In what is believed to be a first for the region Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA), issued a direction to establish a protection centre to be called ‘Kanaf’  for child victims of physical and sexual abuse.

 Our Public Safety Leader, Andrew Morley provides a perspective on the key elements required for the success of this type of centre.

 The very thought of causing harm to a child goes against our fundamental instinct to protect them.  This helps makes the issue of child abuse and neglect very difficult to talk about but we must overcome any reluctance to do so for it is happening and on a significant scale.  The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 1 billion children aged 2 – 17 years have experienced physical, sexual, emotional violence or neglect.

Behind these figures are individual cases of suffering which often linger long after any physical injuries have healed. Studies have shown a relationship between being a victim and poor physical and mental health outcomes, and have an impact on social outcomes – education, employment and relationships.

Our region has taken strong steps over the past decade to strengthen child protection measures. Most countries in our region now have targeted legislation in place and services for providing support to victims. There is a momentum around this agenda and a tangible commitment to further strengthen arrangements through innovation.

It is in this context that Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher, a long-time advocate for children’s rights, directed the Child Safety Department of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs to establish Kanaf, a new child protection centre for dealing with allegations of child abuse and neglect.

In developing Kanaf the Child Safety Department draws on the experience of the Nordic countries and their Barnahus or Children’s House model implemented in Iceland in 1998, followed by Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Denmark. However the origins of the model go even further back with work done by the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama in 1985.

 The Children’s House is a child-friendly, interdisciplinary and multi-agency centre for child victims of abuse and neglect, providing assessment, treatment and support to the victims in one location.

Central to the concept is the need stop victims having to re-tell their story to different agencies and in different locations. This can re-traumatize the victim and in some cases evidence suggests that the re-telling of the story can cause further harm on top of that caused by the abuse.  It also allows for a professionalization of the interview process and so make it more likely to secure the best evidence necessary to support any criminal investigation. In Iceland the number of convictions for child abuse went from 45 in the two years before the Children’s House was established to 101 in 2011-2013.

We at Deloitte have some experience in the children’s house model both through my work in London regional Government and through a review of the Children’s Houses in Denmark. This provides a perspective on what will be the key elements of success for this initiative. These can be best summarized through our HEART Framework and its five principles and which we detail here in the hope that it might be helpful.

  • Holistic

Kanaf will want to address all the needs of the child referred to it. This is neither a police station nor a social support centre but a centre that has the child’s experience at the heart of it and the governance, processes, staffing and training needs to support that. The centre will want to have in place a diverse mix of supporting services so that they can meet all of individual needs presented

  • Evidence Based

Strategic and operational decisions should be based on evidence. Data needs to be systemised and designed to ensure that assessment of risk and needs are evidence based using tried and tested tools and methodologies.  Ongoing evaluation of throughput, experience (staff and victims), and impact needs to be an integral element of the centre to inform a culture of continuous improvement and so shape strategic development and the global evidence base.

  • Accessible

Kanaf will want to be conveniently located and have the right physical environment to help children feel comfortable going to the centre, regardless of their age. In the layout and internal decorations proper attention should be paid to design standards that are shown to encourage openness and feelings of safety.

  • Responsive

As and when a child is referred, Kanaf should respond quickly both in terms of process and timeliness of intervention. It also needs to listen to the child to both ensure that they feel that they are an active participant in this process but also to understand what they say; they need to help them feel safe and recover from any trauma. Cultural sensitivities will need be considered as part of this.

  • Trust

Kanaf will want to institutionalize a sense of trust amongst all parties.  There will need to be trust with the victim to encourage openness, trust between the participating agencies to ensure a common objective and to encourage the sharing of information and the trust of the community in that the centre is delivering on its joint objective of supporting the child and ensuring that the best evidence is provided for fair criminal processes.

Under the direction of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Kanaf will blend the very best of international practice with the very specific needs of the region. In developing this provision the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Sharjah will invariably improve the response to allegations of child abuse in Sharjah but also provide a model that others in the region might look to replicate.

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