Child and youth care workers’ perceptions of inappropriate sexual behaviours among boy children in child and youth care centres.
Varaden, Hannah Annie.
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Childhood sex and sexuality is a sensitive topic, and one that people are often reluctant to discuss. The denial of childhood sexuality is still pervasive, and many cultures want to believe that children are non-sexual. However, inappropriate sexual behaviours (ISBs) among children are a reality, and, not only do adults sexually abuse children, but child-on-child sexual abuse is an increasing phenomenon both in South Africa and in countries around the world. A review of literature on the experiences and perceptions of child care workers in South Africa regarding the sexualized behaviours of male children in their care revealed that research in this area is limited. Understanding this phenomenon is essential if we want to effectively care for children, and to develop appropriate prevention and intervention strategies. The quotation by Frederick Douglass (1855) that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” is very apt. This study is unique because it focuses on the role and experiences of the child and youth care workers in South Africa; who are often neglected in the child care profession, in spite of the fact that they spend a substantial amount of time with the children. This study aims to explore and describe how child care workers perceived inappropriate sexual behaviours among boy children in two CYCCs in South Africa. Furthermore, it also explores the methods and approaches used by CCWs to manage the boy children. This includes their challenges and needs for training, supervision and support. Guided by a social constructionism framework, the study adopts a qualitative approach; and twelve child care workers from two centres in KZN were interviewed to gather rich, in-depth data. The sample was a non-probability, purposive sample. The findings reveal many complex issues that child and youth care workers experience whilst caring for boy children with ISB’s and clearly shows that child care workers play a fundamental role in the lives of children, by virtue of the amount of time they spend together in the residential home; and demonstrates the potential impact and influence they could have on children’s development and healing. This research shows that we need to develop a South X African response that is relevant to the realities of our country. All the issues identified in this study represent gaps in our South African context, as well as a dire need for training and support of professionals who care for vulnerable children such as child and youth care workers. It is through a study like this that these gaps become visible; greater research needs to be conducted and policies changed and created, and programs developed to create a safer and more supportive environment for both children and professionals caring for children. Finally, the study makes recommendations for practice and further research. It is recommended that further research is needed to explore the level of compassion fatigue in CCWs and their response to consistent debriefing; as well as the impact of relevant and consistent training and supervision on their management of challenging children in CYCCs. Furthermore, it is recommended to research how CCWs could practically spend more time with their own families, and the impact this has on their child care work. Further research is also needed to explore how to ensure the safety of children in CYCCs, as well as the development and evaluation of training, supervision and debriefing programs for CCWs; and therapeutic and safety programs for children with inappropriate sexual behaviours.