“As a church community, I would want to implore you to answer the call to protect and prioritize our children,” urged Laurette Adams-Thomas, CEO of Jamaica’s Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), as she recently addressed a gathering of Seventh-day Adventist leaders and over 600 youth leaders and Pathfinders.
The CPFSA is dedicated to ensuring the well-being of children and families across Jamaica.
“Together with the assistance and guidance of the church, we can create a safer and more nurturing environment for our future leaders—our future pastors, teachers, our builders of our nation,” Adams-Thomas continued.
The newly appointed national leader called on churches to make it their responsibility to protect and prioritize children during a special address at the Seventh-day Adventist Conference Center in Mount Salem, Montego Bay, on January 13, 2024.
“Every month, we receive approximately 1,200 reports of child abuse, highlighting what I would say is the harsh reality that many of our children are currently facing,” stated Adams-Thomas. “This issue is not just a statistic; it’s a call to action. It’s a call that echoes throughout our communities that we need to act. Global violence against our children remains a challenge, and unfortunately, Jamaica is not exempt.”
According to Adams-Thomas, a study done by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 80 percent of Jamaican children experience various forms of violence at home. Another 65 percent endure bullying at school.
“This is a stark reminder that our children need our protection; they need our support and guidance now more than ever. That is why the role of the church in protecting and prioritizing our children is so important. It’s not just a responsibility, it’s a divine calling,” Adams-Thomas added.
The event was a Youth Conference and Expo organized by the Jamaica Union, in partnership with IADPA Bookstores and Deli, under the theme “Revived and Renewed.”
Adams-Thomas appealed to children and youth to report any form of abuse—to talk to a trusted adult or someone they could trust.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has, over the years, been educating our members and children of our God-expected responsibility for our children,” said Dr. Lorraine Vernal, director of Women’s and Children’s ministries for Jamaica Union. “We have a zero-tolerance approach for any type of child abuse.”
Dr. Vernal continued, “The issue of child abuse is not for the church to privately deal with because we are guided by the Child Care and Protection Act. We inform members that any act of abuse of our children must be reported to the relevant authorities, including the police.”
Adams-Thomas pointed out that the church can play its role by informing its congregants about child abuse, which can be done through its Sabbath School and youth group gatherings.
Pastor Dane Fletcher, Youth Ministries director for the union, said it was relevant to have the CPFSA reinforce that the church’s priority is to preserve the innocence of youth and protect them from abusers. “The church is not a perfect place. Should there be child abusers in our company, masquerading themselves as caring youth leaders, we wanted to sound the alarm that the Adventist Church has a zero-tolerance approach towards child abuse and violence towards youth.”
Fletcher hopes that the presentation by Adams-Thomas would stem the tide of abuse, irrespective of how “mild” that abuse might be.
Vernal warned perpetrators to desist from this ungodly behavior. “I call on all persons, including parents, teachers, and caregivers who believe that the abuse of our children is their right and privilege, to desist from such belief and behavior, as many are marred for life. I implore you instead to seek professional help through counseling and therapy.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has more than 340,000 members worshiping in more than 730 congregations. The church leads 9,000 Pathfinders, 2,000 Master Guides, and over 1,000 senior youth leaders.