(CNS): Local activists that are part of a coalition of non-profits and government agencies working to address child abuse in the Cayman Islands have warned that the ongoing failure of the authorities to establish national standards for youth organisations means that there is no oversight for people working with children and no requirements to meet best practices. Four years after it was established, the Protection Starts Here project has continued to press for this problem to be addressed and raise awareness about this safety gap but so far government has failed to implement a safety regime around youth service provision.
Carolina Ferreira, Deputy Director for the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said too many people are still unaware of the dangers kids are exposed to without any national standards applying to those who are working with children.
“Part of what our group has been doing is to not only to make [the public] aware of what exactly this means but also to help us do something about it,” she said. Ferreira explained that there is no process for how to screen and hire staff and volunteers or to have policies in place that foster safe environments, and no mandatory training on how to prevent or document abuse, even though there is now a legal requirement for reporting.
Summer camps present one of the most obvious examples of risk for young people but the activists said children and youth are vulnerable throughout the year.
“All organisations that provide services to young people — as clients, patients, beneficiaries, customers …should at the very least be held to a minimum standards for child safety and protection,” said Sophia Chandler Alleyne, Child Psychologist for the Health Services Authority, noting that most people think they are. “Many people are likely unaware of this gap because they believe that in this day and age this is already the rule rather than the exception.”
The group Protection Starts Here created to address the issues relating to child safety includes the Red Cross, the Health Services Authority, the Crisis Centre, the Family Resources Centre, the Employee Assistance Programme, the Special Needs Foundation, the Wisdom Campaign.
As a step forward in plugging the safety gap, the Seal of Protection was developed by the Protection Starts Here working group, which is spearheaded by the Red Cross working with HSA, FRC, EAP, CICC, SNFCI and the Ministry. This is a grassroots effort to recognise youth service providers that have taken the steps to meet basic minimum standards which parents and guardians can identify.
Nancy Davey, Children and Youth Programme Manager for the CI Crisis Centre, said people have the power to make service providers conform.
“Consumers are incredibly powerful as a group, and parents and guardians make choices with their wallets every day. What we are trying to do is to appeal to parents [to] choose those providers who are taking this step to make their kids safer,” she said.
In order to receive the seal, organisations must do criminal history and background checks on all personnel, including volunteers, have documented screening, written safety policies such as a code of conduct and mandatory reporting, mandatory Darkness to Light training and 50% of all personnel trained in First Aid.
Ferreira added that there is a tremendous amount of work going on with volunteers giving up their time to train and raise awareness, which, despite the challenges, will continue until Cayman adopts national standards based on best practices to create safer environments for kids.
CNS: This article has been corrected. An earlier version said that the Ministry of Education developed the Seal of Protection.