By Ally MacLeod

Happy children, are children who are loved. Here at Volunteer Invest, we speak about the unspeakable things that happen to children, and find the people prepared to act first, and intervene before the child’s experience has time to manifest itself for the future.

A recent study has revealed 1 in 3 children in South Africa could have suffered sexual abuse by the time they reach the age of 17. Commissioned by UBS Optimus Foundation, the ‘Optimus Study: Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa’ revealed 351,214 children had been subjected to sexual abuse in 2015 – each one a young person with a fear of the world they can’t explain in their juvenile years.

It sounds like a big and scary task, but studies show that early intervention can have a pivotal effect on the child’s mental and physical health in their adult life, making it not only rewarding, but crucial work towards a helping a child overcome the suffering or neglect they’ve experienced.

The absence of early intervention leaves invisible scars which, as the years pass, become increasingly difficult to heal.

But what is early intervention? For very young children in impoverished communities, it is rescuing them from the sinister world of abandonment, abuse and illness, and creating a safe and therapeutic space where a vulnerable child can feel safe and protected. By the time they are 3 years old, a child’s brain is approximately 80% developed, identifying the first intervention steps at any age as crucial to each individual child’s development, and the success of their child therapy. It is a race against time. Research has shown high stress and fear levels in infants subjected to early trauma induce a spike in cortisol levels at infancy, linked to anxiety and irrational behaviour. The absence of early intervention leaves invisible scars which, as the years pass, become increasingly difficult to heal.

Case Study: Bobbi Bear

A human rights organisation based in South Africa, Bobbi Bear, provides a Rescue Centre in Amanzimtoti, where Child Safety Officers are trained to identify child abuse cases in their communities. Abused children in South Africa are often infected with HIV as a result of their abuse, and can experience further trauma and neglect at the hands of the criminal justice system. By giving local people knowledge and structured support, Bobbi Bear enables Officers  to intervene, represent the child in court, and rescue them from further trauma. With their hard work and dedication over the past year alone, Bobbi Bear has increased the numbers of children rescued by 300%, and early intervention has enabled them to reach out to 2000 survivors of abuse cases through HIV clinics.

In a safe and loving atmosphere, a young child can be coaxed to follow their instinct to engage emotionally and socially with others. Gentle, open arms can be the invitation a child deeply affected by poverty or abuse needs to find his or her place in the world, and realise they are not alone in their harsh and unjustifiable circumstances. Building a bedrock of trust can establish the foundations needed to provide the child with the skills to communicate and express their own feelings in therapy.

The early bird catches the worm – and early intervention gives every child a better chance, the chance to develop the social and emotional foundations to overcome the damage of extreme neglect, and break the vicious cycle to begin the journey to  find hope, love and stability in unfavourable circumstances.

Interested in Child Psychology and Development? Check out our project at Operation Bobbi Bear.

Our guest blogger is Ally MacLeod. A freelance writer and storyteller, who enjoys writing to inspire positive change. Drop her a line here.