Seven government agencies and independent organizations from the Cayman Islands that work to help combat child abuse will be represented at an international forum in the United States next month.

For the first time, the multi-agency group from Cayman, called Protection Starts Here, has been invited to present at the 34th International Symposium on Child Abuse, hosted by the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Alabama on March 19-22.

“The working group is the driving force behind the child abuse prevention project which was launched in 2012 with the aim of bringing willing government, NGO and private sector organizations to the table to collectively address the issue of child sexual abuse specifically and child abuse in general here in Cayman,” a press release from the group stated.

Spearheaded by the Cayman Islands Red Cross, the working group includes representatives from the Employee Assistance Programme, the Health Services Authority, the Ministry of Education, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Sands Creative Film Studio, and the Special Needs Foundation.

The project was launched with a series of public service announcements, and since then has expanded to include the production of a local documentary on child sexual abuse in Cayman, the creation of educational tools for lay people and professionals, the establishment of a twice-monthly Darkness to Light training schedule free of cost to the public, the development of a two-day policy development workshop on child safeguarding, and most recently the piloting of a free support group for teen survivors of abuse, among others. The work has been funded and supported by Hedge Funds Care Cayman since 2013.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center, which was established in 1985, serves as a model for more than 1,000 children’s advocacy centers in the U.S. and in more than 27 countries.

The symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, will include more than 160 workshops for medical, mental health/treatment, sexual exploitation, prevention, advocacy and youth serving organizations, among many others.

“Of the approximately 140 presenters, less than 10 percent are from outside the continental United States,” said Amy Boyd, conference manager for the National Children’s Advocacy Center. “The PSH working group is the first from the Caribbean region to have been selected to present in the history of the conference.”

She added that the Cayman group is “already implementing things, [its work] is not theoretical. This will serve as a great model for other organizations looking to put something similar together.”

Shari Smith, senior policy adviser and manager for inclusion at the Ministry of Education, said in the press release, “The Ministry of Education recognizes that child protection is not the responsibility of a single agency, but involves a concerted effort from numerous stakeholders working together towards the same goal. The Protection Starts Here group draws together professionals from numerous agencies in an effort to raise awareness about child abuse and join efforts to enhance prevention strategies.”

The RCIPS has identified the Protection Starts Here group as a leading proponent in the prevention of child abuse in the Cayman Islands, Detective Superintendent Peter Lansdown said, adding, “This grassroots initiative has the collective drive and the individual commitment required to engage with all agency partners in the community effort to address the issue of child abuse.”

Jondo Obi, director of the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said that over the past five years, the group “has been coming together to join not only forces but also knowledge, skills, expertise and experience to bring tangible, dynamic, multi-faceted solutions to one of our most persistent problems. They have created another form of multi-agency partnership which will hopefully inspire and empower others to do the same.”

For more information on the Protection Starts Here project or how to get involved in child abuse prevention in Cayman, contact [email protected] or 916-1742.