Sunday, May 15, 2011

But who decides what's best?

When considering the best options for children, we consider where they will be well cared for, where they will have somewhere safe and healthy to live, where they will be able to go to school, and where they will be surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart.
I imagine that if I were to ask ten people where, or with whom, children should live, the overwhelming answer would be with their parents. Studies suggest (citation to come later if I can find it) that children suffer emotional trauma when separated from their parents, confirming the sentiment that children should stay with them. However, living with parents is not always the best place for all children, sometimes parents are willing to care for children, but unable due to limited resources or outside stressors such as war, natural disasters, or the death of one or both of the parents. On the other hand, sometimes parents are able to care for children, but unwilling; they may demonstrate their unwillingness by treating them poorly or harshly, or simply neglecting them.

But, generally speaking, as long as parents do not fall into the “unwilling” category, we imagine that children (here we mean anyone under 18) fare better with their parents than when they live on their own, especially in an urban setting. But I was interested to hear differently from the research team during our end of project debriefing yesterday. We went through all the different “sub-groups” of children we had identified, who were divided by the type of job they did, the amount of time spent in Jakarta, age, gender, and by whether they lived with their parents, among other things. Researchers reported that children in highly vulnerable sub-groups of children, such as those living in temporary shelters, working on the street, and engaging in drug and alcohol use, criminal activities, and transactional sex and sex work, did not appear to be more or less likely to live with their parents than children whose lifestyle presents less vulnerability to harm. I can’t confirm this from our research yet, as the data analysis hasn’t been completed, but the researchers had the strong impression that many children moved to Jakarta with their parents, who then pushed them to earn money, and weren’t particularly concerned about where it came from. In some cases parents even pushed children into high-risk work because there is sometimes opportunity to earn more in such activities.

This might not seem so surprising to some people, there have always been parents who valued the financial survival of the family as a whole over the emotional, mental, and physical well being of one child. But the dominant paradigm of much of child protection often rests upon the fact that family support helps children do well; and while this may be the case in most circumstances, it is essential for organizations (and governments) engaging in programming with this population to remember that keeping (or reuniting) children with their parents may not be in their best interest, and in fact, just because a child is doing something dangerous for money doesn’t necessarily mean the child lacks parental guidance, but that the parent’s interests are not what is best for the child.

I'm home from Indonesia now, and will be here for about two weeks before I head back to Indonesia again, coincidentally, for my next project, so look for more posts soon! 

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