support through a wide range of services and programs. For more information, you can contact the SSSD at 1-721-54-31235, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their Facebookpage here
Parents who need additional support can sign up and are encouraged to follow the Parent Support Group. These sessions provide a safe space for parents to share their experiences and learn from each other. The group is meant for parents whose children struggle with behaviour or learning challenges.
“The Parent Support Group is kept small, and we all agree to keep what is shared confidential”, Sophia says. “What is great about these sessions is that you can see parents create a network with other parents who might be going through similar challenges. Once the network is strong enough, they can transition out of the group and continue to support one another.”
Of course, Sophia and Sherritza are also there available to provide advice during the support group sessions. They use evidence-based practices as well as culturally sensitive practices. Sophia: “It’s not just parents who appreciate these meetings, but grandparents and other caregivers as well.”
Many of the parents that are referred to, or those who approach the SSSD for assistance, are facing challenges such as their children being defiant, not adhering to the rules, or being unmotivated to do schoolwork. Often there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Sherritza: “We also must not forget that parents may be facing challenges themselves. Our role is to help parents or caregivers gain the skills to parent safely and effectively.”
The Parent Support Group is an excellent setting for parents to receive alternative ideas on approaching their children and their behaviour. For example, many parents in the Parent Support Group express that harsh parenting practices, such as corporal punishment, have not worked. Parents attending the Parent Support Group for a longer time share best practices of how they achieved better communication with their children, Sophia says. “They conclude through discussion that positive reinforcement works better.”
“It is great when parents can reflect and learn from other parents to improve their relationship with their children and family”, Sherritza says. “As social workers we guide families, but we are not experts on everything parenting. We respect parents for their experience as well.”
How do you talk to parents or caregivers about a difficult topic regarding their children? Some practical tips by Guicindy Glascow and Jina Mahbubani.
Professionals who work with children must communicate or collaborate with their families regularly, and instances of suspected child abuse should always be reported to the Court of Guardianship.
However, when a child faces other challenges that can endanger their healthy development, professionals who work with children, such as teachers, counsellors, or social workers, are responsible for finding solutions. Depending on the issues and their level of sensitivity, it can be challenging to approach parents and caregivers with any concerns. How do you talk to parents or caregivers about a difficult topic regarding their children? Here are some tips by professionals who work with families daily.
Family guardian at Foundation Judicial Institutes Sint Maarten
“We execute the protective measure order for minors imposed by the Court of First Instance, provide guidance to the minor and its family system and inform the Court of Guardianship and the Court of First Instance regarding the protective measure process. We are often seen as the ‘bad guys’ who took their children away. It’s part of my job to regain parents’ trust to successfully work together in the best interest of their children.”
“During my work, I can encounter parents who disagree with the Court’s decisions and can get very upset with me. In the past, I had moments in which I would become angry in response. However, I quickly learned that it’s crucial to stay calm. I calmly remind my clients of their responsibilities and try to understand why they might disagree. I counter any disagreements by carefully explaining the reality of their situation and the rewards for meeting the requirements stipulated by the Court. If someone gets angry and isn’t open to having a conversation, I give them time to ‘cool off’ before our next meeting.”
“As we deal with neglected or abused children, showing empathy for their parents or caregivers can be tough. However, in many of our cases, parents want to be good parents, but due to socioeconomic reasons, they cannot provide for their children’s needs. Try to imagine what the parents are going through and show empathy while working with them. Placing yourself in their shoes also helps to set realistic goals for the families we work with.”
“Because many of our clients are parents whose children have been placed under protective custody, they see us as ‘the bad guy’ when they come in for their first appointments. Our job is to make them feel safe, talk to them, and prove that SJIS is there to help them accomplish their goals and reunite them with their family. I think the first step to breaking down any barriers is going into meetings with a smile on my face. I ask them how they are doing and feel about the situation. Show interest in their well-being first before talking about solving the case with their children.”
“Some of our clients don’t realise they have a problem. I used to be judgmental of those clients. The longer I worked in this job, the more I realised that many of our clients were raised in abusive households and never had positive role models or education on being good parents. This means that I need to provide a lot of information and examples of good parenting practices. Providing ample examples also encourages parents to reflect and understand why they must make changes to ensure a better future for their children and family. It is challenging to teach people to self-reflect, but essential for better decision-making in the future.”
School counsellor at the Prins Willem Alexander School
The Prins Willem Alexander School is a special education primary school. Jina is also the president of the St. Maarten Social Workers Association. She is passionate about her job, and her motto is: “Anyone in a child’s life is a parent.”
“Before you approach parents, try to find out as much as possible about them and their family situation. When a student enrols at our school, there is an intake assessment with the parents and students, so we have quite a bit of information on file. This information helps to think of how best to approach a family and discuss a complex topic – which might differ per culture. A lot of our families have language barriers and cannot speak English. To make accommodations, we ask a colleague to translate if we can’t speak the language.”
“I had a student desperately needing better hygiene – which is a difficult topic to broach. Parents have pride and don’t want people to know how hard they have it. You must be gentle in how you talk to families and understand that they might be doing their best. Pushing too hard can lead to parents becoming closed off to your advice or support. When parents are not ready to talk, I send gentle reminders to these families that I am here for them. In addition, I will send general notices in the parents’ WhatsApp group so that people do not feel called out. Our school will also provide occasional food bags and vouchers to ease the burden of families in need – without them having to explicitly ask for this.”
“No parent or person wants their sensitive or personal information out on the road. When you think of Sint Maarten, it is like a small town - everyone talks. If a parent confides in you and later hears ‘their business on the road’, they will never come back! They also won’t come back if they feel judged. Make sure you show parents that you are listening without judgement when they share their stories. Even when you can’t assist them in improving their difficult circumstances, a listening ear goes a long way towards making parents feel better.”
“If the parent’s well-being is not met, they cannot help the child – so you need a holistic approach when assisting children and their families. I encourage parents to take care of themselves and consider their needs. Sometimes they feel selfish or guilty for considering their own needs, especially if their children are struggling. But it is like the rule on an aeroplane: put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you can’t help anyone else!”
“If the parent’s well-being is not met, they cannot help the child – so you need a holistic approach when assisting children and their families. I encourage parents to take care of themselves and consider their needs. Sometimes they feel selfish or guilty for considering their own needs, especially if their children are struggling. But it is like the rule on an aeroplane: put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you can’t help anyone else!”
For advice or to report suspected child abuse contact the Court of Guardianship at +1721 542 4110
Does the Child Check initiative offer starting points to better assist and support children when their parents have serious mental health challenges, drug, or alcohol addiction or other serious chronic conditions? Three professionals share their insights.
‘Child Check’ is a protocol used by professionals who work with adult clients, such as (family) doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists, to help identify children at increased risk of abuse or neglect.
Child Check outlines the steps professionals can take to determine the well-being of children, while treating the parent who is their patient or client. For example: if a person with an addiction comes into the emergency room, the care team can conduct an assessment to identify whether the person has children and that they are safe.
Since the implementation of the protocol in the Netherlands in 2007, the method has proven successful with a positive predictive value of 91%, substantially increasing the detection rate of child abuse in an emergency department setting.
The Court of Guardianship (CoG), in collaboration with UNICEF the Netherlands and Augeo Foundation, are working towards implementing a ‘Child Check’ protocol on Sint Maarten. In 2022, local stakeholders were informed about their possible roles within Child Check and asked for feedback on the next steps for implementation.
“After our consultations, we have learned that some organisations already do a similar ‘check’ during their work”, shares Kimberly Dort-Brown, Head of the Court of Guardianship. “However, all invitees agreed that there is room for improvement. The Child Check method will streamline how professionals working with adults (parents) can help identify child abuse or neglect cases. Once identified, we can provide the needed assistance to the children of their clients.”
In addition to early detection, Child Check ensures that parents and caregivers are supported. This holistic approach was appreciated by several stakeholders that will play a part in the implementation of Child Check.
“During our intake assessments, there are several questions about their family dynamics. We ask if they have children, and if yes, with whom or where they reside. This is important to check if the children are safe, and crucial for the client’s rehabilitation journey. As a drug rehabilitation facility, the whole family must be involved as much as possible. If a client has a strong network, managing and treating their addiction will be easier.
“We had a client with a gambling addiction. Because of this, he could not pay rent and other expenses to support his family. His child was going to school but wasn’t functioning because he wasn’t eating regularly. In this case, we will do counselling and make an action plan to ensure that the children’s basic needs are met. We also have meetings with family members separately to ensure everyone feels comfortable sharing any concerns. The Court of Guardianship will be involved if any neglect or abuse is suspected.
I think Child Check would be great to implement in Sint Maarten. The protocol focuses on the whole family dynamic to ensure that children are safe and families are supported. Child Check specialises in child protection and can help formalise and refine the way we do assessments at Turning Point.
“We should look at it this way: if we save a child, we prevent the circle of abuse from happening again. We see a similar cycle of addiction in families that have not received adequate support. Helping children as early and quickly as possible will result in a healthier and safer community.”
“Our role is to be the advocate for patients and patient care. An initial assessment is done when patients come in. We also do spot checks on the wards and keep in close contact with nurses and doctors. If any concern arises, we check in with the patient and see what assistance can be offered.
“Often patients will indicate if they have any children at home. If there is any suspected neglect or abuse, we involve the Court of Guardianship. We help families by providing counselling and providing relevant guidance and referrals. Due to the limited resources on our island, creativity is essential.
One of our success stories includes a pregnant woman visiting our outpatient clinic for a check-up. During testing, the gynaecologist realised there were illicit substances in her system and alerted us. After our conversation, I assessed that she and her partner had another child at home. Despite her substance abuse, the home and her child were very well taken care of. She agreed to go to therapy, random home visits, and to random drug testing. Taking certain drugs was a coping mechanism for her during stressful times – but she recovered, and both her children are doing well.
“We think Child Check would provide the opportunity for a better working relationship between various agencies dealing with families and children - a holistic approach. Of course, we must take privacy into account. However, if we can share certain information through having a program such as Child Check to create more efficiency, we can help children and families more quickly.”
Afraid that her son would ruin his chances in life, Carmen lost her temper. Her children were put under protective custody. She is now working hard to get them back.
“I know some will criticise my story, but I want to share it to help other parents.
I remember the day I hit my son very well. I wish I could turn back time and change that day. My son is intelligent and used to get good grades. However, since attending high school, he started getting laid back, not listening, and ignoring his schoolwork. I tried everything to help him, but nothing was working.
It was a Thursday, and it started as a happy morning. I got up early, cooked for the kids, dropped them at school and went to work. Then I got two phone calls – both from teachers at my son’s school. One shared that he had not been handing in his assignments. The other said that my son had not attended school for the last week. My phone fell out of my hand, and my heart sank. I thought: my son has ruined his life.
I picked my son up from school and confronted him about his assignments and missing school. His explanations did not fully add up. We argued, and I discovered several other things that upset me further. I needed answers and did not understand why he was behaving this way. Panic set in; I had a stick in my hand and just started to hit him… he ran into his room, and I hit him again and again. Eventually, he ran to the neighbour’s home, and they brought him to the police station.
When I was arrested and my kids were put under protective custody, I felt like my life was over. I couldn’t eat during the days I was locked up; I was so worried about where my kids were sleeping and if they were ok. I thought to myself: I tried to build a home with so much love, and that day I crossed a line that changed everything. I thought about suicide many times. But I am the only person my kids have.
Looking back on that day, I know I should have sought help sooner. Those around me expressed that I was such a good parent, and I didn’t want to show that I was slowly breaking down. I felt like I had no one to talk to and felt embarrassed to admit I needed help. I am a lot more embarrassed now about my actions and how I hurt my son.
Therapy has helped me. I grew up with a lot of pressure and fear of failure. I had a very strict mother – bad grades were never an option, and besides school or church, we were not allowed to do much else. Other things happened to me that proved to me that the world is a dangerous place. I still have a lot of that fear inside of me. I don’t drink, go out, or socialise much; my kids are my world.
I was undocumented when I was younger and know how it feels not to be able to have opportunities. I think my fear took over the day that I beat my son. I just was so scared that he was throwing his life away. Thinking that if I hit him, he would think twice about the choices he was making. I know now that it doesn’t work like that.
Through therapy and guidance, I am trying to set new boundaries and have more realistic expectations of my children. The hardest moment during these few months was seeing my children for the first time since the incident. I relived the entire situation when I saw them. It’s the same with our house; I don’t want to be there anymore because it reminds me of that day. My kids feel the same.
I understand that the government must act in situations where children are hurt. I hope, however, that people working on these cases, such as the police, try to listen better and not pass judgment immediately. Taking a child away from his mother is like taking away their life.
For parents, my advice would be don’t keep your feelings in. Sooner or later those feelings are going to boil over, and you will lose everything. Seek the help you need.”
The name has been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
Don’t wait to address your concerns until you are certain that there is something wrong; present your concerns without judgement. These and other advices in our downloadable infographic.
It could be the case that parents react angrily or are upset by your concerns. That is understandable: you are talking to parents about how they are raising their children and the concerns you have about their children. Emotions can run high, particularly if the parents don’t recognise the concerns or feel that they may have contributed to them. It is important that there is space for this: if someone can show how they feel, there is a higher chance that the emotions will subside more quickly.
You create space for emotions by giving someone your full attention. You show someone you are there for them through your posture and nonverbal attentiveness. You can then help them to get their emotions under control by reflecting on their feelings. For example: ‘I can imagine that this shocks you. I can see that you are angered by what I am saying. Is that right?’ Sometimes this is enough, but sometimes you need to do this a couple of times to help the parent down the emotional staircase, step by step.
Active listening means: asking questions and summarising. Show that you are listening attentively. Repeat the main points that the parent has made.
You are unable to grant confidentiality to parents that ask for it. If you promise confidentiality, you could put yourself in a difficult situation: you don’t want to breach their trust, but if they share something serious with you, you are obliged to act and involve others to rectify the situation. What you can do is promise to consult them before taking any action.
Show interest in what the parents have to say. Ask them what they think about your concerns, what they think of the discussion, and let them tell you what their child is like at home. Don’t predict what they are going to say, be receptive to their answers. This will help them tell you what they really think. Are your concerns only greater following their reaction? Talk to your supervisor.
Present your concerns without judgement. Don't say: ‘Angie smells’, instead say: ‘I notice that Angie smells of urine.’ And explain what you have seen or heard and why it is significant. For example: ‘I have noticed the last few weeks that Eugene often seems tired. He has been falling asleep during playtime. It happened today too.’ Don’t accuse the parents. Don’t talk about a suspicion of child abuse or state that the parents are doing something wrong. Simply tell the parents about what you have seen or heard that stands out. For example, Jim has suddenly been displaying overactive behaviour, or Lisa never looks directly at you.
Most parents want the best for their children. That’s why they will appreciate you sharing with them what you have noticed about their child. Let them know that you are looking for a solution to potential ‘difficulties’ – using the word ‘problem’ may cause the parent to feel judged. And explain the steps that you want to take. Don’t take action behind their backs: this may cause resistance and increase the chance of angering the parents or causing them to leave. If you intend to confer with a supervisor or a colleague, then share this with the parents. ‘I find it difficult to come up with a solution with you by myself, so, I want to discuss it with someone who has more expertise in this area. Is that okay with you?’
It’s important that you are clear about what you want to achieve with the discussion. Something minor or seemingly innocent can be discussed with the parents when they collect their child. If you think there may be more to the situation, make an appointment for a later time. Consider whether you want to have that discussion alone or together with your supervisor or a colleague. This can be prudent if you think the parents will be shocked by your concerns or if a colleague has also picked up worrying signals.
Rather than beat around the bush, plan and structure the discussion. Let the parents know that you appreciate them sitting with you and tell them why you wanted to talk to them. Then you can state briefly and without judgement what you have noticed about their child and why this concerns you. Ask the parents what they think about your concerns and whether they recognise them. Pose open questions so that you do not steer parents in a particular direction. Continue to show interest and don’t fill in answers for them. Summarise the discussion to check that you have understood what they have said.
Agree with each other on what action both parties will take to ensure that the situation improves for the child. Record the agreements in the child’s file. Check-in with the parents from time to time. If there is no improvement or new concerns arise, make a new appointment, and talk about the potential next steps.
Don’t wait until you are certain that there is something wrong, instead address your concerns, big and small, immediately with the parents. Perhaps they can alleviate your concerns. For example, by explaining that the bruise on Kim’s back was sustained falling from her bike, or that Mick is so quiet and sad because his grandmother is sick. The longer you wait to discuss your concerns, the more likely it is that the parents will feel that you are not being honest with them. If you share minor concerns with them, it is easier for them to talk to you about the bigger issues.
Parents regularly struggle with difficult issues. What advice do they have for teachers, social workers, and other professionals in order to better help them?
Parents: Amelie Tapia and Ricardo Gibson, son Liam (14 months)
“Becoming parents has created an organic shift into a stable, loving, and safe environment for us as a new family of three. There is also the undeniable and infinite love you have for your child; it simply drives you to be the best version of yourself.”
“It can become challenging to balance work and home life. Sometimes we crave a nap or even a lazy Sunday morning, but this isn’t an option with a teething pre-toddler. As new parents, we worry if we’re doing the best we can - that our child thrives in the circumstances we’re providing. We gently remind each other that we’re doing a great job and check in with one another. We often turn to close family members for emotional support - and babysitting too.”
“Overall, the island’s infrastructure and commercial spaces could be more child-friendly. Think of pavements, play areas, sitting areas, or even a bench in stores. Especially as a new parent, you’re often carrying a lot of necessities with you and having a place to rest for a few minutes would be great. Our island isn’t stroller-friendly either. So, you often have no choice but to carry your child on the hip.”
“The best advice would be to follow your gut. Many friends, family members, and sometimes even medical professionals will tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Although you should trust medical advice, seeking a second professional opinion is always helpful in case you are unsure. Don’t be afraid to set clear boundaries with friends and family members who often vocalise their opinion.”
“When you approach parents, make it clear what your objective is from the beginning. We can adapt, but knowing why you are making a request is comforting. Many parents go through similar struggles, and often we feel unheard. It is best to listen to our concerns without us feeling judged. Also, parents are usually always on the go, offering them flexible hours to meet or even virtual meetings would be ideal.”
Let’s try to humanise parents again; they are still more than just ‘mom or dad’. Parents are individuals who deserve even more kindness and understanding because they’re tired, overworked and maybe stressed too!”
Parent: Denicia Liverpool, daughter Alina (3 years)
Profession: Full-time mom/self-employed
“For me the most rewarding part about being a parent is seeing my child happy and shaping into her own person more and more every day. I love to see how she learns from her environment and interprets it in her unique way.”
“As a parent, I always wonder if I am properly caring for my child and raising her the right way. It worries me how unsafe the world can be. There are many dangers for children, such as abuse, molestation, and kidnapping. I try my best to keep up with the news and read about what signs and behavioural changes to look for in my child that can indicate any trauma. I keep a very close eye on everyone involved in my child’s life.”
“In my experience, nurses, day care teachers, and government workers have always shown kindness and done their best regarding my child’s needs.
Regarding improvements, I have seen first-hand how hard it is for some parents to have a work-life balance. It’s a challenge for parents to spend time with their kids because they are working multiple jobs. I have a few solutions. Firstly, the minimum wage is lower than most rental prices on the island, so raising the minimum wage is only fair. Otherwise, lower-income families should have access to subsidised housing or rental allowance. Secondly, encourage more workplaces to have on-site day care if they have the space to do so. Furthermore, educational opportunities for lower-income families should be made more readily available on the island. Lastly, we should advertise more about the importance of mental health programs to the general public.
In addition, appropriate authorities should enforce stricter rules regarding who is allowed to work around children. Too often, we hear of teachers, coaches, and principals grooming children and abuse occurring in professional settings, settings that should be safe for children.”
“Family is the foundation of our learning, and too often, when kids do not get the attention they desire from their parents, they resort to finding it in all the wrong places.
It’s important to make your children feel safe and understood so that they come to you for help instead of turning to others. As a parent, you are your kid’s first love, best friend, and hero. They watch everything we do. If their behaviour is unbecoming, it is best to question yourself first. Reflect and figure out where they could have learned this behaviour, if not from you, think about who else they are spending time with. If we want to have healthy, happy, and respectful children, we must set that example.”
Parent: Suzianne Davis, three children (18, 12 and 4 years)
Profession: Bachelor’s in Nursing and Secondary School Care & wellness educator
“I appreciate the little moments where you can feel unconditional love between yourself and your children. It is also great to experience through my children how they see the world in their unique way.”
“They have their own character and go through phases. For example, one day, they love to eat something, and the next, they hate it. Keeping up with their individual characters and phases can be a challenge. Sometimes, as parents, we don’t have all the answers. There is no guideline for parents to see if they’re doing the right thing. I see every new situation as a learning experience; if one thing doesn’t work, I try the next.”
“Making sure that the people my kids are around, whether they are other adults or their friends, are good and trustworthy people. I want my children to have good values and confidence to pick the right friends and, later, the right partner – people with good intentions for them. This is slightly different for my sons and daughter. I do have extra caution for my daughter regarding whom she trusts to spend time and be alone with.”
“I am a healthcare worker, so my expertise helps me raise my children. In my capacity as a parent, I have missed having more safe and clean outdoor areas to spend time with my children, such as parks or playgrounds. We have a few on the island, but many are not maintained. In addition, many families in Sint Maarten can benefit from more language education and support. Not all children speak English or Dutch at home, and due to this, these children may not reach their full potential in our schools – and often fall behind in classes or are sent to a level below their capabilities.”
“Communication, trust, and respect is a ‘two-way street’. In my home, everyone can have an opinion; even my 4-year-old shares his views with us. This creates a good bond between our family and sets a foundation to tackle hard days. For example, if I have a stressful day and raise my voice, my daughter will observe when I am more settled or calm to approach me and say: ‘mom, I did not like that.’ At that moment, I humble myself and apologize and explain why I lost my temper. When your children feel comfortable talking to you about their feelings, they will also feel more confident that they can come to you if they are in trouble.”
“When I talk to parents, I try to understand their perspectives. I don’t want them to feel that I am telling them what to do but rather supporting them. In my work, I have met mothers who say: ‘I am not fit for this.’ They feel that they need to do a better job. I try to encourage and reassure them – and remind them to celebrate the little steps. One milestone at a time, one phase at a time, one day at a time. Perfect doesn’t exist for me, but we can surely work towards the best me as a parent, every day.”
In May 2019, UNICEF the Netherlands and Augeo Foundation together did an analysis on child abuse and neglect on Sint Maarten. Thirty professionals working in the field of Child Protection were interviewed. Based on the outcome of the dialogues with these professionals, UNICEF the Netherlands, Augeo Foundation and the Child Protection Working Group decided to publish a magazine to share knowledge, experiences and best practices among professionals working with children and the general public. This magazine is produced in collaboration with the Government of Sint Maarten, financed by the Government of the Netherlands, through the Sint Maarten Trust Fund, as part of the Child Resilience and Protection Project (CRPP).
Augeo Foundation believes that children should grow up safely and with love. That is why we work together with professionals, policymakers and volunteers to tackle child abuse and domestic violence as quickly and effectively as possible. If more people see what they can do for a child, we can make a difference for a child’s future. With online training, an online magazine and experiences from the Youth Taskforce we empower professionals. We organize support for children and together with municipalities, we conduct research into tackling child abuse in the Netherlands. Augeo Foundation is a non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands that is funded by donations from family assets. We use this independent position to actively implement pioneering improvements and address bottlenecks.
UNICEF the Netherlands supports the government of Sint Maarten in the aspiration to improve the recognition and reporting of child abuse and neglect (CAN), as hurricanes Irma and Maria (2017) exacerbated the pre-existing challenges. UNICEF the Netherlands’ Child Resilience and Protection Project in Sint Maarten is funded by the Sint Maarten Resilience and Rebuilding Trust Fund, managed by the World Bank. UNICEF the Netherlands engages in a partnership with Augeo Foundation. Augeo Foundation offers technical support.