Mental health experts: Don’t persecute 12-year-old boy accused of abuse

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Clinical psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh –

Mental health experts believe the focus needs to be on rehabilitating the 12-year-old boy who allegedly molested 11 fellow wards and two animals at the Couva Children’s Home and Crisis Nursery over six years.

In an interview with Newsday, Hanif Benjamin, Centre For Human Development Ltd president and former Children’s Authority head, and clinical psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh said it is likely the boy was a victim of abuse.

Given his behaviour would have begun at age six, Benjamin questioned if the boy was simply displaying behaviours he was accustomed to and believed to be normal. From his experience as a clinical therapist, clinical traumatologist and forensic traumatologist, Benjamin said children who are labelled as perpetrators are often victims themselves of these acts.

“What it meant is that this child may have been acting out what may have been done (to him), and so to rush in and treat this child as a sex predator, like what I’m seeing on social media and stuff, one has to be careful that we don’t create a scenario where this child is now labelled and victimised based on his ethology over the last many years. So it would be critical for us to really assess this type clinically,” Benjamin said.

Further than being a victim, Deyalsingh said there are also psychological disorders that can cause the child to behave in such a manner. He said these include juvenile bipolar disorder, Klüver-Bucy syndrome (KBS) and Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS).

According to the US National Institute of Health, KBS is a rare behavioural impairment that causes people to put objects in their mouths and engage in inappropriate sexual behaviour. It also says KLS is a rare disease characterised by recurrent episodes of hypersomnia and to various degrees, behavioural or cognitive disturbances, compulsive eating behaviour and hypersexuality.

“We don’t know if the child has one of these disorders where the parent could (not) cope or put the child there, or we don’t know if the child was rescued from a home where the child was abused.”So whatever reason the child is there, it shows that that child needs help,” Deyalsingh said.

Benjamin and Deyalsingh believe the boy must be assessed and given the necessary psychological/psychiatric support to be rehabilitated. They said similar must also be done for those he allegedly molested.

Centre for Human Development Ltd president Hanif Benjamin –

Deyalsingh also questioned why the boy’s alleged behavioural tendencies were not detected and acted on by psychologists at the home.

While the men removed culpability from the boy, they trained their attention on the home for failing the children.

“It is very critical for me, though, why this was allowed to happen for six years. I think that’s critical as leaders (that) we need to ask ourselves, where did we go wrong?” Benjamin said.

“So why wasn’t it reported? What were the hindrances? Is it that people know of the reporting mechanisms? The anonymous as well as the non-anonymous? What happened there? Where did we fail this child and the many other children who had to endure this for the last six years?”

Deyalsingh said the incident highlighted the need for an independent body to oversee the operations of state-run children’s homes. He said the more stories of abuse are brought to the fore, the less confidence the public will have in the institutions.

On Monday, the TT Guardian reported statements from the home’s manager and caregivers about the incidents. It said there had been 25 incidents against 11 children and two of the home’s dogs since 2018. The home’s manager reported two of the incidents from earlier this year to the Children’s Authority and later discovered a hidden log of the others. The manager also claimed upper management blocked attempts to have the boy transferred out of the home.

The boy and two victims have since been moved out of the home.

The Children’s Authority, in release on May 20, said it was working closely with the police to investigate. It said it had provided psychological support to the minor in question and taken steps to protect the other children.

“The authority takes seriously all reports of abuse involving children in care and will continue to ensure that such reports are thoroughly investigated. There is need, however, to maintain the safety and confidentiality of the personal details of children in this matter. As such, the authority will not divulge any details of the child’s case,” it said.

Head of the police Child Protection Unit Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, when asked via WhatsApp if the home will be investigated for not reporting the incidents sooner, said, “We are conducting a thorough investigation. The children are being offered psychosocial support and would be interviewed.”

Minister of Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy, in a release on May 20, said she acted immediately when she received the reports of abuse at the home earlier this month. She said she received the report on May 13 and instructed the permanent secretary to contact Guy-Alleyne. She said by the next day the police had removed the children and the matter was sent to the Children’s Authority.

“As the chairman of the Standing Committee on Child Protection, I assure the nation that we continue to monitor the national child protection machinery. We have identified certain gaps and working solutions have been developed for speedy implementation.”In the first instance, the TTPS Child Protection Unit has agreed to conduct periodic visits to all the community residences, especially those with both boys and girls. I continue to urge our citizens to do their part in protecting our children,” she said.