The capacity children have to learn, grow and develop is directly influenced by a plethora of biological, psychological, familial, social and environmental factors. The research from which this presentation is based focused on better understanding the context and norms of child-rearing among low-income, urban Afro-Trinidadian families. Drawn from ethnographic data collected over a six month period from one high-risk community, this work highlights the multitude and complexity of the children's needs in light of the increasing political emphasis to improve the development of Trinidad & Tobago to “first world” status by 2020.
A qualitative approach to the investigation was used. Data was collected through semi-structured public observation of child-rearing; extensive review of the country's popular and scholarly press; multiple interviews with 28 parent participants, five experts and 42 children; and two focus groups. Data were transcribed, coded and analyzed using the constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
Results: Children in this community were found to be regularly exposed to risk factors such as the witnessing of violence and other criminal activities, poverty, low educational attainment among family members, unsafe and toxic living environments, child abuse and neglect, community stigma, discrimination and social exclusion, and inadequate educational resources. Protective factors found to be available to mediate the influence of these risks were few. Further, while adults in children's lives are typically seen as bulwarks for the child, for these children there are too few who fulfill that role adequately, as they are often experiencing their own trauma and difficulties, or, worse, not present at all. The adaptive child-shifting norm historically of value to lower-income parents is showing signs of erosion; it only works when there are those available to take over who want and are able to care. In general, and for a variety of reasons, there is a dearth of positive socialization experiences these children receive both within and away from their families.
Conclusions and Implications: In the midst of billion dollar expenditures of resources on developing Trinidad & Tobago into a “first world” nation, vulnerable children such as those in this research project are too often underdeveloped, disempowered and lost. The challenges they face are complex, multi-dimensional and pervasive while the institutional systems designed to serve them either do not exist or have not adapted favourably to the special needs of these and other high-risk groups. Multi-level, systemic interventions aimed at reducing risk factors while enhancing protective factors for these populations are suggested. Children are perhaps the most valuable of a developing nation's social capital. To ignore the context and needs of all children's capacities to learn, grow and be molded into fully functioning, contributory citizens of developing nations is a travesty.