THA reviews report on abuse at children’s homes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael – THA

The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is currently reviewing a report laid in Parliament alleging abuse at various children’s homes in TT.

The report was the result of a five-month investigation from a Cabinet-appointed team led by retired Appeal Court judge Justice Judith Jones and highlighted the inability of the Children’s Authority to protect some children from abuse.

Speaking to Newsday on Wednesday, THA Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael said: “We are currently reviewing the report.”

Minority Leader Kelvon Morris told Newsday he has not seen the report in detail.

According to the report, two of the three children’s homes in Tobago are licensed.

The three homes are the Community Residence, Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development Probation Hostel and Sylphil Home in Love. The latter is unlicensed.

In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Susan Phillips-Jack, owner and operator of the Sylphil Home in Love, Lambeau, said she did not see the report.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy –

The home, managed by Phillips-Jack and her husband, receives a stipend from the assembly. There are 12 children at the home, which caters to newborns up to 17 years old.

Phillips-Jack told Newsday revision classes with the children attending school take place every afternoon.

She said the children under her watch have become more like family.

“These children are here from small, and this is the kind of settings I like. My home is actually for children without parents, and when they come in big we does have real challenges – that is why we don’t want them big.

“So, at the end of the day, those that I have here from small, we are here with them like a regular family.”

The report said the risk of abuse, including of a sexual nature, was increased when children are placed in centres with poor or inadequate staffing.

Phillips-Jack told Newsday physical abuse is not part of the disciplinary measures at her home.

She said she doesn’t believe in corporal punishment. “We don’t believe in beating.”

Her youngest resident is an 18-month-old girl.

“We have a naughty corner where the other big ones would stand in their naughty corner.”

Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for gender and child affairs, at a function in Charlotteville on Sunday, said child abuse in Tobago is too high.

Discussing the report, she said, “I would have focused on abuse within our community residences and those facilities that care for children who are unfortunate to not be in their biological homes. I am highlighting this because when we look at stats, Tobago, even though the numbers appear to be small, our instances of child abuse are too high. Let us create a new mindset that adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards violence…”

In a radio interview this week, she said closure of unlicensed homes was not an option as it would only exacerbate problems.

She said, “For some facilities, the lack of a licence may be for something infrastructural, instead of it not having the right staff-to-resident ratio or anything like that. For some of the facilities, it’s a matter of us trying to address certain infrastructural needs to meet certain codes and guidelines. We are working towards that.

“But the reality is, we have more children in need of placement than we have places.”

Last Sunday, a media release from the Office of the Prime Minister Gender and Child Affairs Division noted that several recommendations to improve the structure, efficiency and staffing would be implemented to tackle the allegations.

The recommendations included a redesign of the Children’s Authority, the development of clear standards for people interacting with children, the standardisation of critical reports at community residences, the maintenance of a caregiver-to-child ratio at these residences, training for security staff in dealing with children and the establishment of a children’s commissioner. The division said $126,081,715 will be allocated to expedite the projects required.

It also said a joint task force consisting of officials from the Division of Gender and Child Affairs, the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service, the Children’s Authority, the Tobago House of Assembly and two members of the investigation team will be included.

The task force was expected to hold its first meeting on Tuesday and will be expected to submit a completed work plan to the Cabinet within six weeks. This work plan will outline its plans on implementing the recommendations.