HSA partners with local charity in child abuse fight

| 21/05/2010

(CNS): The Heath Service Authority will be employing a part time child psychologist to help in the battle against child abuse as a result of a grant from Hedge Fund Care. Medical Director Dr Greg Hoeksema explained the HSA has been in need of a second psychologist for more than three years and applied to the well-known charity for help. The authority was rewarded with the funds to bring in a part time specialist who will be focusing on the front line of Cayman’s growing child abuse problem. From supporting child and family services to identify children at risk and assisting law enforcement in the prosecution of cases, Dr Hoeksema said the new practitioner should be joining the hospital in the next few weeks.

Speaking at a special press briefing to announce the support from Hedge Fund Care, Head of Paediatrics at the Cayman Islands Hospital, Dr Marilyn McIntyre explained that one abused child affects future children as it is well known that victims of abuse often go on to become abusive parents. Without intervention those who are abused can lead to the doubling of abuse cases.
Once in place the new psychologist will be working with children who have suffered different types of abuse. Dr McIntyre noted that when people talk of abuse it is often taken as meaning sexual abuse but in reality children are subjected to many forms of abuse including physical violence and emotional cruelty.  “Children who are ridiculed or bullied and made to feel unwelcome at home become prey to criminal gangs and are vulnerable to becoming juvenile offenders.”
She explained that by helping these children and their families a psychologist can not only prevent the mistreatment of the specific child at risk in the here and now but prevent future abuse and even future crime.
The hope is the new psychologist will also be able to assist in improving prosecutions and help police with the key forensic interview work with young victims. While the hospital said it would be great to have a full time forensic interviewing expert on staff the goal was to recruit a psychologist into this new post with those skills.
The existing psychologist Dr Antonia Hawkins noted how distressing it was when cases did not go before the courts for various reasons and the police face a number of challenges in getting these cases to the stage of prosecution.  
“If these cases don’t reach the court the persons cannot be prosecuted so they are free to offend again,” Dr McIntyre emphasized.
Hospital officials also spoke about the continuing increase in abuse and said paediatricians are seeing as many as three cases every month.
Despite anecdotal evidence to suggest that abuse of children is not new in Cayman, Dr McIntyre said the problem had increased significantly in the last five years and she noted that when she first came to the island more than 20 years ago it was quite rare.
For many years however, the issue of domestic and child abuse in families had been a taboo subject and there are those that believe the incest as well as violence in homes was simply ignore. Today however, with greater awareness and openness in the community light is now being shed on some of the patterns of abuse that have been a part of the community over the years.
Dr Hawkins also spoke about the changing trends in abuse and illustrative of the sexualisation of girls at a younger age. She said while people often assume child abuse is between caretakers and their charges in reality it is far more complex. “We often assume abuse is about adult caretakers targeting young children but we are seeing increases in adults praying on teens. The reality of the situation is that 12 and 13 year olds can’t go to movies without being approached by adult men making sexual advances and we have the problem of teens threatening teens as well.
Dr Hawkins also spoke about the problems some parents have and how they desperately needed parenting support as they often lacked the ability to parent properly and protect their children from external abuse.
Faced with numerous challenges in the area Dr Hoeksema spoke about the desire at the hospital for some time to relieve the pressure on Dr Hawkins and try and help more children.
“We are passionate about helping these children and we have been looking at ways where, despite the financial turmoil we could enhance the programme. It has been very painful to feel we didn’t have adequate resources but it’s a joyous day now that we have received this help from Hedge Fund care,” Dr Hoeksema said.
In tune with many other jurisdictions doctors and health care professionals in Cayman are getting better at identifying the signs of abuse and hence why the figures are growing. He also noted that abuse is by no means unique to our islands as studies around the world have revealed that one in three women will admit to some form of sexual abuse growing up.
Hedge Fund Care, an international NGO which was established in the Cayman Islands in 2005, focuses on giving financial assistance to projects and initiatives that are aimed at reducing the abuse and neglect of children. Following the HSA application Geoff Ruddick explained that it, as with all others went through a vigorous selection process which includes an academic consultant, but the organisation was happy to offer the funds to help address what is major problem and assist in the goal of eradicating child abuse and neglect in the Cayman Islands.
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