The Ministry of Social Protection, Childcare and Protection Agency, and UNICEF in collaboration with local NGO Blossom Inc. formally opened a new Children’s Advocacy Centre (CAC) in Bartica, Region 7. This brings the total number of CACs launched across Guyana to six. The location of the centre was selected based on the high reports of child sexual abuse cases in the region. The CACs operate using a Multi-Disciplinary Team approach in which professionals from several disciplines – including law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical, victim support advocate – work in partnership to make decisions about the investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases.CAC are also known as “One Stop Centres” where children and their non-offending family members receive all the services and support that they require, all in one place.
Present at the event was His Worship, Mayor Gifford Marshall, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Guyana and Surinam, Mr Paolo Marchi, Deputy Director of the Childcare and Protection Agency, MsTionna October, Managing Director of Blossom Inc., Mrs Ayo Dalgety-Dean, Officer-in-Charge of Region 7, Mr Khemraj Shivbaran and other stakeholders from the Ministry of Education – Schools’ Welfare Department, Red Thread and the Gender Affairs Committee of Region 7.
In his opening address Mr. Marshall lauded the opening of the centre because of the high incidences of child sexual abuse in the Region and was happy that systems were being put in place to protect our children. He stated that he embraced the project and believes it is a step in the right direction; giving the full support of the region. Ms. October indicated that child protection is everyone’s business and that the state cannot address child protection issues solely. She said “it takes a collaborative effort to deliver caring and effective services and that the one stop centres are established for children who have been victims of child sexual abuse to provide much needed support for forensic interviews, aftercare services and to bring perpetrators to justice.
UNICEF Representative, Mr Marchi,in his remarks recalled President Granger had identified Region 7 as leading the “green initiative” and humbly added to this sentiment by urging residents to be a green state free from all forms of violence against children. He said with the opening of the new centre, Bartica has moved one step forward in defending children’s rights and ensuring all are protected from violence, neglect and abuse. On the issue of violence against children, Mr Marchi emphasised that apart from providing services, raising awareness and changing legislation, there needs to be a shift in mindset, which he believes is the next important step. He stated that parents often think violence is a good way to raise their children or an appropriate response to a child’s undesirable behaviour; however, this is not the case, it is important to understand the reasons why such an approach is used and work towards changing societal mind-set in that regard.
Mrs. Dalgety-Dean stressed the importance of the multi-disciplinary way of working to safeguard our children and emphasised the goal which is to coordinate a timely, comprehensive, and multi-disciplinary response to child sexual abuse and child abuse in general.
The CAC will provide our children with a safe, agency-neutral, child-focused setting where they will only be required to relate their traumatic experience once. She went on to state that CAC is part of the system being implemented to combat child sexual abuse.