By Lakhram Bhagirat
Child Protection Officers are an integral part of ensuring the safety of children while in the hands of their caregivers. They are often the unsung heroes of society, because these officers often risk their wellbeing to ensure a child gets the best.
They work around the clock, often neglecting their own wellbeing, and sacrificing family time to deal with cases. They encounter verbal abuse, and even physical sometimes, when in the field to extract a child from an unfavourable situation.
Also, Child Protection Officers are among those unpaid workers in the public service. However, it is their love for the job that keeps them going.
Being a Child Protection Officer has never been the dream job for 26-year-old Ascena Jacobs, and she still does not consider it her ideal career path. She currently serves as a Probation and Social Services Officer employed by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, but she is attached to the Childcare and Protection Agency and functions in the Family Court Division.
Ascena believes that Child Protection Officers across the globe are burdened with high caseloads and unstaffed offices, but yet they rise to the occasion every time. They work to resolve the issues in the child’s best interest, so that child could thrive.
“This is a profession that is understaffed, overworked, and underpaid. There is also the issue of inadequate compensation. We are simply not paid well, and there are a lot of risks associated with this job. Social workers, especially Child Protection Officers, provide an essential service, and we are just as essential as other sectors,” she said.
Ascena’s passion for the work she does stems from the experiences she had while growing up. Backtracking to her early years, the young professional explained that she grew up in a single parent household at Golden Grove, East Coast Demerara (ECD), which means very limited resources were available when she was growing up. Her mother and sister migrated when she was young, and she had to live with her grandmother while also assisting with her younger siblings.
However, true to the saying, “It takes a village…”, Ascena’s childhood involved a lot of relatives raising her and siblings.
“I would say my most fond memory was caring for my grandmother’s livestock. I was particularly responsible for taking care of the sheep. I would literally have to come home from school and find the sheep wherever they were grazing. I know this doesn’t sound like something that girls would do, but I loved doing it, and I took the responsibility very seriously,” she recounted.
She graduated from secondary school in 2011, and went on to the University of Guyana the following year, where she began pursuing studies in Social Work. Ascena completed studies at UG in 2016, and this year she completed reading for her Bachelor’s degree in Law.
“My educational journey was challenging, but rewarding. I have been working since the age of 16, and I have worked while pursuing my studies; and while this was challenging, it helped me to appreciate the value of my education and what it means to me.”
She started working as a Child Protection Officer in May of 2015, and has been there ever since.
“I always wanted to be in a profession that allows me to help people. While this is not my dream career, I am happy that this job provides me with the opportunity to help others. Children are one of the vulnerable groups in society, and working with this group is a huge responsibility and requires dedication and commitment. It is a responsibility I take seriously. I love working with children and families, and being able to impact their lives in a positive way,” she said.
She presently functions in the Family Court Department, where the responsibilities of preparing custody reports for the Family Court and mediating in custody access cases are hers. She previously worked as a Child Abuse Investigation Officer and as a Family Services Officer, before transitioning to her present role.
Generally, the Coronavirus pandemic impacted how the Childcare and Protection Agency delivered its services. For example, children were not attending schools, so there were numerous incidents of child abuse that went unreported. In this regard, officers had to be engaged in more field work.
“Specifically for the Family Court Department, we saw an increase in the number of access/custody cases being reported to the agency, and I believe this is due to the fact that the pandemic placed a strain on co-parenting. As a result, the department conducted a high volume of family conferences with parents to help mediate their grievances and discuss co-parenting skills during the pandemic. The Department also saw an increase in court report requests, which required us to conduct additional field work,” she said.
Ascena continues to work hard to ensure that the children of Guyana are in the best environments to help them thrive.
“I commend my colleagues for the job they do on a daily basis. In this job, it is easy to neglect yourself and place the interest of others above yours. So, my advice would always be to take care of yourself first, because it is only when you’re comfortable and happy with yourself can you provide the best service to your clients.”