Government floats new child abuse reporting policy

Government is working on a draft policy for reporting child abuse, required as part of the 2012 Children Law.

“There’s building momentum in understanding that caring for children is a responsibility that we all share.”

Minister for Community Affairs Osbourne Bodden and his staff presented the draft to representatives from 11 sports clubs this month to get feedback and make sure they know they will have to identify child protection officers in each sports club and screen staff who interact with children.

The draft policy has not been released publicly, but parts of the policy were in a presentation to the sports clubs.

Felicia Robinson, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, said in an interview Monday that momentum was building “in understanding that caring for children is a responsibility that we all share.

After the Children Law came into effect, which in part requires reporting of suspected child abuse, reported incidents of abuse jumped from 36 in 2012 to more than 125 two years later, according to the presentation by the department.

The data covers physical, sexual and emotional abuse, incest and defilement.

Cases of reported neglect increased from 11 in 2012 to 60 in 2014. Ms. Robinson said the spike coincided with the passage of the Children Law that mandated reporting of suspected physical or sexual abuse of children. But, she said, the numbers of reported incidents are likely much lower than the actual number of child abuse incidents.

“This is why education is so important,” Ms. Robinson said. In the presentation to the sports clubs, she stated, “An opportunity for abuse and reporting abuse presents wherever adults supervise children.”

A ministry press release states that the consultation process, according to assistant chief officer for the ministry Joel Francis, “would allow for questions and clarification, before a final version of the policy was put to Cabinet for ratification.”

The statement notes, “Once the policy is finalised, the clubs are to be given three months to implement its provisions.”

The presentation lays out the steps sports clubs and other organizations will have to take under the new policy proposal. Each club will have to appoint a child protection reporting officer and train officials on how to identify and report suspected abuse. Under the Children Law, staff are already legally required to report suspected abuse.

The law ensures protection of the identity of anyone who reports suspected child abuse.

The policy also requires “oversight through criminal background checks, screenings and application of due diligence in hiring practices and recruitment of volunteers and coaches,” according to the presentation.

In Ms. Robinson’s notes in the PowerPoint presentation, she explains, “The issue is difficult because many child abusers have no record because an incident was never reported, charges never filed, and there may be other situations where there have been plea bargains or the party has been convicted on a lesser charge.”

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