Wounded for life
While raging flames burned the houses of poor families and claimed the lives of two children in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-lapu City last Friday the two-day conference on Trauma Informed-Care sponsored by the Provincial Women’s Commission came to a close.
The program in the Capitol was part of National Women’s Month celebration in solidarity with international institutions that promote the protection and rights of women and children.
Looking at the pictures of Jennifer Cañedo, mother of two (aged 1 and 3) who perished, the core issues discussed during the two-day conference seemed to leap out of the news article. The fire that gobbled up some 400 houses was a traumatic experience especially for children.
They are practically wounded for life, carrying with them the physical and psychological scars of the terrible scene to adulthood.
Medical experts maintain such psychological wounds can lead to mental imbalance and impair one’s productivity as a member of society if not treated and handled properly.
Indeed, as public and private institutions join forces to mitigate the physical damage through massive relief operations, the victims grapple with dislocation, sickness and loss of income.
The bigger problem like in the case of Jennifer Cañedo is the memory of losing her children perhaps by sheer neglect, one that would be difficult to erase in her lifetime.
The reality grinding poverty coupled with trauma and post-trauma issues should prompt Mayor Paz Radaza to declare a state of calamity not just in Barangay Pajo but the whole of Lapulapu City. The executive order will grant her access to ample funds that needed to be distributed swiftly.
Food, medicines and building materials are urgently needed. Hopefully, she will include post-traumatic counselling for women and children.
One of the topics tabled by conference speakers led by Dr. Naomi Navarro-Poca, head of the Pediatrics of the Women and Children Protection Center of the Don Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and Dr. Jordan Greenbaum was care for women and children in post-traumatic situations.
Dr. Greenbaum is a child abuse physician and medical director of the Global Health and Well-Being Initiative.
GHWBI is a private partner of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), a leading global organization that aims to combat child sexual exploitation, child pornography and child abduction.
The US physician came with three pediatric residents connected with a children’s hospital in Los Angeles. Like their senior colleagues, Justin Jones, Ngoc Thein Nguyen, and Kimberley Petko are also passionate global health advocates.
These young medical practitioners could have enjoyed spring in California but they visited Cebu to serve and do research on how the province is coping with the problems affecting the most vulnerable sector of society: children.
Bayanihan: Surviving and Thriving, A Collaborative Conference on Trauma-Informed Care was held from March 15-16.
The event gathered provincial social health workers and, law enforcers, and LGU’s focal persons for Gender and Development GAD. They were excited to learn about trauma-informed care.
TIC is not only a health service but also a program that leads to a more trauma-informed care environment.
For example, policemen investigating sexual violence committed against children cannot simply ask questions without care for the sensibilities of the victims because they may end up being re-traumatized by endless questions of “what happened” and “who did this?”
The emotional response of children to this type of question is a classic: clam up especially if the molester is a family member.
Armed with the executive summary of the latest national baseline study on Violence Against Children (VAC) prepared by the National Council for Children and UNICEF Philippines, Dr. Navarro-Poca presented, “An Overview of Child and Neglect in the Philippines”.
It was set in the context of staggering statistics: the PH is the global hub of cybersex or webcam child sex tourism WCST.
The PH is also on top of the list of countries with high incidence of HIV cases and teenage pregnancies.
The UNICEF report noted the high overall prevalence of violence against children, low disclosure and reporting despite the high prevalence, low capacity among LGUs to prevent and respond to violence against children, and the acceptance and justification of violence against women and children as part of Filipino culture.
In a separate study conducted by a charitable humanitarian umbrella organization — Terre de Hommes, sexual exploitation of children thrives in the PH because of poverty, spread of the internet and social mores that accept children as supporters of the family’s basic needs. An additional factor is drugs. According to Terre de Hommes, WCST thrives in communities inundated with illegal drugs.
Dr. Greenbaum urged participants to integrate Trauma-Informed Care approach in their respective work. I think social workers and law enforcers monitoring VAC cases were enlightened and enriched by the conference and from hereon, will treat such cases with more care and understanding.
A paradigm shift in the probe of such cases will make them abhor leading questions and instead opt for open-ended queries that hopefully would enable children to express themselves without fear of punishment or judgmental responses.
The TIC is highly significant in light of the brutal anti-drugs war that has affected families whose father, brother or any family member killed during legitimate police operations or by death squads that perpetrate extra-judicial killings.
The trauma left by these bloody incidents cannot be described in words but the psychological wounds are not being talked about in the news.
Assuming there are 10,000 EJKs and Tokhang victims, that’s 10 thousand families with as many children as one can imagine.
Dr. Navarro-Poca suggests that TIC be brought to the barangay level because barangay officials are the first responders to VACs.
Without proper training, they casually ask the most insensitive questions without realizing that the process re-traumatizes the young victims. I heard that Vice Governor Magpale is open to the idea of institutionalizing TIC by setting up Child Protection Units in every district hospitals.
A full complement consists of a medical doctor, psychologist and social worker.
Cebu may well be serving up a benchmark for interventions in dealing with violence against children.
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