Cayman needs a child advocate program

| 07/04/2009

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect in the Cayman Islands – a topic that is often ignored.

It has been my ongoing objective to keep this issue in the forefront of our minds so that we may begin to work on a holistic set of community-based solutions to this problem. The final objective is to put a set of measures in place that will offer our children optimal protection so that they may grow up to be well adjusted adults.

Recently I attended the RCIP Bodden Town district meeting. When I inquired about the police’s approach to prioritizing this issue within the force I was told that there are not that many child abuse cases in the Cayman Islands. We should all bear in mind that this is the most under-reported type of crime, with at least 90% of cases never being reported to the authorities. This nonchalant attitude would explain why even when allegations are made very few result in a successful prosecution. If the senior members of the RCIP believe this is a minor matter because it does not affect that many people then they are not investing the money and resources to make sure that staff are properly trained to handle such cases.

In most jurisdictions it is customary to have police officers who have undergone extensive training as child abuse specialists. They comprise a special unit that deals with these delicate issues and have the necessary interviewing skills, evidence collection and an appropriate response list of criteria to be met.

During an investigation of alleged child sexual abuse there are so many factors that have to be taken into consideration. One of the most significant has to be the additional trauma that can be caused to a child and the actual investigation being handled as professionally as possible.

Since the safety and well being of the child has to be the most paramount consideration, I would like to advocate that we explore a legally appointed guardian for all children thathave to go through the judicial system. In particular, this would be an extremely useful advocacy tool for child abuse victims. This child advocate is court-appointed, independent minded and has a specific legal ambit. Often referred to as a guardian ad litem, this individual’s only responsibility is to represent the child’s best interest.

These guardians are held to a very high legal standard – of fiduciary. This is such an important role as it gives a child a voice while being involved in the court system. The guardian ad litem represents the child’s interests even as it pertains to the judiciary proceedings. This person guarantees that the child has fair representation. In recent cases we could well question the efficacy of the legal department and even police officers in bringing the case to a successful conclusion. The guardian would be instrumental in keeping an eye on all of these aspects of the matter. If the child’s interests are jeopardized the guardian can bring that to the attention of the court.

When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a responsible and capable spokesperson – an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case may have their own interests to protect, the guardian ad litem is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child.

Our recent Child’s Law was a perfect opportunity to include the legal framework for such a program to be setup in the Cayman Islands. The logistics of the program could mean that the guardians are either paid or volunteer workers. They need specific training on how best to handle the child’s affairs in court. I would suggest an overseas advocacy qualification and additional child abuse training.

In addition, the police staff requires specially trained staff to deal with child trauma and abuse. This would include a focus on interviewing skills, internal case coordination and creating an instant response team.

For all of these efforts to work there needs to be a specific Child’s Unit created in Cayman to address all matters dealing with the welfare of children. Otherwise, the effort would be haphazard at best and not properly organized for maximum use of resources. There are far too many cases where the child falls through the proverbial crack. Sometimes I look around and I see person’s who are struggling in their adult lives. When I begin to scratch beneath the surface it becomes readily apparent that they were child victims of abuse and there was never any benefit of counseling and treatment – they will struggle their entire lives to live achieve some level of normalcy. Our focus has to be collective – prevention and education, treatment and counseling and, of course, the successful handling of child abuse cases through the court system.

As we continue to focus on our economy and other important aspects of this country’s development, I hope that we do not forget that unless we protect our children – our future – we are developing this country for naught.

"Justice for children cannot be sought, let alone achieved, if their voice is not represented in the hearings that determine their fate. Guardians ad Litem are that voice." -Former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, Minnesota Supreme Court

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Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, but children are never to be abused by parents especially not sexually. When it happens the child has no one in their corner to fight for them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely I agree.

    I also need to say that until Caymanian parents stop being afraid of their children and insist on boundaries and respect from children all the laws would be for nought. One wonderswho the child is and who the parent is sometimes.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Ms. Sandra. We need this and so much more!

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes we do, and we also need a proper protective and educational facility for our young teenagers  instead of having to send them oveseas