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More protections sought for at-risk children

Better communication among government departments, police and other agencies could help to prevent vulnerable children from “falling through the cracks”, a child protection group said yesterday.

The Coalition for the Protection of Children added that improved co-ordination would help to form the basis of a national action plan to safeguard minors.

Kelly Hunt, the organisation's executive director, welcomed sweeping legislation tabled by senators to tackle child abuse and exploitation but also made a number of recommendations for further progress.

She said: “For too long, government departments, law enforcement and helping agencies have all sat in their silos duplicating efforts or passing the buck.

“This has resulted in children falling through the cracks and not receiving the critical support they deserve. This must change if we are going to do better with child safeguarding.”

The Child Safeguarding (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2019 was tabled in the Senate last Wednesday after Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs, explained it would bring Bermuda's laws into line with an internationally recognised “gold standard” on child protection.

Ms Hunt added: “It is noted that there are provisions for a multiservice approach to children's issues in this Bill.

“The development of a National Plan of Action is an exciting prospect for children in Bermuda.

“Improving the co-ordination of services that allows for the responsible and protected sharing of information, used solely for the implementation and efficacy of child safety measures, will be foundational for advancement.

“It should be required that all allegations of child abuse reported to DCFS be equally shared with police. Currently, this is not the general practice.”

Ms Hunt outlined the CPC's comments on the Bill, which has still to be passed by MPs, in a comprehensive response in The Royal Gazette today.

She said: “This is a vital leap forward for child rights and child protection in Bermuda.

“First, we want to commend the Government for making these historic and necessary changes for child safeguarding.

“This Bill demonstrates that the welfare of our youth is of great importance and we look forward to working together to continue improving the lives of our young people.”

Ms Hunt said the proposals were “on the right track”, but more could be done.

The CPC said the range of prohibited jobs for registered sex offenders should be widened to include all school staff and that anyone who worked or volunteered with children should produce a certificate to confirm they were not on the sex offender register.

Ms Hunt added: “Private companies, churches and organisations should not wait for this to be mandated in law, but rather lead by example.”

She said that an app should be created for children to report abuse or suicidal impulses and that the island “must evolve to meet the need for online child abuse crisis intervention”.

Ms Hunt added that the CPC was “pleased to highlight several aspects of this Bill that are worthy of celebration”.

But she said: “To provide children with a stronger safety net for the prevention, intervention and treatment of crimes against young people, we must work better together.”

Kelly Hunt, executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children (Fle photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published July 23, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated July 23, 2019 at 9:17 am)

More protections sought for at-risk children

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