CADV: Create alternatives to putting children in homes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Gender and Child Affairs. Photo by Lincoln Holder

THE Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) has called for fresh options as an alternative to placing children in residential homes.

The group was responding to an alarming report on widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in care homes across the country.

The report was laid in the House of Representatives on Friday, after a five-month probe by a Cabinet-appointed committee under retired Justice Judith Jones.

The coalition called for big improvements to ensure the welfare of children in the homes, and hoped new alternatives would result in fewer children being sent to these homes.

It viewed the report as revealing “multiple levels of failure” by everyone to protect children, plus failures by specific to individuals and institutions. It lamented this was not the first such report.

The coalition said all child protection staff must be properly trained and certified, and know their human rights obligations such as those under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The CADV wanted to give voice to children in care.

“There should be systems of auditing and monitoring which include the feedback of children under care.

“We need pathways of accountability for childcare institutions, and we endorse the recommendation for a Children’s Ombudsperson or commissioner.”

The coalition called for a child-friendly complaints mechanism, to be told to all children in care.

“We must fix the system of residential care to ensure children do not encounter further abuse and they receive the highest level of care and protection from trained and accountable professionals.”

The committee suggested a link between social/economic inequalities and child vulnerability, saying many children in care were from low-income backgrounds.

“But we must also focus on how poverty and inequalities shape childhood experiences. It will enable us to reduce the numbers of children needing care in residential facilities.

“They may live in overcrowded conditions, are likely not to have had access to quality education to meet their specific needs, may suffer malnutrition, and not have adequate loving and kind parental care for emotional stability. In short, these children lack all levels of security. Many, and in particular girls, may have experienced sexual abuse.”

Saying children have a right to a dignified life, the coalition said the State has a duty to provide them with good societal conditions to fully develop their personalities.

The coalition urged alternatives to putting children in institutional care.

“This means supporting families and parents to care for their children through parenting education (before and after becoming a parent), psycho-social support, social care, adequate housing and social protection.” Prevention must be prioritised, by a robust social care system.

The coalition lamented media horror stories of mothers with children, no income and no housing, despite the wealth of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Be on the alert for children who are in harm’s way. Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.

“This includes collective insistence that children should not grow up with violence, in poverty and without access to quality education, health care and social protection.”

The statement said the report recalled the 2006 tragic death of Amy Emily Annamunthodo, four, the second child born to a mother who first gave birth at 12.

Amy’s mother, it said, “was a victim of child sexual abuse for which there was not adequate protection, reparation or justice.

“And the cycle of abuse continued, ending in the sexual violence and death of Amy. The story of Amy and her mother should strengthen our resolve to improve family support services and policing.”

The CADV called for the availability of reproductive health services and sex education.

The coalition said a boy escaped from a child’s home to escape abuse due to his sexual orientation, and urged an end to laws that ban same-sex relations and create stigmatisation.