Group creates its own standards to keep kids safe

The Cayman Islands does not have national standards for organizations like summer camps and private schools that serve children. A group of nonprofits and government agencies, led by the Cayman Islands Red Cross, hope to fill that gap with a new “Seal of Protection” to certify that organizations serving the islands’ youth meet minimum international standards for policies, procedures and staff training.

To receive the Seal of Protection, organizations must conduct criminal background checks on employees and volunteers, document screening and hiring practices, have written policies for safety, conduct and abuse reporting, have at least half of the personnel trained in first aid and CPR, and require “Darkness to Light” child abuse detection and prevention training.

Red Cross Deputy Director Carolina Ferreira said the first five organizations are working on their certifications now. “As we got into it, we learned how big the gap actually is,” she said, explaining that developing the new policies has been a major hurdle for the organizations.

“It is quite a change in the way they do things,” she said.

In the spring, the Red Cross hosted a two-day workshop to help the first five organizations understand and implement new written policies on safe environment, code of conduct and mandatory child abuse reporting. The Red Cross starts a new two-day training this week and hopes to attract more organizations for the Seal of Protection.

The Protection Starts Here working group, with representatives from the Health Services Authority, the Crisis Centre, the Special Needs Foundation and other agencies, developed the new standards in hopes that government could take up the guidelines to make them mandatory.

A report from the Pan American Health Organization released last year found that one in five girls in Cayman reported being sexually abused.

“It’s about time here in Cayman we set our own ground rules,” Ms. Ferreira said.

Cindy Blekaitis, program manager for the Employee Assistance Programme, said the lack of national standards means “there is no required process for how to screen and hire staff and volunteers, or to have policies in place that foster safe environments, no mandatory trainings to ensure that all staff and volunteers are aware of main issues, like child sexual abuse, and how to prevent it, nor documented procedures on how to deal with concerns or the legal requirements.”

In a statement, Montessori by the Sea Principal Debbie Thompson, noted, “As a school that prides itself on child safety, it was an eye-opening experience as to how all-encompassing child safety really is.”

Montessori by the Sea is one of the organizations working toward the child protection certification.

A number of cases of child sexual abuse have made headlines this year, including gross indecency charges against a former political candidate involving an alleged incident with an underage girl caught on video. Another recent case had a judge chastising police for more than three years of delays in investigating and prosecuting numerous alleged sexual assaults by male relatives of a then-11-year-old girl.

A report from the Pan American Health Organization released last year found that one in five girls in Cayman reported being sexually abused.

“Far too many times we keep expecting ‘someone’ to do something about issues like child sexual abuse without realizing that we can actively be part of the solution,” said the Crisis Centre’s Nancy Davey in a statement. “Consumers are incredibly powerful as a group, and parents and guardians make choices with their wallets every day. What we are trying to do is to appeal to parents as consumers to help us build momentum in asking their youth service providers to do better, or at the very least to choose those providers who are taking this step to make their kids safer.”

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