Dearth of funds, counsellors plague children in institutional care

February 7th, 2009 - 9:44 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 7 (IANS) The term “mental health” often comes with a big baggage. Therefore when an NGO working on child welfare asked for a separate budget for the mental wellbeing of kids who have been abused, it was no surprise that they met with ridicule by many, even government officials.But they haven’t given up. And they now have the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) backing them up.

Udayan, a Delhi-based NGO, has had a tough time convincing officials and others that ample resources - both human and financial - are required if one wants children who have been abused, have run away from home or are in need of institutional care, to join mainstream society.

“People often look at mental health in just two ways - he is mad or he is not mad. And this perception has been acting as a serious barrier for us,” Vikram Dutt, consultant with Udayan Care, told IANS on the sidelines of a meet on positive mental health and wellbeing of children in institutional care in the capital Friday.

“We approached some officials, who turned around and told us ‘when children are dying of hunger, why are you concerned about mental health?’ With perception and attitudes like these it is very difficult for us to convince people and raise funds,” Dutt said.

“We have so many kids coming to us, no more than 10-12 years of age, being sexually abused by their family members or being thrown out of their homes, and they need some serious counselling. Individually NGOs do what they can to help, but if you see the bigger picture not many kids are getting enough support,” Dutt said.

Saying that post-traumatic stress treatment is absolutely essential, Dutt said that without this, other motives like sending a child to school also fail.

“I remember we got this 12-year-old girl who used to strip in the care home and make other girls do the same. When we researched her background, we found that her father had committed suicide and her mother dumped her at her uncle’s place and left with another man.

“And then this child’s uncle, aunt and their child used to sexually harass her. Imagine the torture that this kid went through. In that state, if you tell her to go to school and be happy, will she be able to do that? No! After days of counselling, today I am proud to say that the same girl passed her class 12 with more than 80 percent marks and is now in college,” Dutt said.

With such experiences behind them, Udayan and other NGOs have demanded a separate budget for mental health of children in care homes.

“It’s not just money. There is a dearth of counsellors too. We therefore encourage youngsters studying social work or psychology to come and interact with the children so that they can perhaps fill the gap in future,” he said.

According to Dutt, NCPCR chairperson Shanta Sinha was upbeat about the initiative.

“She (Sinha) was very happy with our demand and said that the commission will give its full support in seeing our demand to its fruitful end,” he added.

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