LIVE FEED: 2nd National Conference on Children's Wellbeing

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Insite is currently attending the 2nd National Conference on Children’s Wellbeing organised by The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society (PFWS). Follow this live feed to keep up with all that is being discussed at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta.

14:30 Lunch was great, we’re now separated into 4 different workshops, so it’s time for our live feed to end. We’ll be publishing an article summarising the workshops later on this evening, so stay tuned!

13:08 The panel is over, and so we’re off to our next break, this time the Insiters shall be filling up their stomach thanks to the excellent catering provided here. We shall also be shifting our tables to the Old University, just a block away.

13:00 Kevin Borg, a peadiatrician, comments that the Maltese system lacks a network of professionals who work together to safeguard children. Protecting children is not just the role of a few professionals, but of every professional who somehow works with children.

12:59 Elaine Compagno takes the floor to comment about how we force children to do certain actions, such as forcing them to hug someone. Ms. Compagno sees a link between these actions and exploitation of these children as adults, as they may feel powerless or an inability to say ‘no’.

12:51 Comments from the floor show a general agreement that adults tend to speak on the behalf of children, when in reality, they are more than capable of speaking for themselves.

12:43 Norah Gibbons - No young person under the age of 18 should be interviewed without an adult present, be it a professional or a parent, in order to try reduce the exploitation which children can experience.

12:41 Danielle Douglas - while she cannot say when a child is ready to form and communicate their own views, as a mother she is aware that even babies can communicate what they want and don’t want [mainly by her baby spitting mango at her face, the joys of motherhood - Mel]. Douglas reiterates that adults may think that they are listening to children, but in reality they are not when they think that a child is too young to speak about their wants.

12:39 Astrid Podsiadlowski comments that there is a need for EU directives to be transposed into each member state’s laws in order for them to be utilised.

12:37 The delegates present at today’s conference are invited to give their interventions to the panelists.

12:33 Children should be well prepared for their court hearing, and it is important for professionals to build a bond with the child first - because you are expecting them to trust you and tell you the entire truth.

12:24 According to Ms. Gibbons, in the not so distant past, children were considered as property. Therefore, childhood was commonly considered as a time when children are powerless, or on the other extreme - a threat to society. Ms. Gibbons comments that we need to see why children act the way they do, and understand them.

12:23 “People need to understand and be understood. People will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel” - Ms. Gibbons, quoting Aristotle.

12:22 The final speaker for this panel discussion is Norah Gibbons, President of Eurochild, and she will be speaking about juvenile justice.

12:13 Positive role models can be missing for children in care. 70% of sex workers were in some form of alternative care in the UK. 44$ of girls and 30% of boys who were in care are arrested as adults.

12:01 Ms. Douglas explains a very interesting experiment conducted about justice and fairness with monkeys. [If you’re interested in this experiment, you can access it here. It’s easier for you to watch it, rather than me explaining it to you.]

11:59 The interpretation and understanding of justice changes with different cultures and ages.

11:54 “When I attend conferences about alternative care, the discourse is generally negative, which can be frustrating. But we do have a lot to improve” - Ms. Douglas

11:52 Danielle Douglas takes to the stand. She will be speaking about children in alternative care. She is on the board in the International Foster Care Association.

11:47 “Detention is not in the best interest of the child” - Astrid Posiadlowski, Fundamental Rights Agency, Asylum Seeking Children.

11:41 One of the recommendations which emerged from research related to children and court proceedings was to have one person who would be in contact with the child, and this person would also follow-up with the child after. This way, children would not be forced to meet many new people, which could be confusing and scary.

11:33 Astrid Podsiadlowski takes the stand. It is not standard practice for children to be informed of their judicial rights, states Podsiadlowaki. Further, children are anxious about their court hearings. Podsiadlowski will be speaking about safeguards to children in court hearings, such as the use of video conferencing and trying to reduce the amount of times a child is expected to repeat something.

11:30: Naomi Bugre will be chairing the next panel discussion on Child-Friendly Justice from the Child’s Perspective.

10:55 Well done for such a great discussion! We are now going for our coffee break… you’ll find the Insiters downing their coffees as if it were water…We’ll be back soon.

10:50 We need to be able to have the services working well together so that children do not have to wait 6 years before they are given a care order to be removed from their families, because those 6 years can be considered an eternity by the children - Marta Santos Pais

10:47 Maryann Gauci, head of Appogg, comments that children need to be empowered to understand that they may be silent now, but when they are ready to speak there will be someone who will listen to them.

10:43 Dr. Daniela Zerafa, a foster carer and a social work lecturer at University, comments that research has shown that social workers remove children from their family as a last resort, when there is no other way. Of course, more resources can be developed to further help both parents and children. Children who are taken away from their biological families deserve the best access to justice which we can offer them.

10:41 Dr. Cachia, Commissioner for Mental Health in Malta, comments that there is a mental health component which should be at the forefront of anyone working within this area. These children are vulnerable, and their mental health problems will not appear immediately, but they will show up later on in life, because they were not given the appropriate help when it was initially needed.

10:40 Regina Jensdottir claims that some children do have excellent alternative care provided to them, but her main message was that children should grow within a family system.

10:36 If children are in alternative care, then these modes of care should have the best practices possible - Marta Santos Pais.

10:31 Marta Santos Pais comments that lawyers see justice as a means of establishing the truth, but the justice to reach truth needs to be supportive of those who are not experts on the topic (such as children). Children tell very little when they have so much more to tell about their experiences. And without the right support, children will be traumatised, leading to particular issues when they’re older, such as self-harm.

10:28 Andrew Azzopardi comments about why it is ideal for children to be in families, but sometimes they need to be in alternative care. Therefore, Azzopardi comments that we should not look at alternative care in such a negative way, as that hurts the children who have no choice but to live in alternative care.

10:26 Dr. Anna Vella - “Children would rather be silent about their plight and their problems”, and so it’s up to us to show children that they should not be silent.

10:24 Dr. Tonio Azzopardi “Where is the psychiatrist who said that the child was acting normally?”. Mr. Azzopardi claims that the daughter showed signs that she was compelled to lie, and so he wonders where the professionals are who would have been able to show that the child was lying.

10:22 Tonio Azzopardi, Human Rights Lawyer, takes the microphone. He defended a man who was accused of defiling his daughter. He was condemned to prison, even though he was innocent. He served 400 days in prison, and in the meantime Dr. Azzopardi questioned the child, who had turned 18, and thus he was allowed to interview her. This allowed him to prove to the court that the child was lying about the defilement. [For those of you who keep up with the news, this news emerged around a year ago, and it was quite a hot issue - Mel]

10:13 1 in 5 migrant children are sexually abused, and 80% of these victims are abused by a member of their family.

10:07 Malta was one of the biggest campaigners to release a book to teach parents on how to speak to their children about sexual abuse. [Well done Malta! Let’s keep fighting abuse, and let’s learn how to talk to children about abuse in a way they can understand. That is the only way to help children to show that they have been abused, for justice to be served - Mel]

10:05 The rights of children should be promoted by schools, families, and professionals - Ms. Jensdottir. Further, should children have to be detained, then their dignity and rights should still be protected.

10:00 We can only give children 2 things: roots and wings. Roots to give them stability, and a means to grow; and wings, to allow them to explore and achieve. Roots come from the family environment, and so families should be kept together - so long as it is in the best interests of the child. In 46 European countries, 1.5 million children live in alternative care, away from their families. This is detrimental to their psychosocial development.

09:55 Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Child Rights Division of the Council of Europe, takes to the stand.

09:49 A video is shown to the delegates. The video shows a young person - Abraham M. Keita - who’s father died in the war, and who’s mother is poor. Last year he won the international children’s peace award for demanding justice for children who were victims of sexual and physical violence.

If you want to get to know more about Mr. Keita, I found his speech when he won his award.

09:48 Over a million children experience violence every year, all over the world. The majority of these children are within the Child Protection System, which should be protecting them instead.

09:45 Effective training of professionals is essential to protect children. It is important for professionals to help children trust and understand the system, while also understanding the silence children use to communicate.

09:43 In some countries, stoning or amputation is still used as a mode of discipline against children - Ms. Pais.

09:40 Ms. Pais states that she particularly concerned with children who are met with the justice system in a negative way - those who are arrested or detained by the criminal justice system. She highlights some strategies:

  • For the justice system to protect the rights of children, the legal system must prohibit all violence against children - including violence used for discipline or control. Parents should not have the right to allow someone else to be violent towards their children.

  • Deprivation of liberty should only be as a last resort.

09:37 Children experiencing conflict go through trafficking, sexual abuse, being separated from their parents, and these children have no idea what their destination is. Further, more often than not, children are not referred to the suitable professionals needed to help them. Therefore, these children are deprived of liberty, and any legal protection.

09:35 The children that Ms. Pais spoke to spoke about the city that they dream of, a city which has no violence or conflict. Violence impacts children, and violence can be prevented, according to the study quoted by Ms. Pais.

09:30 Marta Santos Pais takes to the stand. She has more than 30 years worth of experience in the topic of children rights. She will be speaking about justice, and zero violence against children. She will also speak about the effect of armed conflict on children.

09:28 The conference aims to make the justice system, and all the professionals involved, more considerate of children. And the momentum created by these 2 days could create the needed hype to make this happen.

09:24 The reason for today’s topic - that of access to justice - comes from the consultative councils, where it emerged that vulnerable groups found it difficult to access justice, mainly due to the lack of empowerment of children and youth to access justice. The conference will focus on children in care, migrant children and children suffering violence.

09:23 Ruth Farrugia, the director-general of the PFWS, takes the stand.

09:21 The PFWS has created a children’s and young people’s council which aims to be a consultative council for children and youth people to be heard, while also being equipped with the knowledge needed to further their lives and achieve their dreams - and enjoy their rights.

09:19 I would like to add a sidebar that Insite shall be uploading photos throughout the day, so do check them out in order to really appreciate today’s conference - particularly the room in which we are, which is utterly gorgeous.

09:18 We must be vociferous that children’s voices are essential in the battle for justice - claims Her Excellency, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

09:13 “The wellbeing of children of increasing importance in today’s society” - Her Excellency, “access to justice is a basic human right, to continue nurturing and protecting the dignity of all”. Her Excellency comments that by 2020, 30 million children will be living in poverty around the world. And only a small number of oppressed children are empowered to come forward and demand for change.

09:11 Her Excellency, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca takes the stand. Her Excellency starts by welcoming and introducing the delegates present.

Image: Manuel Xuereb

09:09 The conference has begun, throughout this day there shall be delegates from both the local and international scene to speak about their views and experiences.

8:46 Registration is open, and people from all walks of life and professions are pouring in.

08:40 Good morning everyone, Insite is proud to be present at today’s conference on Child Wellbeing: Access to Justice for Vulnerable Children. We shall be keeping you updated on all that is happening today.

Written by

Mel McElhatton

Mel McElhatton

Melissa McElhatton who has recently graduated with a BA (hons) in Social Work started out with Insite as a writer, then as CEO, and following as Social Policy Associate. She is also currently President of Gender Equality Malta (GEM).

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