Cabinet committee report: Children in residential care not safe

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ayanna Webster-Roy –

CHILDREN in residential care institutions are not being protected, some children’s homes are operating without a licence, the Children’s Authority is not taking action against such facilities and an internal security force should be established at the authority to protect children in residential care facilities.

These were some of the findings contained in a report of a Cabinet-appointed committee formed to investigate reports of abuse at children’s homes. Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Ayanna Webster-Roy laid the report in the House of Representatives on Friday and spoke about its contents as well.

The 11-member team was led by retired Appeal Court Justice Judith Jones.

Webster-Roy said the began its work last July and submitted its report to Cabinet on December 31, 2021.

The team, she continued, made disturbing findings with respect to reports of abuse and absconding at the traditional government-funded children’s homes and the Valsayn Child Support Centre. These included staff promoting a culture that encourages abuse among residents, security guards found guilty of abusing residents and a lack of proper supervision of residents, leading to situations of physical abuse.

Webster-Roy said, “The staff is not trained to deal with this form of behaviour. The guards, especially the external guards, are not trained to deal with children.”

The report said, “The childcare system is poorly structured, inadequately monitored, inconsistently regulated.” A lack of accountability promotes an environment for abuse and absconding.

Webster-Roy said the report identified reasons why children residing at these facilities run away from them. “The discipline meted out to the residents is subjective and, in some cases, unorthodox.” Webster-Roy also said the lack of structured and educational activities for residents, complaints by residents are not taken seriously by people in authority, residents missing their families and their stay at these facilities is longer than first anticipated, can lead to some of them absconding.

The report said several children’s homes are operating without licences and the Children’s Authority “has demonstrated no will, intention, or mechanism to shut down the operations of unlicensed homes that continue to put children at risk.”

Facilities for children with a high risk of harm to others must be established with more intense supervision and auditing systems. Child support centres must operate within the confines of the law.

The report also suggested the creation of a trained internal security force under the authority to protect children in residential care, from situations where they could be abused. While creating such a security force will be a cost to both the authority and the Government, Webster-Roy said its functions should also extend to private children’s homes.

“The returns will be in children’s safety, protection, and care.”

Physical abuse of residents rarely happens at the Youth Training and Rehabilitation Centre. Webster-Roy said this is because “there is a plethora of regulations and layers of oversight that makes the use of excessive force difficult to go undetected.”

The report also recommended the creation of a task force to develop strategies to deal with instances of abuse in childrens’ homes and situations which cause children to flee such facilities.

In March, Webster-Roy said Cabinet agreed to implement several of the team’s recommendations, one of which is the task force’s creation. It will be led by a senior official from the OPM’s Gender and Child Affairs Division and have six weeks from the date of its establishment to submit its work to Cabinet.

Webster-Roy also said the team’s report was sent to the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs to review its legislative recommendations.