The Family First Foundation, which was shut down by the Children’s Authority on Monday, was not licensed to care for children.
This was one of several shortcomings listed by Health Secretary Dr Agaaha Carrington regarding the Foundation which was shut down by the Children’s Authority on Monday night. The Authority’s action followed the gutting of the building by a fire of unknown origin last Friday night.
In a statement issued Monday under the heading "Children’s Authority investigates operations of Tobago Home", the Authority said, “the home’s manager has been notified that she is not authorised to receive any child into her care at this time and failure to comply will lead to the initiation of legal proceedings.”
"Over the past few months, the Authority has been monitoring the operations of the home, as reports were received regarding the standard of care provided to the children.”
The Authority said it was collaborating with the Division of Health to ensure the safety of the children who resided at the home.
Carrington told reporters on Wednesday:
“There is no management arrangement in place, the service is not a licensed service; the home is not licenced according to the required guidelines. (There are) accounting issues, staffing levels. Speaking at Wednesday post Executive Council media briefing at the Administrative Complex in Calder Hall, she said other issues identified by a Tobago-based committee established under her watch at the Division included “the qualifications of the persons to manage the home, the cleanliness, the poor infrastructure of the home, the children’s accommodation and the sanitation issues.”
Carrington said the Children’s Authority would determine the suitability of the home within its own framework, which would include if it was licensed to operate as such.
“There are strict guidelines in terms of who should have a home, the manager should have particular qualifications, you should have a certain amount of staff, you should keep your records in a particular way.
“These are standards that must be met. We have found gaps and it is my understanding the Children’s Authority have also found gaps. When our team met with the owner of that home and the others, those shortcomings were identified such that they can pay attention to those with a view of improving,” she said.
Six children between the ages one to 14 were removed from the home. The board of the Foundation was in receipt of a monthly grant from the THA, and the payment for the rental for the building was made by the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA)
Carrington said the children who were removed from the home – which was gutted by fire last Friday - were being cared for by professionals from Division.
“We are taking care of the children, we are taking care of their medical and social needs. We felt as a Division, we felt as the Tobago House of Assembly, that we needed to pay attention to that because on viewing the situation in terms of the destruction of the home by fire, the alternative arrangement was less than appropriate for children so we had to intervene. They are now safely managed,” she said.
Asked about parents of the children, Carrington said following night’s fire, “parents have visited the hospital, parents have come to the court because we have approached the courts in terms of the orders to maintain the children.”
"A parent has come forward and another parent has asked to take much more responsibility for one of the children and that is a consideration.
“We are approaching this in a very structured way. The children are Tobago’s children but we have to have the authority to keep them. We have gone to the court and we will return to the court tomorrow (Thursday),” she said, saying that the court will decide which children will remain in the care of the Division.
She said the THA was moving swiftly to have the children in permanent housing.
“Today, we approved the establishment of a community residence. The residence would provide not just a safe place for the children we now have but for the future children that will come. We will also provide support to children at risk in general,” she said.
“We are moving in the next day or two to have the temporary licencing and ensure that we do all the things required to have the home set up. We feel certain by the end of the week we will have it licenced so that we can have the children placed. The centre is expected to be operational in approximately four to five days,” she said. A centre is also being planned for east Tobago, she added.
She said staff for the home will have to undergo psychometric testing.
“In the first instance, we are going to use persons from within the TRHA that would meet the requirements and we will test those persons. So, if we already have a psychologist on staff, we will use that person to give us part-time support.
“We have to have nursing support from the pool of nurses we already have, we are testing them. However, we have to go out for full recruitment but if we want to set up as quickly as we want, we are working with the staff that is already within the Division,” she said.