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Child care stunted

Tuesday, October 27 2015

ANOTHER aspect of the State’s regulation of facilities which care for children – which has come into the spotlight due to the recent deaths of two toddlers in the care of hired service providers – is the role played by the Children’s Authority.

We return to this issue because of the disclosure, in a Newsday report published yesterday, of the disturbing fact that while much headway has been made in operationalising the Authority, key aspects of its functions remain dormant, awaiting legal and administrative implementation.

Particularly alarming is the fact that though regulations were this year promulgated under Section 53 of the Children Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act 2000, that legislation still remains inoperable. The problem? A lack of staffing.

“We have only been in operation since the middle of May,” said Stephanie Daly SC, the chairman of the authority. “We are not up to the number of staff which we had estimated is needed to complete the operationalisation.” She noted identifying the more than 200 nurseries in the country is no simple undertaking. While training of existing staff has begun, the Authority does not have the authority to manage the facilities currently identified. An original timeline of nine months to full functioning was upended when the Government changed.

The removal of the Ministry of Gender, Child and Youth Development – which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last week said was a matter now under review – has also complicated things.

However, the cases of Baby Mikyle in Sangre Grande and Baby Anastacia in Diego Martin make clear that an urgent rethink is required. Currently, the State provides, it seems, only the most cursory regulation of the Early Education Childhood Centres, and the Authority is clearly envisioned as a specialist State agency which can support the efforts of the Ministry of Education.

But while the Authority’s progress in terms of the regulation of nurseries has been stunted, in other respects it has shown growth, as have the relevant sections of the law enforcement agencies charged with handling cases of child abuse.

The authorities are to be praised for the swift action taken in relation to an Internet video which circulated last week showing shocking and appalling scenes of a weeping child being brutally beaten by a man for not drinking tea.

The case has seen collaboration between the Authority and the police. While the Child Protection Unit of the Police Service investigated the incident, the Authority’s Emergency Response Team made contact with the family involved, and worked with the child and its mother to provide the necessary support which included medical treatment and counselling.

The matter yesterday moved into the hands of the courts as two people appeared before Magistrate Gillian David Scotland in the Tunapuna Magistrates’ Court on charges of wilful assault of the child. The two received bail in the sum of $150,000 and it will now be for the court system to determine guilt or innocence, though an immigration issue has emerged in relation to one of the two accused.

It is good that the State has, in this instance, been able to take swift action in a case which, through happenstance, came to the attention of the public. But the capacity to take such effective action in an individual case is of little use if the net of overall regulation is stymied through the lack of resources to police nurseries where, daily, thousands of children are exposed to risks.

The State must be encouraged to take more action like what it did last week and yesterday, but it must also be mindful of the risk of seeking to move one foot forward while still leaving the other behind.



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