(CNS): The RCIPS has joined forces with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to create a dedicated unit to deal with the issue of child abuse from the moment of reporting through preparing a case for court. HSA counseling services are also involved in the new Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), which will provide a coordinated approach to child abuse reports. Police and social workers will be able to act more quickly and efficiently to keep kids safe and protect them from perpetrators of abuse and when necessary conduct more effective criminal investigations.
Over the last year there have been some harrowing cases in the courts where child sex abuse suspects have walked free because of negligence and delays in investigations, problems securing evidence and poor child interview techniques. While officials admitted that securing convictions in these circumstances could still be difficult, the unit’s main priority is to protect children and keep them safe while ensuring that the cases progress as well as possible.
The new MASH unit, based at Anderson Square in downtown George Town, was officially opened during a press conference Monday, though the event was packed with government officials before the office ribbon was cut by the governor and the premier.
The team of detectives, social workers and an HSA psychologist started working out of the offices last month. There are eight social workers and eight police officers currently in MASH, with plans to add three more officers who are currently undergoing training. It will serve as the first referral point for safeguarding concerns encountered by police officers, social workers, educators and health workers who come across possible cases of abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
Officials said that when one of these mandated reporters, another professional or a member of the public refers information to MASH, it is shared within the team and investigated. A cross-agency plan is then developed, the police said, for tracking the situation or intervening with family support and treatment, should circumstances merit.
Police officers also explained that training has formed an essential part of the joined-up unit to ensure that the chain of evidence and interview techniques with children are of a high standard and can be used in court if necessary to prosecute perpetrators.
“This multi-disciplinary approach to child safeguarding is a welcome approach and a top priority for the RCIPS, along with other stakeholder agencies, so we can leverage our resources to protect our nation’s children, and bring to justice predators that would rob a child of her or his innocence,” said Acting Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis.
DCFS Director Felicia Robinson explained that working in the same office as the police would increase the speed and quality of the casework, “improving our services and our ability to intervene when necessary in a more timely and effective way”.
The unit is based on international best practice and Governor Helen Kilpatrick said these types of units can help protect vulnerable children from harm, neglect and abuse. “The establishment of the MASH is a big step forward toward comprehensive child safeguarding across the islands,” she added.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is also the health minister, said he was aware that the public was “concerned and appalled at any kind of child abuse”. He said his government was committed to tackling this and that ministries have worked together to form the multi-agency group.
“We fully support the critical work police and DCFS officers and HSA psychologists have already started in this office and can only thank them on behalf of the future generations they are working to protect,” McLaughlin said.
The MASH office is not a “walk-in” facility, but anyone wanting to report a concern regarding a child can contact DCFS at 949-0290 or George Town Police Station at 949-4222, or email [email protected]