Children of health-care workers left at the back endMonday, May 10, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
WHILE they work assiduously and selflessly on the front line amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, health-care workers say their children are left unseen and unsupervised on the back end.
Various medical practitioners have told the Jamaica Observer that since March 2020, they have been torn between saving lives and properly raising their children.
Okeem Roberts, a nurse at the University Hospital of the West Indies, told the Observer that working on the front line during the pandemic has affected the bond he has with his four-year-old daughter, Okeera.
“I had to send away my daughter based on what is happening, and the fear of me bringing the virus home and then she getting it. I see people dying every day and can't help them. Sometimes when I am talking to her she a tell me seh she wah see me, but me have work. So, that kinda break the bond,” Roberts said.
He said his daughter, who will be five in June, has been staying with his mother for a while for two reasons —as a safety measure and because he is rarely at home.
“Before the pandemic, she lived with me. I would see her every day and she sees me every day. Now, she is away from me, staying with her grandmother. My mother usually call me and that's how I get to talk to her [Okeera] sometimes. And she is always saying she wants to come home. Mi just try and visit when mi can.”
But his rare visits usually end in heartbreak.
“When mi visit her and a leave, she always cry. She always want to come home with me. All a entire week me go without seeing my daughter. Sometimes I plan to meet up, and then something comes up,” he said.
In August 2020 Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton underscored complaints from medical practitioners about staff shortage at public health facilities and extended work hours. Tufton said there has been significant and increasing burnout of the critical front- line workers, primarily the health-care staff.
Novelyn Leslie Little, parish manager for Westmoreland Public Health Services, highlighted the fact that all health-care workers were affected, and not just those on the front line. She told the Observer she hasn't been able to sufficiently monitor her 12-year-old son, and recently had to seek mental help.
“My phone never goes silent. The calls will come and there are things I must attend to in this pandemic. You have back-office operations as well, and you have to be there – and at times [you also have to be] beside the front-line workers. For vaccination blitz, you are right there with them. You are out there. You can't be locked away and know what is happening,” said Little.
“I try to ensure that all the basics are covered. However, when it comes on to certainly the online learning, I have not experienced that before. And since my son is preparing for PEP [Primary Exit Profile], it is particularly challenging. Thank God for the teacher. Teachers are pivotal right now. Whereas I would have a lot more time to spend with him before, looking over his work and so on, the truth is that I can't do that. I can't be as attentive as I would normally be since the pandemic. That has changed.”
And this, she noted, is something her son has recognised.
“We would normally have a lot of time together, we can play games and just chat. But time is reduced. It's just a fact. And sometimes when you're trying to engage with your child, your mind is not there. They do not have your focus. And I know that my son knows.
“He would say 'Mommy, you're not listening to me enuh.' The stakes are high. The other day I had to get counselling. I was just seeing red,” she said. “My son didn't take notes for a whole two months. You don't want to be put in a position where you spend all your time doing Government's work and your child is sitting on the fence.”
A few days ago, her son posed a question that hasn't left her mind:
“Do you find your children challenging?” she said the boy asked.
“You have to be guarded. You want your child to do well. You want them to not only do well for now, because you are grooming little men and little women of tomorrow,” Little said.
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison has also weighed in, saying the children of health-care workers have been taking the brunt.
“They would've perhaps internalised a lot, and they are worried about their parents, and it's having an impact on them. From the other perspective as well, they may have very long hours when they are without direct contact with their parents because of the length of the shifts, for example, that the parent has to be pulling – whether it is at a hospital or a health centre,” said Gordon-Harrison.
“This concern, along with some of the others, really served as a catalyst when we considered the impact COVID-19 is having on children. We don't want it to be a forgotten generation, if you will, that will just have to deal with it however they can manage.”
For Dr Ludrick Morris, it's double the trouble. Morris and his partner are both health-care workers with an eight-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.
Morris, head of the infection prevention and control (IPC) department at Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital, said the possibility of taking home the virus to the children is twice as high.
“I am aware of the precautions and, generally, we take those precautions. We do know that there is a possibility that we could get the virus at work and bring it home. Both of us have got our first dose of the vaccine. We have our second dose in another two weeks,” Morris said.
He described the pandemic as a “significant disruption and challenge” to parenting.
“It's very stressful. It's an additional burden. The pandemic itself puts an additional strain on you as an health-care worker, and then the disruption of it puts an additional strain on you as a parent or caregiver. So, we've seen it from both sides, and that's a big challenge.”
Similar to the experience of Leslie Little, Morris said there is little to no monitoring of his children's academics.
“When myself or my partner gets home from work we have to go through the materials with them. At the end of the day you are very tired, but you still try to put in that extra. In some instances, it just can't happen.”
Moreover, health specialist at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)Novia Condell told the Observer that the offspring of health-care workers are in the at-risk group.
“The children of the caregivers are a priority group and an at-risk group. The Ministry of Health is very cognisant of the challenges all around, including those of children of health-care workers, and trying to improve the infrastructure available for children to address some of these issues. And, generally, there is an increased sense of anxiety and worry over what the future holds as the situation is ongoing.”
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