Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, has said that strengthening the capacity of institutions providing services for children, and fortifying the legislative framework to safeguard and protect their rights, must be at the forefront of the country’s social and development agenda.
The Minister specifically proposed amending the Evidence Act to allow for the use of technology in the Court system for children. He was supported by the report of an audit of Jamaica’s childcare system which recommended an amendment to the Evidence Act to accommodate video evidence from child victims in court.
Mr. Spencer’s statement was included in greetings delivered on his behalf, by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr. Jean Dixon, during the opening session of the Child Protection Strategic Development Plan Workshop on Friday (September 18) at the Courtleigh Hotel, New Kingston.
The Minister contended that monitoring systems needed to be more robust, and that the Ministry must be prepared to benchmark them with the best practices of other nations.
British High Commissioner, Jeremy Cresswell (left) is greeted by Child Protection Consultant out of Britain, Dr. Tony Butler, on his arrival for the opening session of the Child Protection Strategic Development Plan Workshop, at the Courtleigh Hotel, New Kingston, on Friday (September 18). Looking on, in the background, is Executive Director of the Family and Parenting Centre, Dr. Beverley Scott.
He noted that when key personnel, across the range of children services organisations, are trained, they need to be given the tools and the support that will enable them to do their jobs, professionally.
“Children who are traumatised, hurting and confused, really need to have children-friendly spaces, where they are not further traumatised by what could be described as the formality of state entities,” the Minister said.
Mr. Spencer further pointed out that there is room to improve multi-agency collaboration among entities such as the police, the judiciary, the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the health sector.
“These entities must have a shared vision, and the same high level of commitment and zeal to create a country fit for children,” he added.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jean Dixon, (left) and British High Commissioner, Jeremy Cresswell, taking notes during the opening session of the Child Protection Strategic Development Plan workshop at the Courtleigh Hotel, New Kingston, on Friday (September 18).
He said that the time had come to appropriate suitable technologies to improving efficiency, effectiveness and productivity, across all levels of the system.
“We have talked long enough about amending the Evidence Act to allow for the use of technology in the Court system. I think the time to act is now,” he said.
A series of workshops will be held during the week, September18- 24, and a strategic plan to implement the recommendations of the Child Protection Audit, which was conducted last year, will be developed.
“It is my hope that these workshops will help the country to achieve our goals and targets relating to children and, especially, to improve the adjudication and disposition of cases involving children in the justice system,” Mr. Spencer said.
The Audit had underscored the need for urgent action in a number of areas, particularly the process of investigation, support and protection of child victims and witnesses.
Explaining the rationale behind the workshops, Executive Director of Family and Parenting Centre, Dr. Beverley Scott, said that herself and Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke, had represented Jamaica at the Regional Child Protection Conference in Havana, Cuba, last year, and were very impressed with the Cuban child protection system.
She said that they prepared a joint report, on their return to Jamaica, which they shared with child protection stakeholders.
“One of the main recommendations was that Dr. Tony Butler, the British Forensic Psychologist and Child Protection Consultant, be invited to Jamaica to review our child protection system and make recommendations in keeping with our needs,” Dr. Scott said.
Dr. Butler’s intervention was highly consultative, as he met and had discussions with over 40 child protection stakeholders in Jamaica.
Dr. Scott also noted that a committee comprised of representatives from the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the Child Development Agency, the Community Safety and Security Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and the Family and Parenting Centre was established to steer the process.
One crucial recommendation coming out of the audit of Jamaica’s childcare system was for an amendment to the Evidence Act, to accommodate video evidence from child victims in court.
As a result of other recommendations, the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), a Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) unit, has been upgraded to a world class child protection centre, and investigators have received the necessary training to improve the quality of evidence in the initial investigation of child sexual abuse cases.
The series of workshops will explore several topics including: ‘Preparing Evidence Files and Appearance at Court’; ‘Responding to Disclosure of Abuse of Children’; ‘Monitoring and Evaluation of Child Protection Services’; ‘Interviewing the Child, Parent and Guardian and Assessment of Risk Situations’; ‘The Role of the Family Court’; and the ‘Criminal Trial Process’.