Recent death of a minor at a government girls' home draws attention to the need for qualified caretakers in children’s homes and orphanages

The death of a minor at Government Girls’ Home, Kakkanad, earlier this month has drawn attention to the need for qualified hands in dealing with psychologically and physically scarred inmates of children’s homes and orphanages.

The body of the minor girl was found hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom. The victim had emotional problems and had reportedly attempted suicide earlier. The police have registered a case of unnatural death and an inquiry is underway.

Supervision

K.K. Vinayan, District Social Justice Officer, told The Hindu that after the incident, supervision at the Government Girls’ Home and the Observation Home in the neighbourhood, lodging minors in conflict with law, has considerably been scaled up. “In this particular case, we cannot entirely blame the caretakers as it happened inside the bathroom. The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) has been actively intervening in the functioning of the home ever since,” he said.

M.P. Antony, co-director, Childline, Kochi, said absence of qualified hands in dealing with children demanding special care was a problem faced by 2,000-odd children’s homes and orphanages across the State. “Caretakers are given training off and on, but the question is whether it is effective or not. While some people have that innate quality to handle such children, there are others who acquire the skill through additional courses. But there are many inadequately trained caretakers both in government and private institutions,” he said. The Union government had a scheme which sought to provide extensive training to caretakers of orphanages and children’s homes more than a decade ago. But it gradually came to a halt, Mr. Antony said. There were talented anganawadi teachers who would make for great caretakers, but many of them were not willing to take up such assignments, he said.

The Social Justice Department has entrusted the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) with conducting a study into the functioning of such institutions and its shortcomings, Mr. Antony said. He said setting a higher qualification level alone would not solve the problem but rather it should be a mix of qualification and attitude.

Lack of facilities

K.K. Shaju, member, district CWC, said even if the caretakers were committed, there was the problem of lack of facilities to train them properly. “There is a qualified probation officer in these homes and the psychologist of the government hospital frequently visits the home. But the quality of service of caretakers leaves much to be desired,” he said.

A senior official with the Social Justice Department said better qualified candidates with knowledge in topics such as child psychology should be selected as caretakers. At present, candidates clearing PSC exams are selected as caretakers subject to certain government guidelines. He said the number of inmates at children’s homes should also be brought down to ensure better care.

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