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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Social workers urge proactive approach to ending child & youth abuse in PR

By The Star Staff

Social Work Professionals Association of Puerto Rico President Krystal Pérez Martínez on Monday called for an end to disciplinary methods that are still used with children and young people and for making the entrenched existence of child abuse visible as a social problem on the island.

Pérez Martínez made the call as part of Child and Youth Abuse Prevention Month messaging in April.

“We call to make visible this social problem that has been present for decades and to educate ourselves on the power dynamics that affect the different modalities of abuse,” Pérez Martínez said in a press release. “It must be taken into account that [to address] this serious situation, structural approaches and measures are needed that configure the way we observe and exercise the upbringing, teaching and growth of children and youth.”

As an example of standardized disciplinary methods, she referred to cases in which physical aggression and degrading words are still used as a method of disciplining.

“These disciplinary methods are given under the justification that they will prepare children to face difficult social interactions in their adulthood or as a relief solution for caregivers trying to change some behavior, when that is not the reality,” Pérez Martínez said. “We are hurting these children, developing people who can later present difficulties in social, emotional, mental, academic and work areas, among others.”

The deleterious effects of physical and verbal abuse on children have been corroborated by numerous investigations in social work, psychology and psychiatry, she noted.

“Therefore, it is the essential responsibility of agencies, both public and private, to educate our different professionals who provide services to families (caregivers, children, young people, couples, pregnant women, etc.) about the dynamics of domestic violence and not continue to perpetuate the false notions we have created about abuse,” Pérez Martínez said.

According to the Child Abuse Profile – Interactive Report 2018-2022 issued by the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, more than 5,000 minors are abused annually in Puerto Rico. The abuse rate is estimated at 10 minors for every 1,000 minors under the age of 18 in Puerto Rico.

“The three most predominant types of abuse are neglect (32.5%), emotional neglect (32.3%) and educational neglect (14.8%),” Pérez Martínez said. “In general terms, both boys and girls are mistreated in equal proportions, although in terms of sexual abuse, girls are abused in greater proportion (male, 18.4% and female, 81.6%). As for the relationship of the child with the perpetrators, in most cases the mother or biological father is the perpetrator.”

The large number of cases of child abuse in Puerto Rico represents an enormous challenge for the system and for social workers who lack the necessary resources to provide support in many situations involving child abuse,” Pérez Martínez said.

“It is known and it has been established that the agency that is responsible for taking on these cases is the Family Department (DF) … an agency that has proven not to have sufficient resources for the professionals to whom these cases are assigned,” she said. “As of January of this year there were still fewer than the required number of social workers working in the DF to attend to thousands of cases. They lack resources such as transportation, and work long shifts, without protection or security measures when visiting places known to be high-risk. Their working conditions do not allow them to address all these cases with the attention they deserve.”

Pérez Martínez urged citizens to report incidents of child abuse to the Abuse Hotline at 1-800-981-8333 or 787-749-1333, or by calling 911.

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