Authority requests more funding to address child abuse

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – Parliament

THE Children Authority is asking for an increase in its subvention to effectively deal with a surge of child abuse cases coming into its system.

Responding to a question on the financial status of the organisation at a Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Social Services and Public Administration meeting on Wednesday, acting director Sharon Morris-Cummings said there was a greater need for the intake and assessment of children.

The breakdown of state funding read out during the sitting revealed the authority received $28.1 million for the period March to September 2018.

It received $64.9 million in 2019, $68.9 million in 2020, $88.7 million in 2021 and for 2022 up to March, the authority was allocated $32.4 million.

Morris-Cummings said, “I think I can speak for a number of state agencies when I say that we would like to receive more funding than we currently receive, especially given the stringency of our economic times.”

From $59.96 million allocated to the Office of the Prime minister in the mid-year review, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the authority would be getting the bulk of this funding at $22.4 million.

And while funding to the authority has consistently increased, Morris-Cummings said more money is still needed to satisfy the increasing demand for child protection and care services.

“We have seen an increase in the number of reports of abuse coming to the authority. When the authority was conceptualised it was envisaged that the number of cases of abuse may have been in the order of less than 2,000. However, we have seen an average of 4,000 cases of abuse per year coming to the authorities.

“I would say a lot of the increased funding would be to engaged in additional resources to deal with the number of cases of abused children who come to us with various symptomatology based on domestic violence and other acts perpetrated against them in the context of the family.”

Morris-Cummings said not enough people were willing to become foster parents.

“We have been experiencing what is called a placement crisis. We would like to see an increase in the number of foster parents and the number of adoptions so we can envisage increased funding to treat with the increase in our foster care programmes so additional persons can open their hearts and homes, to our children.”

She hopes ongoing attempts to improve families across TT, with the help of the Minister of Social Development and Family Services, would reverse this developing phenomenon.

Among the issues plaguing the authority, Morris-Cummings said security remains a serious concern the authority is still working to address.

When JSC’s chairman, Paul Richards, chimed in to ask if an audit into past breaches in the security system had been done, Morris-Cummings said “systemic shortcomings” were identified following the investigation.

Though she did not want to give more specifics she said a change in how the authority approached security was required.

“We are fine-tuning our proposal to increase the number of security personnel within our establishment. But we wish to proceed on the basis that these officers will be more akin to care officers –an extension of our care and protection mechanism in safeguarding the children who come to us.”

Part of the plan is to work closely with the police to pay special attention to high-risk children who may have had gang affiliation.

In March 2020, Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, both 15 escaped from one of the authority’s facilities. Less than a day after their bodies were found on the roof of an abandoned building in Laventille with multiple gunshot wounds.

At a virtual press conference after the incident, former director of the authority Nichola Harvey-Mitchell admitted there was a gap in our security and supervision at the time the incident occurred.