‘Children’s Authority failing’ – Cabinet-appointed committee report deplores sex abuse at children’s homes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FILE PHOTO: The St Jude’s Home For Girls, Belmont Circular Road, Belmont. –

STAFF and security guards are sexually abusing some children in care at children’s homes across the nation, a damning report laid in the House of Representatives on Friday found after a five-month probe.

The report said the Children’s Authority was failing and called for the establishment of an office of Children’s Commissioner to safeguard children and hear their complaints.

It lamented that child abuse and absconding was “a severe problem.”

“Placing children in children’s homes without regard for their particular needs and without proper evaluation creates or exacerbates the systemic risk to those children,” concluded the report.

“There is also evidence to show that there is an increased risk of sexual and physical abuse to children due to being placed in community residences and child support centres with poor or inadequate staffing and the inability to meet the minimum standards required for obtaining a residence licence for operations of a children’s home.”

The report found a failure to protect children, amid a childcare system that was “poorly structured, inadequately monitored, inconsistently regulated.”

A lack of accountability promoted an environment for abuse and absconding, it warned.

The report lamented that some security guards sexually and/or physically abuse children in care at certain homes, in a section on guidelines on the use of private security companies.

“Absconding can be motived by abuse at the facility. It was revealed that in some instance the persons perpetrating the abuse was the security guards.

“Examples can be seen in the sexual and abuse relationships carried out by a security guard at St Jude’s in direct contravention to the guidance manual.

“Another example can be seen in Valsayn where security guards barraged the residents with derogatory terms based on their sexual orientation.

“The Investigation Team found that there were instances of security guards using the excuse of restraint to abuse the boys by bashing their heads against wall and furniture at the Valsayn Child Support Centre.”

Those guards were from external companies.

Chapter five of the report exposed the possibilities of grooming and survival sex (transactional sex) involving children in care.

It revealed that a security guard with prior allegations of sexual abuse was hired at the Margaret Kistow children’s home, and urged the Children’s Authority to investigate him.

The report said an official at that home invited boys to live with him when the age out of that residence at age 18, with three boys now living with him and claims of boys frequenting his home.

The official told investigators “nothing was wrong with that.” He said, “I doing this for years because they have nowhere else to go.”

The report said, “The residents’ (children’s) supervision/monitoring system at Margaret Kistow is inadequate. There is insufficient attention paid to hiring adequate numbers of staff.

“There is no demand by the (Children’s) Authority for proper investigations into incidents such as sexual interaction between children.

“The Authority does not always follow up on reports of sexual interaction between children after being notified.” Children often leave the home to buy marijuana, increasing the probability of child abuse in the form of transactional sex, the report said.

“The home allows children to spend weekends in Mayaro with individuals who are not the children’s legal guardians/parents and the information is logged in a special book.

“This practice contravenes the Authority’s policy. The Margaret Kistow Home engages in practice that facilitates resident to resident sexual interaction through the practice of children sharing beds.”

The report chided St Jude’s Home, lamenting frequent sexual activity occur among residents including “gang rape” as part of a hazing process.

“Sexual interaction and grooming occur between residents and staff and security personnel.”

The report said it was habitual for members of a certain family “to be sexually involved with residents (children.)”

Chairman of the Police Service Commission, retired Justice Judith Jones –

“Security guards have been found complicit in supplying psychotropic substances and other unregulated drugs to residents.

“The situation increases the children’s vulnerability regarding sexual abuse.”

The report lamented multiple reports of sexual abuse at the St Mary’s Children’s Home in Tacarigua.

The 11-member Cabinet-appointed committee, which compiled the report, was led by retired Appeal Court judge Justice Judith Jones.