In the wake of an upsurge in incidents of abuse against children, One Step Forward Consultancy, a UK based Social Work company and the Victoria Climbie Foundation are to stage an International Safeguarding Children Conference in Jamaica during Child Month, which will bring together stakeholders from the UK, United States and the Caribbean.
The event which will be held under the theme Every Child Matters in the Caribbean, will take place at the University of the West Indies Mona, on May 15, and has the support of the British High Commission, which hosted the media launch at the High Commission in Kingston on March 20. Every Child Matters (ECM) is a UK government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003.
British High Commissioner to Jamaica, David Fitton, pledged the support of the Mission to the conference, which is one of several initiatives that are being staged by One Step Consultancy in Jamaica during Child Month. The High Commissioner stated that his Mission is pleased to play its part in supporting initiatives that are aimed at enhancing the welfare of children.
Citing the Victoria Climbiétragedy in London in 2000 and the death of Peter Connelly (Baby P), in London seven years later, conference convenor and Managing Director of One Step Forward Consultancy Patricia McKenzie-Thomas told stakeholders that abuse of children is something she witnesses each day as a social worker, “There is no distinction of colour, age, culture, class or financial status,” she pointed out.
However, Mrs McKenzie Thomas with the support of other stakeholders in the UK and the Caribbean, are seeking to use the conference as a catalyst for change. This they hope, will be realized through the networking of professionals and delegates such as Government Agencies involved in child care and protection, Social Workers, Child Protection Officers, Foster Carers, Independent Social Workers, Teachers, Police, Youth Advisors, Project Workers, Nursery Workers, Health and Legal officers, Criminal Justice officers, and all professionals who are involved in the safeguarding of Children.
“It is in making a firm commitment in working together with families and children as practitioners and policy makers, that we will ensure a safe environment for children, in order that their welfare is safeguarded, to offer support, guidance and information to young people and children whom will be our future professionals, workforce and parents,” she expressed, adding that, “We need to share information on quality assurance, risk assessment; investigations and transferring of skills and knowledge of inter agencies in our international working with families, as we work in a world that has become much smaller in aspects of social media, reality TV and cult viewing of satanic practices that fill our homes and the minds of families throughout the world.”
According to Mrs. McKenzie-Thomas, “Every Child Matters is one of the most important policy initiatives and development programmes in relation to children and children's services of the last decade, and has been described as a "sea change" to the children and families agenda. It has been the title of three UK government papers, leading to the Children Act 2004.”
Whilst acknowledging that agencies are in place to protect the welfare of children, Mrs McKenzie- Thomas said there is a need for more resources in line with overseas agencies, working together in investigations. She pointed out that social workers also need to consider how to protect themselves and how to influence the well-being of the nation. She said these are among other key issues related to the protection of children, which will be discussed at the May 15 conference.
Former Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency in Jamaica Carla Francis-Edie, who is the Jamaica representative for the Conference, expressed deep concern that despite the upsurge in incidents of abuse of children, there seemed to be a nonchalant by-stander attitude regarding the safeguarding of children.
“In cities, small towns and communities across Jamaica, many people sit in silence, locked behind their grills or barricaded behind their walls while our children suffer in a private hell of abuse, neglect and poverty,” she said, adding that a recent media report has indicated that over 1500 children have been violently killed in Jamaica since 2001 including more than 15 who were killed since the start of 2015.
She noted that safeguarding children was not merely the responsibility of law makers and child protection agencies “Safeguarding our children must begin in our homes and communities. The conscience of our communities must be stirred to reject child abuse in all forms and to expose the abusers among us. It is also our responsibility as a community to speak out and report child abuse. Laws and policies, although they are critical to protecting our children, by themselves cannot fix the nation’s problem with violence against children.”
She said parents must instil proper values in their children from an early age to ensure that the cycle of proper parenting continues. She also urged parents who have been abused, to seek help that will enable them to break the cycle of abuse.
“As a society, all of us must address this…what seems like an endemic problem is a crucial part of the healing of the nation. We can’t raise up another generation of broken and battered children who will only continue the cycle of abuse and violence.”
Registrar of the Office of the Children’s Registry in Jamaica, Greig Smith, confirmed his Agency’s support of the conference during his address at the launch on March 20. “We stand ready to partner with you and play our part in the success of this conference on behalf of the Ministry of Youth and Culture,” Mr Smith told the gathering.
The International Safeguarding Children’s Conference on May 15 will take the form of presentations, workshops, discussions and exhibitions at the Mona Visitors Lodge University of the West Indies Mona. The event begins at 8:30am and will feature presenters from the UK, United States and the Caribbean. On May 16, organizers will host an evening of networking and entertainment at the venue, starting at 6:30.
In urging support for the conference, Mrs McKenzie Thomas said the matter of safeguarding children was still a work in progress for many countries.
“No country has got it right in the Safeguarding of children. Some countries are doing better but some need more shared resources and supportive working practices and knowledge as seen in and around the Caribbean. I ask that you help to support us in your attendance at the International Safeguarding Children’s Conference, to take a step toward start making those changes to safeguard the children and for us to be more professionally equipped to do so,”