Survey will help tackle child abuse
Levels of child abuse and family problems are to be surveyed in an attempt to tackle a growing problem, a child protection expert has said.
Stephanie Guthman, director of specialised training and assessment at charity Family Centre, added that abuse, neglect and problems in the home took a toll on children and led to developmental damage.
Dr Guthman said that all children deserved the best start in life.
However, she added: “Sadly, too many children in Bermuda don’t have access to this kind of healthy and stable start.”
She was speaking during a presentation on her work at Hamilton Rotary Club this week.
Dr Guthman said a US study on adverse childhood experiences highlighted the toll that early troubles could take later in life.
Risk factors include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as divorce or having a parent in prison — all of which could have a “negative, lasting effect on health and wellbeing”.
Dr Guthman said adverse childhood experiences were the “biggest single issue facing children in the United States”.
She wants to conduct a similar study in Bermuda to “address the rising issue in Bermuda for the benefit of Bermuda’s children”.
A survey by charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets earlier this year found that one in three Bermudians had been a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18.
Dr Guthman said about 600 allegations of child abuse were reported to the Department of Child and Family Services in 2009.
She added that a memorandum of understanding was being drawn up between Family Centre and the Bermuda Health Council to conduct the survey.
Dr Guthman said paediatricians in the US were now carrying out universal screenings with “early and effective” action taken where needed.
She explained: “These include mental health intervention, case management to help the family get the resources they need to overcome their situation or to prevent the child from being exposed to even more adverse childhood experiences.
“The next step would be to provide therapies that help to counter the effects of trauma on the developing brain and body of a child.”
Dr Guthman said the aim in Bermuda was to “bridge research and practice”.
Family Centre will host a two-day conference in Hamilton in October on problems that affect children.
Dr Guthman said that preliminary statistics collected by Family Centre and the BHC on the problem would be unveiled at the event.