Hospital to hire psychologist for child abuse

The Health Services Authority is
hiring a part-time child psychologist to deal with the growing cases of child
abuse being seen at the Cayman Islands Hospital, the authority’s medical
director Greg Hoeksema announced Thursday.

Using a $50,000 grant given to it
by Hedge Funds Care Cayman, the Hospital Services Authority has begun the
process of hiring the psychologist.

The hospital currently has only one
child psychologist, Antonia Hawkins, to deal with the workload, which hospital
officials say has increased dramatically in the past five years.

Head of Paediatrics at the Cayman
Islands Hospital, Dr. Marilyn McIntyre, said for the past few years, she has
been “trying desperately to get some additional support, particularly for child
abuse cases,” adding that the current workload of dealing with such cases was
too much for one person.

She said the abuse of one child did
not just affect that child, it affected future generations. “It is well known
that abused children oftentimes go on to be abusive parents.”

She added that abused children,
whether victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect, were also
more likely to be preyed upon by bullies and gangs and were more likely to
become juvenile offenders.

The grant is part of $230,000 that
Hedge Fund Cares Cayman has donated to six organisations in Cayman to help
identify and treat children who have been sexually, physically or mentally
abused.

Dr. Hoeksema said he hoped the new
psychologist would be able to come on board within the next four weeks.

“We know a couple of people on the
Island who we believe are interested in the position,” he said.

He said it had been “painful” for
hospital staff to see that there had not been enough resources available to
adequately deal with victims of sexual and emotional abuse who sought help at
the hospital.

The new psychologist will help identify
children who have been victims of abuse and will interview and evaluate them
for the courts and the police’s Family Service Unit – a service in which there
is major gaps at the moment, Dr. Hawkins said at a press conference to announce
the new hire.

The prevalence of child abuse in
Cayman is not known, health officials said. Dr. McIntyre said she did not have
overall statistics, but that she was seeing an average of three cases a month.

She said that she did not believe
child sex abuse had been a problem in Cayman for many years. “Within the past
five years, it has been starting to increase. When I came here first of all, it
was almost non-existent,” she said. She joined the hospital in 1978.

The abuse being seen by hospital
staff is not just that carried out by an adult caregiver – a parent, relative,
or guardian – but also by men who were approaching girls aged 12 and 13, for
instance, outside the cinema, and by teens pressuring their peers into sexual
behaviour, Dr. Hawkins said.

“Five or eight years ago, these men
were targeting 15 and 16 year olds, now it’s 12 and 13 year olds. They come to
the movies with their friends and are being approached by adults making sexual
suggestions to them. That’s a type of sexual harassment… they find
overwhelming and dramatic and they don’t know how to deal with it.”

Victims who come to the hospital,
often to Accident and Emergency, are referred to police or social services by
medical staff, Dr. Hoeksema said.

But getting cases to court can be
difficult, especially as Cayman has no full-time forensic interviewer who can
evaluate children and testify in court about what the victim is alleging. The
psychologists can do this, but this is one of the areas in which the Health
Services Authority admits there are gaps.

Dr. Hawkins said: “I know that
there are many kids coming to me whose cases do not go to court for various
reasons.”

Geoff Ruddick, co-chair of Hedge
Funds Care Cayman, said his organisation would be happy to fund a forensic
interviewer if a public or private entity put forward a proposal to hire one.
“A forensic interviewer is something we would love to see in Cayman and would
dearly love to support,” he said.

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