Social workers needed in school system
INVESTMENTS MADE BY having social workers in schools will bear fruits later.
This according to principal of the Government Industrial School, Erwin Leacock, who is making a plea for social workers to be attached to the island’s secondary schools.
He made these comments during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, ahead of a National Juvenile Justice Conference slated for April 21 to April 23, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“You can’t have 1 000 to 1 200 children in a school without a social worker [because] a guidance counsellor cannot fulfil those needs, and we need to invest in a programme of social work for the schools,” Leacock maintained.
He explained that there was a need for persons to be educated and to appreciate the risk factors involved in dealing with delinquency, as some of the issues facing children were not new.
Leacock stated that a lot of children experienced early emotional trauma, but did not receive the necessary support to address the situation. Therefore, he indicated, what was needed was a system of effective early assessment to recognise some of the signs present.
“What we need is to stop treating all unacceptable behaviour in a punitive manner,” the principal stressed.
He explained that something as “simple” as dyslexia could result in a child being unable to cope with the school system, resulting in them facing numerous challenges.
Leacock further contended that a significant number of children in the school system experienced problems reading, and were “written off” without an alternative. “We need to appreciate the differences which children face in their quest to learn, and establish early assessments and diagnosis,” he said.
He added that another challenge being faced by children was their living circumstances, some of which were far from ideal. These children, he stated, struggled to have even their basic needs met, and would therefore automatically not be able to operate at the same level as those with some level of support.
The principal noted that teachers, guidance counsellors and the schools’ administration faced a challenge because it took a while for trust to be built, and for an empathetic person to find out what is going on with students.
Addressing the belief that labels attached to individuals would see children opening up and trusting them, Leacock cautioned that this was far from the truth, as children, especially those in crisis, were wary of opening up.
“Very often children will gravitate to the person they feel cares, and not necessarily the teachers. It could be a member of the ancillary staff, and a lot of people do not recognise this,” Leacock indicated.
He explained that when dealing with vulnerable students, finding ways to reach out to them was critical. And, he added, the school was an entity that could facilitate this, regardless of who worked there.
He noted that some schools were supportive of students who exhibited behavioural challenges, while others were dismissive and labelled the child as being a “problem child” and an “inconvenience”.
“The desire of most now is to have no problems [in schools]. And, when problems arise, efforts are made not to deal with the problem, but to get rid of the problem,” Leacock contended.
But, he warned educators against trying to establish a structure where schools were seen as being only for “perfect and well-behaved children”. “We need to be more understanding of children who behave in a non-acceptable manner,” he urged.
With this in mind, the principal is also calling for registered nurses to be assigned to schools to provide guidance in a number of areas, including family life education. He made the point that the school was a social setting, and just as a community needed certain things to function, so did a school.
“The children really need the support. We need to think of the school as a social setting and provide it with the necessary support systems. We need to get serious and look at the social support,” Leacock stressed.