The Malta Independent 19 October 2018, Friday

‘If a perpetrator can spot vulnerable children, why can’t professionals?’

Thursday, 11 October 2018, 13:37 Last update: about 7 days ago

Psychiatrist Joe Cassar today said Malta lags behind other developed EU countries when it comes to specific trans-disciplinary inter-agency guidelines that safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

He was speaking at a conference on the Forensic Formulations in Child and Adolescent Abuse, an event in which representatives from the Police, the Government, and various NGOs who provide help and support in this area of care and support took part.

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Cassar said “child abuse and child maltreatment is physical, sexual, or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver”.

One of the more ‘reality-checking’ questions he quoted from statements given by victims was “if a perpetrator can spot the vulnerable children, why can’t professionals?” Giving other examples of what victims go through, Cassar said “these statements are a definite eye opener to any system trying to work together in safeguarding children’s holistic wellbeing.”

He ended his speech by encouraging open dialogue between the relevant entities present at the conference, and asking to use it to come up with the “First Malta guide to inter-agency connectivity in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of our children and young adolescents”.

Other speakers at the conference included Police Inspector John Spiteri, who insisted that “adults sometimes underestimate children’s intellectual abilities”. He also focused on the areas of false accusations, false denials by kids, and tunnel vision on the part of the investigators. He highlighted the difficulties in dealing with certain situations because “cases of sexual abuse allegations in situations of marriage separation or custody disputes are very complex and among the most demanding”.

He encouraged the attendees to be optimistic as “the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty, and we are here to be optimistic”.

Mark Musu, who addressed the conference on Minister Michael Falzon’s behalf, said that “children and adolescents are a highly valued component of Maltese society”.

He spoke about the various initiatives the government has, and is, undertaking to further protect and lift-up children.

The Child Protection (Out of Home Care) Bill, which highlights two main points namely the promotion of child friendly justice through study visits and training, and the setting up of a Therapeutic Secure Unit for children who not only need containment but also require therapy.

Other policies mentioned by Musu were the National Children’s Policy, the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion (2014-2024), and the National Strategic Policy for Positive Parenting (2016-2024).

He concluded his speech by expressing confidence in the conference’s ability to “help us better plan the way forward so that together, State, Church and voluntary organizations” will continue to strive to provide the best for our children.

Commissioner for Children Pauline Miceli stated that their guiding principles were the 3 Ps – Promotion, Protection, and Participation. Overall, “giving children a voice is crucial”.

She also went over various forms of abuse encountered by the Office such as, the use of children as pawns in parental separation, grooming (adults posing as children and winning children’s trust with the aim of abusing them), and overprotection and neglect.

Her suggestions on the way forward included things such as raising awareness of children’s rights, the continuous training of professionals including the Judiciary, special protection to avoid re-traumatization, and the implementation of Child Protection Bill.

Operations Director for Agenzija Appogg Ruth Sciberras went into some detail into the various methods and scenarios frequently referred to when tackling these issues.

Magistrate Audrey Demicoli, who is the leading magistrate on child abuse cases, spoke on procedural issues in the judicial system that prevent a seamless way how child abuse cases are dealt with.

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