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JIS News

CAMP Bustamante, (Child Abuse Mitigation Project at the Bustamante Hospital for Children), is a beacon of hope for children, who suffer physical and emotional abuse.
The initiative, which is a component of the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Lifestyle Project, is designed to reach and treat children, who are victims of abuse and violence, the incidences of which have risen alarmingly in recent years.
In 2005 alone, there were 346 reported cases of carnal abuse in addition to 19 cases of incest and 32 cases of buggery. Statistics further reveal that of the 1,674 persons murdered during the same year, 75 were children.
Many children, who are victims of cruelty, are either too young to comprehend what is happening to them or too frightened to expose the perpetrators. Parents and caregivers may not recognize the signs and symptoms and as such, the child does not get the necessary help that he or she needs to heal. Through CAMP Bustamante, the aim is to identify these children and to provide them with the necessary care and support.
Project Coordinator, Rose Robinson-Hall, explains that, “CAMP Bustamante was started in January 2004 and is the first hospital-based response for violence prevention. It is called a hospital-based intervention because it treats any child, who is brought here to Bustamante for treatment of any form of violence-related injury”.
“These injuries could be caused from intentional or unintentional violence.we also target children, who have been sexually abused and those that have been exposed to community and domestic violence,” she elaborates.
Mrs. Robinson-Hall informs that cases are referred to CAMP Bustamante through the accident and emergency’s database system called the Jamaica Injury Surveillance Survey. In some cases, a doctor or a nurse, records clerk and janitors, may make a referral. “A child might come to the hospital to receive treatment for asthma and it is when a ward attendant is giving the child a bath that she might notice certain signs or certain dynamics when a parent visits,” she points out.
She notes that once a case is referred to CAMP Bustamante, steps are taken to allay the impact of the abuse. As such, a social worker visits the abused child’s home and school environment to talk with their teachers, parents or guardians.
“School visits are important because.we want to know if the injury or trauma has affected the child’s performance at school. A social worker will go to the child’s school and speak to his or her teachers or spend some time observing the child in class. They might even do an activity with the class to assess how he or she participates,” she says.
The Project Coordinator informs that a social worker also visits the home of the abused child to “do an assessment of the protective factors and the risk factors. Protective factors meaning we look at the kinds of support the child has in the family, the quality of supervision, the awareness of what the child needs”.
“Also, the quality of activities the child is involved in and most importantly, if the child is at risk for further abuse or a repeat of the violence-related injury,” she elaborates.
After this assessment is made, she says, a determination is made about the child’s safety based on the strengths and risks of the environment. “We make a determination in two categories, that is, high risk or low risk. High risk cases are the most serious cases, which are then referred to the Child Development Agency (CDA)”.
The CDA then carries out further investigations, which might lead to a child being removed from that environment to a place of safety.
Mrs. Robinson-Hall further notes that in cases where the child shows signs of traumatic stress or any psychological dysfunction, he or she is referred to the Child Guidance Clinic, where they receive mental health screening and possible mental health evaluation and therapy.
In cases deemed to be low risk, focus in placed on the sort of adaptations that must be made in the child’s environment to prevent recurrence of an incident and to help the child to heal. In these cases, a social worker will continue to visit the home.
“Home visitation is a very effective way of offering support and assistance to parents,” Mrs. Robinson-Hall points out, “because you work with them in their environment and the solutions that are made are relevant to their context, so the chances of sustaining the change is greater”.
In an effort to help these children of abuse heal, they are placed in programmes where they attend Saturday classes and summer camps at the University of Technology, the Multi Care Foundation and the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica.
Mrs. Robinson-Hall tells JIS News that at these camps, children express themselves through art, drama, drumming, music and culinary arts and photography. “The children have an opportunity to be with other children. These things are important especially for children, who have been victimized. they promote mental health,” she notes.
According to the Project Coordinator, parents and caregivers have an important role to play in the fight against child abuse and violence and as such, they must be aware of the signs and symptoms.
“There are physical signs and behavioural signs that can alert a parent. The physical signs are difficulties sitting or walking, a discharge or bruises to the anal and vulva areas, walking funny, or torn bloody underwear,” she notes.
In terms of behavioural signs, these may include changes in bowel habits, or a child, who is normally very playful, becoming withdrawn. “They might be afraid to be left alone, become very clingy, or they might behave in a sexually provocative way that is not consistent with their age. A child putting objects in her vagina is not a good sign,” she points out.
“Some children will act out or act in, you get the hyper-vigilance, the hyper-arousal, the anxiety, the frozen fear (as if) they constantly expect something bad to happen. Some children regress . start to wet the bed or they might start sucking their finger. Some children might become depressed and have ideas about suicide, others might become aggressive and start to fight a lot,” Mrs. Robinson-Hall elaborates.
She advises that once a parent or a caregiver has identified any of these signs, the first step is to stay calm “as the child is going to look to you for support. It is important that you reassure the child that they have done nothing bad; something bad was done to them”.
She outlines that the next step is to take the child to a medical doctor for examination and treatment and the incident must be reported to the relevant authorities. “The good news is because the young brain is very malleable, if you intervene early and begin a process of healing and treatment, the chances are that a child could heal and move on to as normal a development as possible,” she states.
Since its inception some two years ago, CAMP Bustamante has dealt with 784 cases of child abuse, representing an average of 22 cases per month.Mrs. Robinson-Hall tells JIS News that the programme has largely been a success and less than ten of the cases have returned to the hospital.
“CAMP Bustamante is a model. Ultimately, we want the best practices to be taken from this project and be replicated at other hospitals because with the level of violence and the impact it has on children, we need these services. Hospitals are good starting places to have them,” she says.