A Child Advocacy Centre to provide services to children who have been physically and sexually abused will begin operation next month.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Thursday to formalise the partnership between local non-governmental organisations Forward Guyana and ChildLink Inc and the Human Services Ministry-run Child Care and Protection Agency (CC&PA) for the operation of the facility.
The centre would be the first of its kind in the Caribbean, according to Forward Guyana, which yesterday announced that it will begin receiving referrals from the CC&PA in October
“This initiative is a genuine partnership between various sectors in Guyana,” Forward Guyana Director Chantalle Haynes was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the NGO. “It is a demonstration of the way that we can vastly improve the level of services we provide and thereby positively impact the lives of ordinary people when government, NGOs and the private sector join forces. We are grateful that the [Ministry] and the CC&PA had a shared vision and were willing to show leadership on this initiative and partner with us,” she added.
According to the statement, Forward Guyana will operate the centre under the Ministry of Human Services’ national child protection programme with oversight from the CC&PA.
It noted that the centre, which is a model used successfully in the United States for over 30 years, would offer a well-furnished, child-friendly environment, staffed by forensic interviewers, counsellors and parenting skills educators. All staffing positions, it added, would be provided ChildLink Inc. for the first year and personnel will be trained by the National Child Advocacy Center (NCAC) based in Huntsville Alabama, who will come to Guyana to deliver the training.
It is envisaged that the centre will provide “a safe, child-friendly location where children will be interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer about the physical or sexual abuse they have experienced.”
Forward Guyana said that a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, including from law enforcement, child protection services, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, mental health services and medical professionals will observe the interview on a screen from an adjoining room and ask questions or request clarifications that they require through an earpiece worn by the interviewer.
“This approach reduces trauma to the child by allowing them to tell their story once instead of moving between several agencies reliving the experience each time they are forced to repeat it. In addition, the multi-disciplinary approach is expected to increase the number of successful prosecutions in child abuse cases,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, Haynes said that Forward Guyana had the support of UNICEF, which has contributed generously to the project with financial support for training and equipment and with technical support.
At the same time, she said that Guyanese in the Diaspora, and local companies, including Digicel, Wartsila Guyana Inc., National Hardware and Starcomm Office Furniture were also sources of financial support, enabling the organisation to commit funds for the first year of operation and to refurbish and renovate the centre.