NEWS FROM ARUBA

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The children's telephone has been around in Aruba for 22 years. It was founded in 1999 by a group of people who mainly wanted to offer a listening ear to the children in Aruba. Over the years, they have professionalised and entered into partnerships, among others with Setar N.V., the Ministry of Telecommunications, Biblioteca Nacional, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of Education, Social Affairs Department and Bureau Sostenemi.

We spoke with James Sneek, Director at the Child Helpline and, together with Sacha Geerman, a member of the International Taskforce Children's Rights on behalf of Aruba. ‘Twenty-two years later, the child helpline is available every day and plays a central role on the island,’ says James, ‘especially in the preventive sector.’ Children and youngsters know how to find the child helpline as a referral station, but also at times when they simply want to share something with someone.

 

The child helpline can be reached in various ways. Via telephone line 131, via email and a chat system, all free of charge and anonymously. The app was also launched in 2014 and it turned out to be a great success with more than 4000 downloads within a year. Via the 131 app, children and youngsters can also contact the mentors of the child helpline. They can choose from 42 emotions on the app, so that a mentor immediately knows how to make contact. They can then choose to call, email or chat. The app also contains a small social map with organizations that can be important for children and youngsters. In addition to being useful, kids can also play games with the app's avatar.

The child helpline aims to prevent problems arising for children and youngsters as much as possible and for this reason is proactive in outreach. For the child helpline, this meant that, in addition to the opening hours of the child helpline, they started to focus on providing information within society. ‘We are well aware of what is going on among them through the conversations with the children and youngsters,’ says James. Based on the topics that are discussed most often, the child helpline gives lectures, workshops and training at schools, scouting, after-school care, the Rotary, Kiwanis and more. Each year they reach an average of 9,000 children, youngsters, parents and professionals.

 

In 2020, the schools closed on March 16, which meant that the lectures, workshops and training sessions could no longer take place there. ‘We had to fight to stay open,’ says James, ‘but after 3 reports of suicidal tendencies, we got permission from the crisis team.’ In addition, they had to introduce extra hygiene measures, including how to properly sanitize the telephones when changing shifts. During the lockdown, the child helpline was able to stay open and they also took the opportunity to digitize all lectures. When the schools reopened in mid-May, they immediately gave a workshop called "E Normal Nobo", The New Normal. With this workshop, the child helpline has mainly focused on offering children and youngsters the space to share how they experienced the lockdown. In particular, they found themselves struggling with the mental pressure of distance learning and having to miss grandparents, friends and after-school activities.

Before the pandemic, Child Helpline collaborated with St. Eustatius to setup a Helpline there, but due to the small scale of the island, it was decided that reports from St. Eustatius would be accepted in Aruba. In March, April and May of 2020, they also accepted the reports of those children and youngsters via an email address. This construction is currently on hold pending collaboration with the telephone services of both islands.

For 2021, there is an update scheduled to the app. ‘We want children who for example are illiterate or dyslexic, to still be able to contact us,’ says James, ‘which is why we want to introduce the option to send us voice notes.’ They are working on expanding the group of mentors and establish new collaboration protocols with organizations as well.

NEWS FROM BONAIRE

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As one of the Kingdom’s Children’s Rights Task Force issues, Bonaire’s team has taken the initiative to work on four pillars in regard to domestic violence; offering shelter to domestic violence victims, promotion of expertise for professionals, a Support Helpline and legislation within the justice system. 

Silvana Janga-Serfilia and Reginald de Palm, make up the Kingdom’s Task Force on Bonaire and we spoke to Ingrid Sealy, leading the efforts against domestic violence, about the developments in 2020 and what’s in store for 2021.

The focus in 2020 has been on the Support Helpline for domestic violence and child abuse. It hasn’t officially launched yet, but they have already been taking on cases through other institutions. They have done crisis interventions, where they arranged shelter for many victims and were able to place them elsewhere. Women’s shelters are typically full, with little flux, but the team has been able to arrange alternative shelters for their clients. Some clients have been placed outside of Bonaire as well.

 

Many cases were brought to them through youth services or the police, but they have noticed that individuals have also started to know and use the reporting hotline. They plan to officially launch the hotline and website later this year to make it easier for individual clients as well as professionals to reach them. Professionals can contact the hotline as well, mostly for advice.

Four professionals have been trained to man the hotline and be equipped to handle the incoming calls. Besides these professionals they have also trained what they call ‘attention officers’. Professionals who already work with people, have received specialized training in domestic violence and child abuse. They have been trained to recognize the signs and develop an in-house roadmap to advice co-workers on how to handle clients that may be victims of domestic violence or child abuse.

 

Ingrid and her co-worker Desire Frans have trained several institutions like the police force, social workers and people in the medical sector, about the legal aspects of outreach to the hotline or reporting a case. Training about what steps to follow before reporting a case, the privacy of the victim, how to record information and what falls under their authority but also what doesn’t. ‘Bonaire is a small community,’ says Ingrid, ‘and many people don’t know that they need permission from their client before they share information with us. The client also needs to be informed about exactly what they’re giving permission for.’

 

For 2021, the local government will establish a policy plan for tackling domestic violence and child abuse. The Taskforce team plans to work on an awareness campaign about domestic violence and child abuse where forces are pooled together with other institutions on the island.

 

On a parallel track, they’re working towards opening a Family Justice Center. A place where victims can find all services under one roof. ‘Imagine that you’re a victim of domestic violence,’ says Ingrid, ‘and you need to go to the police, then to the doctor, then to social work and who knows where next. Somewhere along this route you’re very likely to decide to go home instead of knocking on another door to repeat the same story and get help.’ With the Family Justice Center there will be only one door a victim has to knock on to reach all professionals at once.

If all goes according to plan, the Family Justice Center will open early 2022 and in the meantime the team is spending 2021 to work on establishing collaborations with the different stakeholders and ensure their commitment to the center. This is also a necessary part to be able to understand what every partner’s needs are within such a location.

NEWS FROM STATIA

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Statia may be a small island, but it is rich in potential. Dirkje de Jong and Monica Smith represent Statia in the Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights. Monica joined last year in May and spoke to us about developing a Parenting Information Center, which will have information on everything from prenatal-family planning to preparing adolescents for leaving home and going abroad to study. The Center will serve as a consultation office where parents can walk in for advice on their child’s development and will also be able to join parenting workshops and training.

 

In 2020, Monica identified and contacted children’s rights stakeholders and made note of all the places on the island where children spend time. These were done to understand stakeholders’ ongoing projects and challenges as well as where the Taskforce might need to implement intervention programs for children. The Taskforce also conducted a sample survey on parents' experiences with distance learning during the lockdown. This resulted in valuable recommendations for the Ministry, local government organizations and schools.

 

The Taskforce’s priorities for 2021 include conducting more workshops and training and promoting more information-based interventions. They will also work on an early identification structure for children with special needs. Monica noted that “early family support is essential and should be easily accessible for all parents.”

To promote the Parenting Information Center in the community, the Taskforce has created information folders and flyers and has been giving presentations on the prevention tasks of the public entity, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the new pedagogical advisor to parents in daycares, schools, and afterschool programs.

NEWS FROM ST. MAARTEN

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We spoke to Soraya and Faye, both are from the Department of Youth in St. Maarten, to learn more about the main project they have been working on in 2020, the Youth Desk. The youth desk was established in 2015 as an outcome after the Youth Round-Table Conference in 2013, where almost 300 youngsters between 0-24 years old, came together to discuss topics ranging from sports, culture, national identity. Recommendations that came out of the conference were used to review programs within Sint Maarten’s Integrated Youth Policy (IYP), as well as to discuss and explore new initiatives to achieve the indicators outlined in the IYP.

 

A subsequent survey involving 1675 responses provided strong support for the establishment of the Youth Desk, which functions as an information point for youth. The Department also organized an innovation contest through which they asked youth what they felt were relevant topics for the Youth Desk to address. Teenage pregnancy and immigration were the two topics that received the most mentions by the respondents.

The Youth Desk started off as a pilot project and operated for a couple of years during which time they organized several activities, but had to close and relocate in 2017 due to the devastation caused by hurricane Irma. In 2019 Soraya and Faye resumed their work after former Minister Smith expressed willingness to re-open the Youth Desk.

 

The Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights team in Sint Maarten is working to re-establish the Youth Desk. They already have a location and are creating new programs which are in line with the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC). There will be a Business Outreach and Placement Program, an awareness campaign on children’s rights, a teenage pregnancy prevention campaign as well as programs for bullying, peer pressure and general life skills.

The Government of Sint Maarten takes a holistic approach to youth development. The Department of Youth supports and guides all other ministries regarding youth issues. The Youth Desk will operate at an inter-ministerial level and ensure that all seven ministries are represented in the Youth Desk’s programs. For example, if a youngster has a question about study financing, s/he will be able to go to the Youth Desk on a specific day to speak to a representative of the Ministry of Education. The Youth Desk will offer support and advice to parents as well.

Soraya noted that the main goal of the Youth Desk is “to enhance youth participation, share information, and to ensure that Government and NGOs work on possibilities for the youth and support projects that come out of the Youth Desk.”

 

The Youth Desk is also developing mechanisms that will enable them to collect information in a standardized manner. “We are working on collaborating with the youth council as well to give them a stronger voice and to help them be heard,” Soraya said.  They will also inspire other youth to take up leadership positions under the guidance of a coordinator. This will be done by empowering youth to design and assist in coordinating and executing awareness and school sensitization campaigns.

 

Right now, the team is awaiting confirmation of the location where the Youth Desk will be based. In the meantime, they are working at raising awareness of the Youth Desk via radio interviews, media releases and school visits around the island.

The Department of Youth has seen delays in the execution of this project due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite this and Sint Maarten’s delicate financial situation, the Government has decided to launch the Youth Desk by November 2021. The Department plans to open a physical location soon but for now it is focused on expanding its services digitally with the help of UNICEF NL through the Trust Fund of the World Bank.