Trinidad: Report reveals ‘irregularities’ at children’s homes

Port Of Spain –Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Gender and Child Affairs, Ayanna Webster-Roy, says she is “heartbroken” after an independent investigation into children’s homes found a number of irregularities.

The report by a cabinet-appointed team chaired by retired Appeal Court judge, Judith Jones, found that among the irregularities were children at some of these residences being subjected to secret trips with unapproved adults; transactions involving narcotics for sex; gang rape initiations; and former residents living at the homes of staff members.

The report was laid in the Parliament last Friday and, in a statement, Webster-Roy said: “As a mother, I am heartbroken that abuses were reported in facilities vested with the charge to care and protect the nation’s children.

“I remain resolute in my quest to ensure that this matter is addressed with urgency,” she said.

According to the Jones report, the existing legislation facilitates the unequal treatment of children in community residences; and also found an unwillingness to enforce licensing requirements for children’s homes.

Among the recommendations advanced to ensure the safety of the children and to combat child abuse in children’s facilities, it listed the urgent organisational redesign of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago to improve service delivery as the first pillar on the list.

The other recommendations include the ongoing development of clear and measurable standards for people interacting with children in executing the National Child Protection Strategy; the standardisation of critical reports among community residences; the maintenance of caregiver to child ratio at community residences and child support centres; the training of security personnel in treating with children in residential care; and the establishment of a children’s commissioner.

It recommended that the power to issue, suspend and revoke licences, currently the responsibility of the Children’s Authority, be placed with the Children’s Commissioner who will report directly to Parliament.

“The role and functions of the commissioner would be akin to those of an ombudsman. We note that over the years there has been a consistent call for the establishment of such an office. This is also consistent with international best practice,” said the report.

“Having reviewed the report, Cabinet agreed to the appointment of an Inter-Agency Task Force to devise a work plan for the implementation of the recommendations.”

The task force is scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting on May 4, to commence the development of the work plan, with a timeframe of six weeks from the date of commencement of meeting to submit the completed plan to the Cabinet.

“I wish to assure the nation that whilst the task force is undertaking its work, critical action will continue toward the implementation of some of the recommendations, which are already in train by various ministries,” she said, adding that an estimated TT$126.08 million is available to ­undertake and expedite the various projects. (CMC)

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