Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Child Protection Charity set up on the Rock

Abuse and neglect cases to be targeted

A new charity in Gibraltar is setting up a dedicated telephone service to provide counselling, advice and assistance to local children in need.

Childline Gibraltar, whose patron is Lady Richards, (the wife of The Governor Sir Francis Richards) aims to provide a point of contact for children, parents and members of the public in Gibraltar requiring help, guidance or support with matters affecting the welfare or well being of children.

Trained volunteers will man a special helpline and offer advice on problems such as abuse, neglect, exploitation, addiction to drugs, or any other issue that may be affecting a child.

The charity’s founders have been at work on the project for several months and initially conducted extensive research to establish whether or not the service was needed here.

“We found that all these problems exist, to some extent or other, in Gibraltar,” said Les Roberts, chairman of Childline Gibraltar’s trustees.

“Research has led us to believe that the service will be useful and will be used.”

Mr Roberts was speaking during a presentation on Monday night to an audience of professionals and volunteers with close involvement in child protection and welfare.

They included Lady Richards, the Attorney General Ricky Rhoda QC, social workers, health workers, teachers, lawyers and counsellors, among others.

From the outset, Childline Gibraltar has worked to establish close relationships with the various statutory bodies involved in child protection and welfare, including key agencies such as the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP), the Social Services Agency, the Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) and the Education Department.

This is vital because, in extreme circumstances, certain calls may have to be referred to the authorities for official intervention.

The charity’s main aim, however, is to provide “primary assistance in order to prevent cases from having to be referred to the authorities, such as the police and social services department, which historically have often been the only options available.”

The charity is benefiting from the knowledge and experience of one of its trustees, John Morris, who has worked as a social worker for 35 years, including 20 years working with the UK-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The NSPCC is the UK’s leading charity in this sphere and, amongst many other initiatives, runs a dedicated Child Protection Helpline that is providing the blueprint for the service Childline Gibraltar is setting up locally.

In October, the NSPCC’s John Cameron will visit Gibraltar to run a training course for eight people – six volunteers and two staff members from the Education Department – who will then become the local trainers for the volunteers who will eventually man the phones.

Those volunteers, about 30 in total to start with, will be trained at the beginning of next year and it is hoped the service will go live by Easter in 2006.

A number of safeguards, including checks by the RGP, will be carried out to ensure the suitability of each volunteer.

As well as the phone lines, Childline Gibraltar also plans to set up a website enabling people to seek advice via email too.

Gibtelecom has offered the charity ample assistance and has provided a catchy phone number for the helpline.

The charity is initially targeting to have the phones manned between 4pm and 12pm daily.

The presentation this week generated a lively question and answer session as the guests asked probing questions about the charity and its objectives. Attention was drawn to the need to ensure that every possible safeguard was put in place to protect callers who could potentially be in extremely vulnerable circumstances.

One senior official in the audience also told the Chronicle that it was important to ensure that statutory bodies had adequate resources to cope with any increase in their workload arising from referrals through Childline Gibraltar.

But it was clear that the overall sense was that the charity could provide a valuable enhancement to the existing child protection services, and that the work to set it up was being carried out meticulously and to the highest-possible standards.

And throughout his address on Monday, Mr Roberts stressed that one of the key goals was to help reduce the workload of statutory bodies by providing a ‘gatekeeper’ service that resolved problems before they got out of hand and became so serious they had to be referred.

As the training programme starts in the coming months, Childline Gibraltar will organise parallel events to raise the charity’s profile. This will include an awareness campaign in local schools and a competition for children to design the charity’s logo.

Anyone wanting to find out more about the charity can write to Childline Gibraltar at PO Box 1420, Gibraltar.

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