As the Government moves to provide greater protection for the nation’s children, a model is to be put in place to improve the way child sexual abuse cases are handled.
Coming out of the 2008 Child Protection Audit, a more integrated approach to the investigation of child abuse cases will be undertaken to reduce the gap between the reporting of the incident and the trail, improve the quality of evidence provided, and ease the trauma on the child.
“Within a matter of weeks, you can guarantee that if you or your parents or your school counsellor makes a complaint of child sexual abuse.you will not be interviewed several times before the police gets involved,” said Child Protection Consultant, Dr. Tony Butler, who conducted the audit.
Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke, addressing a press conference at her Kingston office on Thursday (March 18) to give an update on the progress of recommendations of the 2008 Child Protection Audit.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday (March 18) at the Offices of the Children’s Advocate in Kingston, Dr. Butler explained that through the new approach, which will involve increased collaboration among stakeholder entities, “there will be fewer opportunities for evidence to be lost”.
“You will be immediately referred into a system that will not just involve a police investigation, but will involve the social worker being actively involved in your welfare,” he stated.
The integrated process, he said, will also identify other options to ensure the safety of the child, rather than for he/she to be placed in a child care facility.
“Because of that process, the chances of you being taken to a place of safety for your own protection are going to be significantly reduced because social work activity will help to identify other members of the family or friends, who can foster you or look after you if you need to be removed from the household, so there will be less children going into institutions,” he pointed out.
In the meantime, Dr. Butler is urging the government to move quickly to put the legislative framework in place to provide for the video recording of evidence in child sex abuse cases.
The move, he noted, “will make a dramatic difference in reducing the trauma on children at the time they make the interview. It would dramatically change (the experience of the child) and dramatically improve the quality of evidence that can be put before the court, and when the child gets to court, again reduce the trauma at the trial process.”
He informed that the equipment needed to facilitate the process is already installed at the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse in the Corporate Area (CISOCA) and 24 members of that branch of the police force have received the requisite training in the proper use of the equipment.
“I hope that the (amendments to the Evidence Act) will be passed by Parliament by summer.because everything is ready to go and the only thing that is missing is the legislative framework,” Dr. Butler said.
Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, has long been pushing for legislation to allow for the use of technology in the court system for children.
“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 stated last September at a Child Protection Strategic Development Plan Workshop held in Kingston.
Funded by the British High Commission at a cost of $12.5 million, the Child Protection Audit examined existing procedures to identify areas for improvement, which would help to reduce the trauma experienced by victims of abuse, especially sexual abuse, during the investigation and trial. It also looked at ways to improve the quality of evidence available to the court.
The overall project is being spearheaded by the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the Child Development Agency, the Community Safety and Security Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the Family and Parenting Centre, which is a non- governmental organisation based in Montego Bay.