Child abuse does not get enough attention, says Pat Hanlan, a social worker with the Department of Children and Family Services.
“We need to openly talk about child abuse,” Ms. Hanlan said, as people attending the first Cayman Islands Prevention of Child Abuse Expo at George Town’s Old Library milled about. The expo, which involves a mix of 11 public and private agencies runs through Friday.
Social work manager Leanora Wynter-Young said Children and Family Services decided to sponsor the event to coincide with International Child Abuse Prevention Day on Nov. 19.
“We’re trying to empower the young people to know how to address [child abuse] and when to speak up,” Ms. Wynter-Young said.
Reports of child abuse have risen in recent years, especially since a revision of the Children Law in 2012. The average annual number of cases reported to the Children and Family Services between 2000 and 2012 was 47. From 2013 to 2016, that average nearly tripled to 152, and it might be even higher. The figures provided by the department for 2016 only run through Nov. 18 of that year.
In addition to child abuse prevention, agencies at the expo are providing information on such things as dietary health, school counseling services and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
Suzanne Seagraves volunteers with the Special Needs Foundation. It is part of a coalition of local organizations pushing for better regulation of youth organizations, and calls for such things as background checks and CPR training for adults running such programs. She shared a table with the Red Cross.
“There’s been nothing like it before on this scale,” Ms. Seagraves said of the expo. “Look, there are lots of children coming. They can learn so much. It’s exciting.”
Students and teachers from St. Ignatius and Cayman Prep schools were among those attending the expo Wednesday morning.
Gareth Thacker teaches physical education and life skills at St. Ignatius. He said he planned to use the materials he gathered at the expo to create a lesson on child abuse for his students.
“It’s one of those taboo topics that sometimes you don’t spend enough time discussing in a class,” Mr. Thacker said. “It’s good for the kids to meet the various stakeholders. It’s obviously a big issue.”
Year 10 Cayman Prep student Nathan MacLean said he not only found the information useful in bringing attention to the issue, but he also got some career ideas out of the expo. Most importantly, he said, the event helps open a door.
“A lot of these [issues] are not really socially discussed,” Nathan said. “I thought it was important to educate the youth.”
The expo continues Thursday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-6 p.m.