Dr Maria Dillon-Remy –
INDEPENDENT Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy expressed her disgust about reports of children in residential care institutions being abused. She did so in her contribution to debate on the Variation of Appropriation) (Financial Year 2022) Bill, 2022, in the Senate on Friday.
Opposition Senator David Nakhid and Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh expressed similar sentiments in their respective contributions later in the debate.
Dillon-Remy said her disgust was based on a video on social media which allegedly showed abuse at a children’s home as well as child abuse allegations contained in the 1997 Sabga Task Force report and in a December 2021 report of a committee chaired by retired Appeal Court Justice Judith Jones.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy laid the Jones committee report in Parliament last month.
Dillon-Remy lamented that instances like these seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.
“I am sickened by the thought of the wrongs that are being committed against wards of state, innocent and precious children.”
While the bill allocates a sum of $22 million for improved management at the Children’s Authority, Dillon-Remy said the authority needs more resources to improve investigations into instances of alleged abuse.
She was concerned the authority might not be efficiently monitoring what was happening in children’s homes.
“I make a call for more to be done by the Children’s Authority as the overseer of these homes and more importantly as the overseer of our nation’s children.”
Dillon-Remy added that her call extended to parents as well.
“I am making this point because I was a part of the start-up for the Children’s Authority.”
The authority was created through legislation passed in 1999 by the then UNC government.
She said, “I remember us trying to put things in place to ensure that children would be adequately cared for.”
Senate Vice-President Dr Muhammad Yunus Ibrahim empathised with Dillon-Remy. He said the issue was “extremely relevant to current ongoings of matters in Trinidad and Tobago.” However, Ibrahim suggested to Dillon-Remy that her comments did not tie in directly with the bill and she could expand further on them when the Senate debates sexual offences legislation at a later date. Dillon-Remy agreed with him.
Nakhid said the abuse of children in Trinidad and Tobago is unpalatable. He believed there should be an audit of the Children’s Authority while further examinations of the Jones report is done. “We should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Varma observed, “You have (children’s) homes who are asking us to put money to them.”
He said, “We have to tell those homes, 25 years ago to now, we see the same problems reoccurring.”
He said children’s homes have to show tangible proof that they are taking steps to prevent child abuse under their roofs. These homes, Varma continued, must also show they can maintain proper boundaries between adults and children.
He suggested that greater funding be given to the authority to address current and future challenges.