By Scott Strasser, August 29 2016 —
An international conference addressing child abuse and its prevention took place at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre from August 28–31.
Hosted by the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work, the Congress of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) brought 1,100 attendees from 42 countries to Calgary. The conference focused on child abuse issues worldwide.
“This is a conference in which we bring people together who work in the field of child abuse and child protection to present the latest thinking and developments in the field, with the hope that people will go back to their own environments and continue to work to higher and better levels,” said ISPCAN president Joan Van Niekerk.
According to statistics from the United Nations, 53,000 children are murdered each year and hundreds of millions more are subjected to various forms of abuse, violence and neglect, along with 223 million children who are abused sexually.
U of C dean of Social Work Jackie Sieppert said the conference was a way for industry experts and researchers to address those issues and discuss how to solve them.
“It’s something we all need to talk about and focus on so we can protect children,” Sieppert said. “Child abuse is very common — it happens in every community, in our families, in our friends’ and neighbours’ homes. We need to be talking about it because of that.”
The conference kicked off with a media event on August 28, when members of the Calgary chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) rode their motorcycles down Stephen Avenue.
“There are kids out there today that are living nightmares, and we want the awareness out there to let them know there’s somebody they can turn to,” said BACA’s Calgary chapter president, who goes by Wheels.
The conference included keynote speeches from former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, McGill University professor of social work Cindy Blackstock and film producer Peter Samuelson, who founded the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
Sexually abused by a hockey coach as a child, Kennedy spoke Monday about the impact the experience had on his life. Since ending his hockey career, Kennedy has been an avid spokesperson for the prevention of child abuse. He founded the Sheldon Kennedy Centre for Child Advocacy in May 2013.
Kennedy is also known for roller blading across Canada in 1998 to help bring awareness and funds for sexual abuse victims.
“I think our message today is about hope and solution,” Kennedy said. “That doesn’t happen by just telling your story. It takes time and it takes hard work. I think the therapeutic piece of this is being able to pull individuals and organizations together.”
“The message I wanted to try to get was to connect the dots, paint a little bit of the picture of what happened to [me], connect the dots to the impact and challenge people to work differently,” Sheldon said.
This year marked the first time in 32 years that ISPCAN was held in Canada.