‘I want to be part of the solution’ - Child sexual abuse survivor wants to make mark in social work
Shaneille Hall became an orphan at three years old and was placed in the care of her maternal family.
She was learning to adjust to life without her parents and enjoying the joys of childhood when, at five years old, she was sexually abused by her grandfather – an act which continued until she was nine.
“I would go to Kingston every summer and in the Christmas to stay with other family, and I was speaking to a family member who told me that she was in the same situation years ago,” she recalled.
The matter was reported and she became a ward of the state, housed at the Wortley Home for Girls for two years.
“I was 10 and I didn’t know what was going to be the outcome of me speaking about what was happening, so I wasn’t fearful. When the fear came was when I had to be going to court. I felt like I regretted it all, but, looking back, I’m happy that I did. Otherwise, it would have haunted me until this day,” said the now 19-year-old, who was among a group of youngsters who became the first in Jamaica’s history to address a sitting of Parliament just under a year ago.
“Becoming a ward of the state was a blessing in disguise. I wouldn’t get the opportunity to go to college [otherwise]. I’ve been to Parliament, Jamaica House, and there are so many other places that I’ve been, people that I’ve met that I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for CPSFA,” Hall said, saluting the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.
Currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in social work at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, Hall also juggles a part-time job while living at a transitional living facility, an experience she says is “eye-opening”.
“I’m basically on my own and I have to budget to take care of my expenses,” she told The Gleaner.
In 2018, she was registered to receive mentorship from the MultiCare Youth Foundation (MYF) under the Transitional Living Programme for Children Living in State Care Project. It is a joint initiative of the Caribbean Child Development Centre, UWI Open Campus and the CPFSA, with funding from USAID, which provides a range of support measures for young people, the majority of whom do not have the benefits of family support when they leave state care to begin life as adults.
Approximately 2,000 Jamaican children, ranging from zero to 18 years, are wards of the state, residing in 50 children’s homes and places of safety across the island.
“I went to several mentorship meetings and was eventually matched with a mentor in June. They also helped us with career choices and understanding who we are,” Hall said.
She admitted to being a procrastinator, but said that her mentor has been helping her to break the habit by keeping her in check.
“She will call me and ask what coursework I have to do and I let her know. Then she guides me and we agree on which one I’m going to tackle that day,” she explained.
MYF Executive Director Alicia Glasgow Gentles told The Gleaner that the decision to complete the last component of the project online was critical as the foundation adapts to the COVID-19 reality.
“In our ongoing work to empower underserved youth, we are determined not to let even one targeted beneficiary miss out, regardless of the constraints,” said Glasgow Gentles.
Some 108 mentors and 76 mentees have been trained, and 61 mentor-mentee matches have been established.
Meanwhile, Hall believes that there should be greater support for child abuse victims, stiffer penalties for child abusers and priority scheduling for court cases relating to violence against children.
“I want to be part of the solution. I have a drive towards people’s emotions, especially children. I want to see how I can better the lives of children who have gone through difficult situations like I did, and that’s why I chose social work,” she said.