Last year, a contractor carrying out works on a Charlotte Street house ventured inside to speak to the occupants and found a heartbreaking scene instead: a little boy, barely two years-old, sitting alone on the bed and playing with a knife.
Clad only in a urine-soaked pamper, the crying child appeared to be starving. There were no lights; rats were scurrying about and dirty clothes littered everywhere.
The contractor didn’t think twice about contacting the social workers of the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) who stepped in to ensure adequate care and protection for Leon (not his real name).
Leon had been left with his 74-year-old grandfather since he was three months old and it was in that Charlotte Street, city house that he remained until he was rescued.
The child would be heard “screaming” and neighbours would sometimes feed him. Due to the “total squalor” under which the child was forced to exist, the agency saw the need to rescue him immediately.
Now, a year later, the case of the little lonely boy has turned swiftly around. Childcare officers can remember the day they met Leon as if it was yesterday. He was no average two-year-old, they say.
The way Leon lived had left him behind most children his age and it was clear he had a far way to go.
They would tell you of the first time he went into the Broad Street, Charlestown office: kicking and screaming and they soon realised that it was the new environment and meeting so many new faces that he feared.
Leon proved quite a character but there was no task too much and no giving up for them.
Head of the CPA, Ann Greene, in a previous interview, had noted that of primary importance, and one of the impediments that the agency was tasked to address, is the development of his language skills. Communication was a major challenge for him then.
The problem was that Leon would be heard, but his words were unintelligible and it was assumed that it was because the child had no one to “talk back to him”. But at his age the child should have been equipped with a wider vocabulary and forming sentences.
Leon had missed the part of his childhood which includes such important years, because they are the foundation years.
But that’s no longer the case; though it’s an uphill task to have him “open up” to you, he has a pleasant demeanor and would speak quite audibly. His manners are intact.
Leon understands when spoken to and can respond, though he would do it in a quiet tone of voice. The social workers who remember him that day proudly report that the progress Leon has made with his speech is nothing short of tremendous.
His speech improvements are owed to the level of interaction and training he has been receiving in state care.
To date, the child has been adapting nicely and has made one of the agency’s ‘safe houses’ his home. It is there that Leon interacts with the older children and is never short of activity.
He is no longer trapped in that cocoon; short of social skills. Leon flitters about like a little butterfly and clings to the caregivers and other children. Childcare officers say that he is most comfortable at the safe house.
His case workers will also tell you that Leon is now a part of a play group and his teachers report that he is doing quite well. He is in a much better shape, the agency reports.
It has been noted that Leon is interested in colouring, dancing and a good game of football – whether with the older boys or just him kicking a ball around.
Once reluctant to be touched, “he hugs and kisses those he is familiar with—he’s a very loving child.”
Leon’s 21-year-old mother had conveyed bitter-sweet sentiments as she explained the life circumstances which forced her to abandon her son when he was merely three months old.
Despite the negativity and harsh words spoken to her by some, she had said that she feels it is imperative for her son to understand that she loves him but could not have done better.
The CPA had drawn out an improvement plan for her, but she has not been visiting him very often and he remains in state care.
Though Leon is still a work in progress, his story is one of success for himself and all the social workers from CPA who work tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of thousands of children across the length and breadth of Guyana.
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