Child protection staff receive 18 referrals
Child protection staff workers have had 18 new referrals in the past 3½ weeks, the Minister of Legal Affairs revealed yesterday.
Kathy Lynn Simmons said the complaints had all been made to the Department of Child and Family Services since March 24.
She added: “We know that during this extended shelter-in- place period children in abusive situations may be more susceptible to incidences of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect as they remain in their homes.”
Ms Simmons said that there had been ten reports related to children exposed to domestic or family violence. One child was said to be exposed to moral danger — behaviour such as drug trafficking, prostitution, theft or other criminal behaviour.
Ms Simmons added that there had been one report about lack of supervision of a child, two of child-on-child sexual abuse, two reports of physical abuse and two referrals that involved parental drug use.
She said: “Investigations are under way and DCFS workers are making contact with the parents to ensure that safety plans are in place.”
Ms Simmons said that DCFS staff had supported clients through video conferences and telephone calls over the shelter- in-place restrictions and that the department also helped with provision of groceries and medicines, as well as linking families to social services resources.
She reminded members of the public that reports of violence that involved adults only should be directed to the Centre Against Abuse or the Bermuda Police Service, or both.
Ms Simmons said: “Since March 30, the Centre Against Abuse has reported that they answered over 34 calls on their hotline, worked with five clients to complete filing six domestic violence protection orders; and assisted four families with safe shelters.
“Between March 23 and April 13, 2020, the courts have issued 13 domestic-violence protection orders.”
She added: “We share the concerns of the Centre Against Abuse and note that there are persons in our community who are in abusive situations, but are not ready to take the step of leaving their abusers.”
Ms Simmons said that safety tips from the CAA for abuse victims included, if possible, leaving the house when a partner’s mood changed for the worse.
She added that safe havens should also be identified, such as rooms with windows and doors and without access to weapons such as knives or bottles.
Ms Simmons told abuse victims: “If violence is unavoidable and you are stuck and cannot escape, crouch right down on the floor and curl up into a small ball on the floor with your face towards the floor and protected and your hands over your head and your elbows covering the sides of your face.
“If possible, always keep your phone on you so you can call 911. Ask a neighbour to call 911 should they hear anything from your home.
“Ask your children to call 911 should they hear or see any abuse. Set up a secret code word like ‘Rona’ with a close friend or family member that you can send to them, so they know that it means to call 911 for you.”
Ms Simmons added: “Teach your children to get out of the house safely.
“If you can, reach out and talk to trusted family and friends to release your stress.”
Ms Simmons said: “As the public health crisis persists, we must critically assess and safeguard the needs and rights of minor children and their parents who are the subject of court-ordered arrangements.”
She highlighted that the shelter-in-place rules meant that “a minor child of parents who do not live together shall remain at the home where the child is living on commencement of these regulations until they cease to have effect”.
Ms Simmons said: “This provision has given rise to practical challenges for some parents who fall within this category.”
She added: “I can report ... that the Ministry of Legal Affairs, in consultation with the judiciary, is in the process of considering amendments to the regulations to address practical issues that have arisen for parents who share parental responsibility for minor children and who do not live in the same house.”
She added that more information on the amendments would be released next week.
• To report concerns about the welfare of a child contact the DCFS on-call social worker on 332-0091 or supervisor on 335-9095. In case of an emergency, call 911. The Centre Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline for adult victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault on 297-8278 and 292-4366. The Third Sector Crisis Response Essential Services Contact sheet provides a list of helping agencies at www.gov.bm/coronavirus-resources
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