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Rock and a hard place

We have a register of 24 children at the moment. That number floats up and down. We have had up to 37. The fact of the matter is, we have our hands full with 24.

Our aim is to offer a change of direction for these children. We are seeing movements. We are witnessing children come out of their shells, grow in confidence, support one another, demonstrate leadership skills, tolerate others, communicate and interact with others in meaningful ways, and much more. We are also seeing the interest that parents are taking in our project because they are seeing positive changes in their children. It’s extremely motivating.

We are not a school so we can’t force attendance on children. Our solution is to make our lessons so fun that children don’t want to miss out. Most of our children come everyday and the parents are good at encouraging their kids to attend.

There are two children, a brother and sister of 8 and 9 who come to Food for Thought most days, but not everyday. I have been doing my best to motivate the children to come, and their mother to send them. We know there is violence in this household and we have informed the local family services of the mother’s treatment of her children.

Quite often I will arrive at the house to collect the children only to be told by the mother that she has to leave the house and the 9 year old has to stay at home and look after her 5 younger siblings. The strange thing is that the mother doesn’t see anything wrong with it. What is even worse is that I have complete confidence in this child to look after her younger siblings. When you see her with a baby she has the maturity of a grown women, and manages that baby like she has been doing it for years. In reality, she has.

This is not a unique situation. There is a lot of neglect and abuse in this community. This year alone we have reported 5 cases to the local family services. The problem is that family services are aware of most of them. They have been in communication with this particular mother, yet she continues the abuse.

From our perspective, the best route to a positive outcome for these children is for them to continue attending our program. At least they have a safe place away from the home for twelve and a half hours per week. We also believe that with this small group of children we can encourage a change of direction in their lives that is different from the examples around them and the many generations before them. We are also beginning to support the parents in considering a change of course in relation to the treatment of their children.

One problem that we have no control over is the pills that are being handed out to children. I believe that children’s behavior is directly related to the environment in which they live and grow up in. Because of bad diets, mistreatment, neglect and abuse, the children have all sorts of concentration, learning, emotional and behavioral difficulties.

The system’s solution to non-compliance in the school classroom, caused by these difficulties, is to prescribe pills for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Any child that is not behaving in the classroom is sent to a neurologist, who proceeds to diagnose him (so far, from what we have seen, it has only been boys) with ADHD. How is it possible that all of these boys have exactly the same disorder?

In one situation, we have a boy who comes to us everyday. He is not permitted to go to school if he hasn’t taken a pill for ADHD. For one reason or another, when he arrives to us after a morning at school, he is very negative, aggressive and angry. Maybe it is something to do with the transition stage of the pill’s effects wearing off. Maybe it’s the fact that we demand movement and action from a child in our activities and this creates an adverse effect from a pill that is made to calm someone down. We aren’t sure.

Last week he didn’t go to school. Last week he didn’t take his pills. Last week we had an attentive, coherent child attending our project, who most importantly, wasn’t aggressive. Not perfect by any means, but he was able to positively interact with other children. I talked to his mother about it and she said that the school requires a non-active child so that he isn’t causing problems in the classroom. The schools needs drugged children in their classrooms. I have talked to two mothers who have boys in our project that don’t want their children taking the pills that they have been prescribed. The system demands that a parent gives pills to their child against their will.

I am not sure exactly what the solution is. We are working on a strategy. We have a classroom of 24 children with 3 teachers and various volunteers. We have the resources. The schools don’t. The pill creates some peace in the school classroom, but what is this teaching a child as young as 8 years old? Got a problem, take a pill. It is not the solution or the prevention for this problem. But seriously, a young boy with too much energy is a problem? If this is the case, then the world is in big trouble! The child is not the problem. We see the child’s environment as the problem. We are implementing a parent-incorporated strategy that involves caregivers as part of the process.

We have been very cautious with our entry into the home situation, but with growing confidence of our program from the parents, we are now able to converse more freely and openly with them. With a huge lack of confidence in the system that exists to support these families, we are slowly instigating more and more interaction with caregivers. As the relationship improves, the parents are more willing to listen to alternative strategies that we are offering to manage their children.

So, amongst many horrible things we are witnessing we are also seeing beautiful and encouraging things everyday. Kids are changing for the better. We are improving our relationships with parents because of the positive results they are seeing. We see an opportunity to take a holistic approach and involve the family in the process of change. I’m not sure if our methods are going to be the difference in making a change of direction within these families, but we are going to give it a crack and for sure almost anything is better than the system that already exists.