Children’s Authority wants facility to treat children with mental health issues

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Children’s Authority head office in Port of Spain. – FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

A year after the Children’s Authority admitted a security lapse at a safe house in north Trinidad led to the escape of five teenage boys, two of whom were gunned down in Laventille, the organisation is still working on addressing its security issues.

At a joint select committee hearing to inquire into and report on social services and public administration on Friday, deputy director of care service Rhonda Gregoire-Roopchan said, “The authority is addressing all of the concerns in relation to any gaps throughout the process, including and quite importantly any security issues that we may be having.”

Responding to JSC committee member David Nakhid who sought an update on the status of the authority’s security lapse, Gregoire-Roopchan said, “We are working on ensuring our children have adequate supervision, and they have been. As we continue to do so our service delivery evolves, we continue to make sure we have any risk assessment that needs to be done to provide for the safety and security of the children in our care.”

March 20 marked the one-year anniversary when the boys squeezed through a burglar-proofed window and escaped while the caregiver was preparing snacks for the boys.

On March 21, Laventille residents reported hearing gunshots and police later found the bodies of Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, both 15, on the roof of an abandoned building. The roof was level with the road.

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, but certainly, I would not say the authority failed the boys.

“And while the authority will take some measure of responsibility for the lack of supervision for the short moments we didn’t have the proper supervision, as well as when we didn’t have the security in place.”

At the time, she said there was an urgent need to introduce additional security measures.

At Friday’s JSC sitting, Gregoire-Roopchan further revealed 55 children were staying at the authority’s three centres in Trinidad and six in the Tobago centre. Of these children, two females and one male, have been diagnosed with mental health problems.

Gregoire-Roopchan said the authority is monitoring eight additional children who are showing mental health symptoms. They have not been referred to St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital for a diagnosis, but are receiving treatment at health centres.

She said there is a great need for a long-term facility, under the authority, to treat and house children with mental health issues.