New Delhi: Child rights experts on Monday stressed on the need to provide adequate mental health services for children in institutional child care in order to ensure their smooth and meaningful social inclusion.
"There is a need to understand what mental health means in relation to children in institutions. We need to stop thinking about mental health as mental illness, and instead internalize the concept that positive and good mental health is an essential component of the child's social, emotional, psychological development", Dr Kiran Modi, Founder Managing Trustee, Udayan Care, said.
"We need to demystify and simplify the whole concept of mental health among practitioners, policy makers and the general public," Modi said.
"The risk of developmental and psychological damage is particularly acute among young children under the age of four, which is a critical period for children to bond with their parents or care givers. Even in a well equipped institution with focused staff, it is unlikely that the attention they receive by the personnel could replace good parental care," said Dr Deepak Gupta, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Founder, Centre for Child & Adolescent Wellbeing (CCAW).
Also, at an older age, the lack of individualized care, which the children would get in a healthy family environment, can cause harm to their neurobiological systems, and greatly contribute to stress and lowering of psychological well being, cognitive skills, coping capacity and emotional resilience, he said.
Highlighting the importance of proper training of professionals and caregivers working in the field of institutional child care, Aneesha Wadhwa of Udayan Care said, that training of caregivers was fundamental.
"They have to know how to empathetically handle everyday problems amongst the children and have to be trained to manage the stressful conditions under which they work. We also need to build a bank of trained mental health professionals through specialized academic courses that cater to the treatment of children in institutionalized settings."
"Most children residing in institutions like children's homes, orphanages, reform schools, institutes for physically and mentally disabled and juvenile detention facilities have been through traumatic experiences of being orphaned, abandoned or lost due to conflicts or natural disasters", Wadhwa said.
All these factors make providing adequate mental healthcare to the children extremely important. Some of the common mental health problems seen in these children include Depression, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD), Substance Abuse, Attachment Disorder and Intellectual and Learning Disability.
According to UNICEF, there are approximately 43 million children in South Asia who have lost one or both parents of which nearly 31 million orphan children live in India.
Besides orphans, a substantial number of children are out of the family protective net and get institutionalized as abandoned, abused, runaway children or children in conflict with the law. PTI