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Thursday 19 July 2018
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Stop playing politics

Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy

The sad saga of the St Michael’s Home for Boys continues.

It has been more than a month since Newsday ventured into the institution at Western Main Road, Diego Martin. The paper exposed deplorable conditions, dilapidated grounds and equipment, and most disturbingly the neglect of the youths at the home.

Since the report, not much has changed. The facility is still unkempt, security lax, and lackadaisical staff continue to leave the children unsupervised.

Newsday sought to find out from the people directly involved with the operations of the home, who is truly responsible for the home falling into such a grim state.

Ultimately, bureaucratic gridlock and internal politics have caused several people who have not been doing their jobs, to stay in key positions while the home slowly deteriorates.

Gender, Youth and Child Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy, in an interview with Newsday, called on employees at the home to stop playing politics and focus on the task of bettering the lives of the children in their care. She said the home has been given ample programmes for the participation of children, and enough funds to maintain the facilities.

“People (at the home) have a moral high ground but they should think about the children,” Webster-Roy said. “These are adults who are neglecting their duties to the children they are being paid to look after. I do not care about politics. I care about making a meaningful impact in the lives of these children. They need to be cared for despite the reasons for which they came into the institution. What we sow into the lives of these children, we will reap when they are adults. Do we really want to sow violence and neglect into their lives?”

Newsday was told Webster-Roy made several unannounced visits to the home and was dismayed at the conditions under which the children live. On one occasion, she went into the home in an unmarked car and found the gates wide open.

Webster-Roy told Newsday the guards who were supposed to be manning the gate did not even recognise her as a minister when she asked why the gates were open. It took one of the youths to tell them who she was.

Another boy, barefooted and bare-backed, begged her to buy a box of KFC for him. She did not know whether he had any nutritional restrictions, so she told him no.

Webster-Roy said that home was not the only institution she visited unannounced. However, the difference between the boys’ home and others was staggering.

“I went to St Dominic’s and I saw children laughing and playing and engaging in activities. I went to St Mary’s and I saw the same thing – there was even an Emancipation show going on where the children were singing and playing instruments.

“What is the difference? The adults in the other institutions care.”

Sources from within the home have revealed the school gets a monthly grant of $900,000. This is used for the upkeep of the premises, payment of staff and other expenses such as food, clothing and medication for the boys, as well as for equipment for all the programmes.

However, sources complained very little is being done with the money. The boys are given small snacks and meals are being restricted. No repairs have been done to the physical infrastructure, and programmes are at a halt.

Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley admitted his church was part of the internal politics which have caused problems for the home. However, he said while the church is committed to the betterment of the youths, they as a governing body have very little power over the decisions made.

In a recent interview with Newsday, Berkley said the Anglican Church, which has been operating the home since its inception over a hundred years ago, ran it wholly and solely. But, in the 1970’s, a decision was made to merge with the State. Now, the church is only allowed to appoint a board of nine people, inclusive of two church members, to run the home.

The church also has permission to employ contract workers who work under the manager. However, aside from these few contract workers, they cannot hire, discipline or fire employees at the home.

Newsday was told the board makes decisions and plans and sends them to the management to be executed. In recent times, it has been proven that these mandates either take a long time to implement or are ignored altogether. Not being able to discipline or fire, the Statutory Authorities Services Commission - the body responsible for appointing staff - is called in. The church will lodge their complaint and suggest how to move forward, but this is still only taken into consideration by the commission and an investigation has to take place before any decision is taken. This, as well, may take a long time.

Berkley said the bureaucratic gridlock which plagues the executive of the home has frustrated the church so much that they began making moves, starting in 2015, to remove themselves from the home altogether.

“The actions of the church in the home are done without profit or favour,” Berkley said.

It is done simply because they have taken care of the children in the home since its inception over a hundred years ago. We have sought to care for children at different levels of risk or trouble, but when something happens at the institution where the home is placed in a bad light, the church becomes scandalised. We do not have the clout to hold people accountable. We have responsibility without authority. We should be advocating for the young boys, which we have been, but maybe we need to exclude ourselves so that we can begin advocacy “.

Berkley mirrored Webster-Roy’s earlier statement that other institutions are being handled better because people charged with running those institutions are standing up to their responsibilities.

“When you look at other institutions you would see things are not in such a disarray, because someone fulfilled their accountability and their role. Someone was responsible. For some reason we cannot get that here. It is difficult (for the church) to hold people accountable because we are part of the problem, since we appoint the board.”

Attempts to reach manager of the home, Allison Joseph were futile.


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