Action needed for children at risk

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At a presentation on November 19, human and social development consultant Nadine Lewis-Agard explained that 70 per cent of the disclosures by children of sexual abuse are purposeful, and 30 per cent accidental.

Ms Lewis-Agard called for safe spaces for children to talk about negative experiences.

Beyond physically defined safe spaces, she called on parents and caregivers to be aware of their own perspectives and how they might deter a child's willingness to discuss difficult information.

Ensuring children feel comfortable talking about incidents of abuse is a critically important matter in a country operating under stifling restrictions, and with incidents of domestic violence and abuse rising over the pandemic year. UN Women representative Tonni Brodber noted during a town hall meeting on Thursday that Trinidad and Tobago has experienced a 149 per cent increase in gender-based violence from last June to last week.

Antoinette Jack-Martin, acting director of the Gender Affairs Division, said 89 per cent of the calls made to the division's domestic violence hotlines were from women. Between June and September, 2,236 calls were made to these hotlines.

While it seems, then, that attention is being paid and improvements made to essential systems like safe houses for women (and men) in danger, the capacity to respond to at-risk children demands greater vigilance and sensitivity in response.

In June, behavioural and health consultant Dr Stacy Murray acknowledged an increase in cases of emotional abuse reported to the Children's Authority. Dr Murray believes the change is the result of the oversight of the authority.

Emotional abuse leaves no physical scars or visible damage.

It's another development that the organisation must manage while being overwhelmed by a growing caseload. In 2020, the authority logged 5,017 reported cases, and its staff are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for its services.

Six months ago, the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives discussed a proposed $16,520,000 supplementation for the Office of the Prime Minister, 70 per cent of which was earmarked for recruiting staff to meet the challenges the authority faces now.

The authority certainly needs to improve its public profile as an effective response to the challenges that bedevil the nation's children, particularly under the pressures of pandemic living. Decisive and authoritative moves are called for after the blow to its reputation caused when five teenage boys absconded from an authority-managed safe house in Valsayn, an incident that ended tragically with the murder of two of the boys.

In addition, what's needed from the Children's Authority now is strategy and execution on its plans for an inter-agency national child abuse protocol that ensures the increasingly dire needs of the country's most endangered young people are met.


"Action needed for children at risk"

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