Chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin

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Chairman of the Children’s Authority, Hanif Benjamin is appealing to parents who are not sharing the same home as well as family members to put aside their differences and cordially co-parent to provide that much-needed support to children and each other during these uncertain times.

Benjamin made the statement about the closure of schools and all childcare centres, which now pose challenges for parents returning to work as the country, entered its second phase of restriction ease.

In an email interview, Benjamin said the Authority was very well aware of the very challenging times families currently faced because of COVID-19. He said in fact, the pandemic had created additional stressors to not only adults but children as well.

Highlighting some of the straits Benjamin noted no one could have anticipated the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the pandemic — closure of schools and childcare services; online classes with parents required to ensure children were following the school syllabus, or in some instances no access to online school or an understanding of the syllabus.

He added physical distancing remained a major factor for the students, especially since peer interaction was a key developmental aspect for adolescents. While other major areas included maintaining court-ordered parenting time schedules; loss of employment or a reduction in salary.

“While these challenges appear insurmountable, we are aware that many of our parents try to do all that is necessary. To this end, we at the Authority are encouraging families even more than ever during this time, to strengthen relationships with one another. Differences need to be put aside so that families can provide an extra layer of support to one another, especially to single parents who must return to work,” Benjamin implored.

He continued, “Child protection is everybody’s business and we are reminding the “village”, when you see something, say something. It should not be normal in a community to sit by and not say anything, while children are at-risk and being abused or neglected.”

Benjamin said, while the Authority was the agency mandated to provide care and protection to the nation’s children, they could not do it alone. As such, it has been seeking to strengthen its relationship by collaborating with key stakeholders who also care for and protect children.

“We are also calling on agencies like the Child Protection Unit, community police, Counter-Trafficking Unit, Ministry of Health, non-governmental organisations, community- based organisations and faith-based organisations, to name a few, to look out for children, because we need a fully knitted blanket below them and over them, in order to completely care for and protect them.”

The Children Authority’s Hotline can be reached at 996 or the police at 999.