PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE GHANA ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS (GASOW) ON THE REPORT BY THE COMMITTEE OF ENQUIRY INTO THE ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF CHILDREN IN THE OSU CHILDREN’S HOME AND BOYS REMAND AND PROBATION HOMES
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you all for accepting our invitation to this press conference. The objective of this press conference is for the Ghana Association of Social Workers to state its position on the report of the committee of enquiry into the Osu Children’s Home and Boys Remand and Probation Home. Social Work is a tough job, one that you often do in difficult circumstances, and with little recognition.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as you are well aware, It is recalled that on 6th September, 2010, following the release and subsequent broadcasting of a video recording entitled among others “Home of hell ”, by investigative journalist, Mr. Anas Ameyaw Anas, the Minister of Employment and Social Welfare constituted a committee to investigate the matter. The Committee which was represented by the Association of Social workers has since Wednesday 10th November 2010 submitted its findings, portions of which has been a subject of discussion in the media.
Ladies and Gentlemen, social work as a profession in Ghana has evolved over the years as a means of helping families, individuals, and institutions to survive. The profession is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the enhancement of the quality of life, and to the development of the full potential of each individual, group and community in the society. The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being and built on a Code of Ethics.
With the finding of the committee for example, that “The Department of Social Welfare is understaffed and under-resourced” as indicated in the staffing and budget performance reviewed, there is indeed a crisis in the provision of state welfare services that demands practical, urgent and workable solutions. The measures should be drastic and should include contemporary social work training, resourcing and practice needs. This is more so because it is an established fact in social work that when social agencies and facilities such as Homes are under-resourced and staffed, practitioners are unable to meet the unique needs of the individual category of children under their care, set and maintain reasonable care and support standards. Other implications of the above scenario as confronting social workers in government agencies also includes but not limited to; excessive case workloads which can lead to workers making mistakes that harm their clients .
Child attendant ratios as well as caseworkers’ ratio to children is paramount to effective care and support. Where there are more children than the care workers, it has the potential of creating job burn-out characterized by emotional exhaustion, and feelings of diminished accomplishment. This is the sad situation that many of our members who are working in some of the state agencies like Homes providing care and support to the vulnerable are going through on daily basis.
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, the Department of Social Welfare need a more realistic funding to enable them adopt a holistic approach in dealing with the other restrictive parameters that impacts the effectiveness of professional social workers at their disposal. It is not a question of lack of professional capacity of the social workers in the Homes per se. Indeed it is refreshing to state that social work training in Ghana has been adjudged as consistently meeting the required professional standards to the extent that the national body(GASOW), is accorded representation at the world wide International Federation of social workers (IFSW). Today, professional social workers in various positions and settings in the country are impacting people of every age, background, and in every corner of the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whenever a child is deliberately neglected or abused in any setting, there is inevitably great concern in case some important tell-tale sign has been missed. That is why upon watching the documentary the Association took steps to set up a committee to investigate the matter within the tenants of social work practice but had to stop and rather accepted the invitation by the Hon. Minister and for that matter the government to be part of the 11-member committee which also included 2 renown social work academics from the Institute of social work among other professionals.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect those of us who sit in ‘judgment’ often do so with the great benefit of hindsight. So, as an Association, some of whose members are implicated in the video footage, we want to acknowledge social workers and other care workers who undertake the work of providing care and support to orphans and vulnerable children on behalf of us all. They deserve both our understanding and our support. It is a job which carries risks, because in every judgment they make, those staff have to balance the best interest of a child with that of the resources at their disposal particularly in the case of neglect.
Thus, while we accept that Social Workers in the Homes perform below standard for not keeping up-to-date case files and holding regular case conferencing , this is to be expected given the woefully inadequate staffing and funding support to the Homes by Governments over the years. The Officers at the Homes and those who have oversight supervisory responsibilities know what to do, but are simply overwhelmed.
Fellow Social Workers, Ladies and Gentlemen, as an Association we are pleased that this Inquiry has been more than just a forensic exercised.
The Committee has been charged with looking forward and to make recommendations for “how such allegations if found to be true, may, as much as possible, be avoided in the future”. We are in no doubt that effective support for children and families in Ghana cannot be achieved by a single agency acting alone. It depends on a number of agencies working well together. It is a multi-disciplinary task and also not about the “absence of laws and social policies, it is about implementation”. The National Association is impressed with the in-depth national and global perspectives that the committee adopted in reviewing the issues as presented in the video to arrive at the findings and recommendations.
It is insightful and instructive that the lack of funding for the Department of Social Welfare to execute its mandate, which has long been identified by the Association as the bane of professional social work practice in the department and validated by major national development programmes evaluations such as the GPRS 1 &2, has also been identified by the committee. In their findings on neglect, the committee notes ‘the evidence points to an atmosphere of child neglect due to dangerous infrastructure, limited supervision, and insufficient staff to child ratio….” This is the core of the problem and the context within which the allegations in the video must be situated which we think the public need to know and appreciate.
In connection with the recommendation for the possible establishment of a council/commission on Social Work and Care in the country, we find this most appropriate, timely and in keeping with global trend and if implemented will impact positively on social work training and welfare provision, staff training and accountability among others. The Association wishes to assure the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare and for that matter, the government of our preparedness in whatever capacity, in the implementation of the committee’s recommendations, especially those that relate to professional social work. We are also particularly pleased that in addition to other documents reviewed, the committee managed to make time to review the Victoria Climbe Commission of Enquiry Report in the UK which is one of the most widely read report on child abuse and neglect by social work practitioners, researchers and academics and whose recommendations brought about profound reforms in social care and social work training, certification, coordination and professional accountability among others. This, from our analysis is the missing link in social welfare and care service provision in some state and non-state settings. A commission has the potential to make the social workers contribute more meaningfully to national development; their roles could possibly shift from functioning within the established order to a more critical focus, where practitioners are trained to question power and structures at both macro and micro levels, create more awareness of their own position as social workers and challenges them to continually find better, more inclusive ways to influence policy and legislation as well as develop themselves professionally.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, since the submission of the report, there has been plenty of discussion on the report from different angles including the human rights, which was to be expected, but many are silent on other issues of concern to the committee; the children who have been stigmatized and the manner in which some of the pictures were taken by the volunteers. The use of forced, threats and coercion to obtain information for whatever purpose is globally unacceptable even in basic research work even if the end product is intended to bring about some reforms. When all this done, the best interest of the child should be the underlying reason for our actions and inactions. We need, as a country to move away from the notion that only the ends justify the means that is why we find it very disturbing that, after the lead investigator has publicly endorsed the Committee’s work, he should still be engaged in virtually recycling the entire story/documentary in the print media.
Ladies and Gentlemen the impact on some of the children who have been identified in the footage being stigmatized and ridiculed at school should be a source of worry to us all. It is in connection with this that the Association fully endorses the recommendation by the committee for further investigation into the dealings of one Antonio R. a volunteer who has some contacts with the Homes, took most of their pictures and the operations of his NGO (Skyoflove) in Ghana and the USA.
We wish to appeal to all to critically examine the findings of the committee and its recommendations within the bigger picture of the problem analysis that has bedeviled State Provision of Social Welfare Services as vividly illustrated in the over 85-page report to enable us contribute to the implementation of the recommendations by the MESW when the plan is outlined.
In Conclusion, we wish to also commend the investigative journalist for his work, especially the seemingly confusing manner in which some of the footages have been presented and the ethical issues concerns notwithstanding. We hope he will take the concerns raised by different professions like the social work in good faith since there is always room for improvement in whatever endeavor that we embark on.
Finally, it has been said that the mark of a noble society is found not in the manner in which it helps the rich, but how it helps the poor and the vulnerable. Not in its virtues during good times, but in its character during hard times. Not in how it protects the powerful, but how it defends the vulnerable. Through the activities of social workers and care givers in the Homes and other Institutions across the country, let’s all continue to donate to the Homes and other Institutions providing care and volunteer our times to bring constructive change to this country care and support programmes. We need all hands on deck. As you know, a complete soccer team needs a goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and strikers. We need policy makers to put in place the rights policies to facilitate the right climate for social care and hope that when eventually an implementation plan for some of the recommendations are put out by the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, all and sundry will support it. The legendry car maker, Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a progress, and working together is success!” Let us work together as a team, to bring home the trophy of hope and glory, and steer this country in the direction it must go in professional social work care and support service provisions. The challenges are many but we are confident that the recommendations if implemented will go a long way to make this nation move forward to become an exemplary in the areas outlined above.
God blessed our Country Ghana and make us more determined than ever in the promotion and protection of child survival and development at all level of society.
Thank you for your attention.
Danikuu Alexis Dery
(Executive Committee Member)