Sun | Jun 26, 2022

Coach, teacher, protector

The growing role of sports educators in the protection of children

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2022 | 1:03 AMSharla Williams - Gleaner Writer

CHILDREN’S ADVOCATE Diahann Gordon-Harrison says some children who experience various forms of domestic abuse sometimes use sport to escape the challenging realities at home.

The presence of sport as an escape, Gordon-Harrison says, can be helpful.

“To my mind, if you can use sport as a therapeutic vehicle, then it certainly will assist those children who are in challenging circumstances at home, because it really is a very positive environment that challenges them and teaches them a lot about life while they are enjoying the activity,” she said.

Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams recently revealed that authorities receive more than 12,000 reports of child abuse annually in Jamaica.

Gordon-Harrision said coaches and physical education teachers sometimes have to deal with children who fall within this statistic.

“Coaches, PE teachers and other teachers are now being looked upon, if you will say, as being more than just teachers,” she said.

“They are dealing with all sorts of issues that spill over from the home into the school environment, and I don’t really know if our traditional teachers’ colleges could really anticipate that teachers would almost be the parent.”

Christopher Richardson, who has a Bachelor of Education degree in Physical Education and has been a sports coach and teacher in Corporate Area schools for nearly 25 years, said he is one of those teachers who has had to take on this role.

He told The Gleaner how he had to deal with these sensitive issues.

“I tried to keep them occupied as long as I could - some of them did not want to go home,” he said.

He recounted the difficulties of dealing with one particular student who may have been a victim.

According to the coach, he would keep the girl at training until both parents were home, which would negate the problem which occurred when just one parent was present.

EXPERIENCE IMPORTANT

He said, if it were not for his experience, he could not have efficiently dealt with the matter.

“It [degree] helped but it wasn’t to any great great deal. What helped was experience,” he said.

“I don’t think studies equip you enough to deal with what happens in the schools.”

Gordon-Harrison said this is an area in schools Jamaica has to improve on.

“I think there is need for ongoing capacity of training as matters emerge and trends develop to have conversations with teachers and coaches and to really equip them to deal with the tide of what is coming, guide them in terms of best practices and create that atmosphere where they can ask for support, ask the necessary questions in terms of how to tackle difficult issues, and just continue that process of continued engagement, training and retaining,” she said.

She said, while this issue is being worked on, more measures have to be put in place to ensure that child abuse does not happen during sports or other activities at schools as well.

“I think safeguarding policies, especially in sports within the confines of a school administration, are highly recommended and would demonstrate what is really known as best practice,” she said.

Senior director for children’s affairs in the Ministry of Education’s Youth and Adolescent Policy Division, Hyacinth Blair, recently said the Child Care and Protection Act is now under review and will be sent to Cabinet soon.